Tommy and Beverly Were Lovers


I hate saying goodbye.

Nate and Melissa

Nate and Melissa on their front stoop, Los Angeles.

I left my son Nate and his wife, Melissa, in Los Angeles and drove up the coast a few days ago, my melancholy usurped by nerves. I hadn’t really felt this way yet. One would think a gal with a dog, who’s not too adept at changing tires or reading GPS, facing a daunting journey of more than 8,000 miles would be a little jumpy from time to time. Well, sure, when the sun goes down and I’ve still got 162 miles to go until my next stop and my eyes are so tired I’m cross-eyed, with nothing but two lanes and cactus as far as the eye can see, that’s one brand of being on edge.

Desert at twilight. Breathtaking and nerve wracking, when you have no cell signal.

Desert at twilight. Breathtaking and nerve wracking, when you have no cell signal.

But, this was something entirely different. I’d deliberately avoided thinking about it until  the other stops along this journey were contentedly tucked away. Every time I popped the hatch and rearranged the yoga quilt, my cowboy hat, the Milk Bones, my pitiful, dusty, beat up shoes, I had one more city, one more chapter, one more round of goodbye hugs on the record. But just like the Windex and paper towels that my thoughtful friend Charles told me to bring along to clean the bug guts off the windshield, I now had an unimpeded view of what might lie ahead. Might, that’s the operative word. There was nothing stopping me now from finding my long lost brother, or more accurately, the never known brother. To my knowledge, he was the only other child of my father, Tommy.

The rolling hillsides of California’s Central Coast allowed me the time to lay my thoughts out over the horizon. Like airing sheets out on the line, the what ifs, borne on the breeze, blew in and out of my porous mind.

Central coast, California along Hwy. 101

Central Coast, California along Hwy. 101

What if I came up empty-handed? Or worse yet, what if I found him and he’d hang up on me, or tell me to go away? After all, I was the product of an affair his dad had with my mom. I was kind of  like a bad penny. And from the measly scraps of information I had, he had not laid eyes on me in fifty-three years.

I was three when my mom left San Francisco and took me on the train to Texas. She would reunite with Jim Whatley, her husband, to try to put it all together again. They had made a deal that Garrett and I would never be told that Jim wasn’t our real father. And in exchange, he would take us as his own. Done and done. Until I wrestled the truth out of her when I was eighteen. Garrett was the son of a cab driver, with whom she’d lost touch. I was the daughter of the bartender at Louie’s place, with whom she hadn’t.  But, this was a time when women didn’t spill their guts on talk shows about their baby daddies.

Mom, please don’t be mad at me.

Don, Jean, Garrett, San Francisco, 1957

Don, Jean, Garrett, San Francisco, 1957

Oh, the other part of the little pact she made with the Whatley dude, was that she would never see, nor mention Tommy Lester’s name again.

Tommy and my grandfather, Booker Waddell

Tommy and my grandfather, Booker Waddell, Louie’s Place, Folsom, CA.

I will never know how Tommy reacted to this little arrangement. It wasn’t until decades later, when his name would occasionally come up, because I would bring it up,  that my mother was generous enough to leak out a few tiny hisses of history.  Like spurts of gas from a helium balloon, she casually mentioned that Tommy had offered to leave his wife and marry her.


My mom, Beverly

My mom, Beverly

And apparently, he’d come around enough times, from the time she hailed a cab to get to the hospital to give birth to me, to the day Tommy took us to the train station to separate from me, apparently their “fling” ( my mother’s term, not mine ) lasted long enough that she had to pull me from his arms, kicking and screaming at the train station. She said I wasn’t the only one who cried.


Oh, the things we do for love. She must have believed it was for the best, heading to Texas to put her little family back together again.

Was she, like me, seeking legitimacy? A better life?

I do know one thing; she always longed for California.

One of my deepest regrets is not bringing her back here before she died. How I wish I had.


Beverly, Ruidoso, New Mexico, 2002


ARVE Error: id and provider shortcodes attributes are mandatory for old shortcodes. It is recommended to switch to new shortcodes that need only url

About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

Facebook | Twitter | eNewsletter | RSS | Subscribe to Blog by Email | Buy Off the Leash


  1. This is beautiful and touching.

  2. I often skip the videos on your posts because I read them on my Droid. I’m glad I didn’t today. I can’t wait for your next update, and I hope the meeting is fulfilling.

  3. Kevin Whatley says:

    Nice work Jean…Kevin Whatley

  4. Jean, so-so touching. Your journey has been far greater than covering the miles. I am so glad you found your brother. Can’t wait for the next post.

  5. So sweet and heartfelt, I really relate to you missing your mom and being the bad penny. Can’t wait to read your next post.

  6. Gerry Mandel says:

    I wish it were a book already so I could turn the page.

  7. David Allen says:

    Gerry is right, can’t wait for the book. Soft and beautiful. And oh, how perfect to wind it up at the ends of the earth; the Marin Headlands, the video is sheer poetry.

  8. Jean,
    What an amazing journey and how wonderful that you have found your brother. What a story! And what strength and courage it’s taken on your part to get you this far – not just on this specific journey, but through all the other journeys that led you to this one. I was so touched about missing your Mom – I miss mine, too. Those of us whose Mothers have gone on can all relate. In one part of this great story you refer to yourself as “kind of like a bad penny”. Hope so much you don’t really belief that, as I’m sure no one who knows you does. What you have done and are doing is truly worthy life work, for yourself and for others. You’re much more like a solid gold piece!
    Traveling mercies. Be well.
    Kathy Westerfield

  9. Lana Sue Dietrich says:

    Hi Jean: It’s just so amazing how you are able to express your life experiences. You are an amazing writer and I know amazing experiences are coming your way. I love ya. PS….pretty sure Libby wants to retire in Tahoe. :-) Libby is amazing.

  10. Marilyn Roberts says:

    Jean, I was so happy watching the video. It’s amazing how something or some place can trigger fond memories. I am so happy you found your brother and am anxiously awaiting the second half of the story. Enjoy Utah and points east. Be safe and happy. I love you, Myrtie
    PS I am concerned about Patrick in New York with Hurrican Irene to hit there tomorrow.

  11. The past and love and the choices of others can be so mysterious and unknowable. This was so moving, especially your video, which made me cry. I can’t wait to read about you meeting your half-brother. I hope it went well!