Christmas Past, Present, Future – Card Reunites Family after 48 Years Apart

Bob and Nancy Hesch of the Passavant Community had become accustomed to travelling the country since purchasing their RV in the early 2000s.  Years later, the Heschs, who have been married for 52 years, decided to build their retirement home in Townville, South Carolina.

They knew at some point, they wanted to move into a continuing care retirement community just like their parents. However, they hadn’t planned on moving so soon. They received a late Christmas card in Jan. of 2019, marking the beginning of an “incredible journey” to move closer to their twin daughters, whom they hadn’t seen since birth.

“It’s a Hallmark movie,” exclaimed Bob Hesch. “You can’t write a script like this…”

The Heschs were out for their afternoon walk with their dog Benson, and picked up the mail. Little did they know how their lives were about to change – bringing their past, present and future together.

Once inside, Bob went to his office, and Nancy went to her little nook beside the kitchen. She opened a letter to find a Christmas card with a hand-written note tucked inside. She read the note, and placed it in the wastebasket.  She then retrieved the note, and summoned Bob to the living room. Nancy handed Bob the note and began to sob. As Bob read the note, tears swelled up in his eyes.

Front: Nancy and Bob Hesch Back L-R: Janet Holland, Christopher (Toph) Hesch, Judy Deer
Front: Nancy and Bob Hesch Back L-R: Janet Holland, Christopher (Toph) Hesch, Judy Deer

The note read:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Hesch,

My name is Judy Deer. My twin sister and I were born on Oct. 7, 1971 and adopted in Pittsburgh. I recently applied for a copy of my original birth record and found the names of my birth parents that may match you. I am interested in any family history information that you are willing to share. I have sent this Christmas card, hoping you’ll realize this is not some sort of scam. I will respect your privacy should you desire not to be contacted again. You can contact me through Facebook (send a friend request). My profile picture matches the family picture on the card.

The note brought back painful memories for the Heschs, “not worthy” of these young women described how they felt, explained Nancy. The card set in motion a 5-month email exchange between Bob, Nancy and their twin daughters, whom they had not seen in 48 years.


Jan. 10 – Bob responds

Bob responded to Judy via email three-days later indicating her card had reached the “correct Heschs.” He went on to ask if her adoptive parents and sister knew she had contacted her birth parents, since the last contact the Heschs had with girls took place when they handed them over to the adoption agency.

He also indicated his willingness to share information, if her sister and adoptive parents felt comfortable with the exchange.  Bob initiated the first exchange by asking, when did you find out that you were adopted?

Judy replied the same day, informing Bob that her and her sister Janet Holland were very close and had discussed reaching out for some time. She also asked Bob about his family’s medical history since her adoptive parents, Richard and Judy Smolski, were unable to have children and both died of heart disease.

Bob responded to Judy’s email the next day providing more details of the adoption.

He wrote on Jan 11:

“We had you girls when we were both just 21….just moved to Oakland in September since I was going to Pitt at the time. Both our families where in eastern PA and had no clue Nanc was pregnant when we were married (July 31, 1971). It was a hard decision for us but we decided adoption was our best option in our then current circumstances. Remember this was 1971 and there was a stigma about getting pregnant before you were married. To this day, none of our family or friends know that we have twin daughters. The twins’ part came as a surprise in the delivery room… as we assume it came as a surprise to your parents also. Pre-natal care did not exist for us so no sonograms etc. We decided not to tell our sons until both our parents were dead and revisited that decision multiple times. More later… Bob.


Changes in Pennsylvania Adoption Legislation

In Dec. of 2018, Judy discovered changes to Pennsylvania’s adoption laws and shared it with Janet.  Under the new law, which took effect a year earlier, allowed adoptees over age 18 to access their original birth certificates for the first time in 33 years. “I applied, found out the names, and here we are,” explained Judy.

Around the same time, Nancy retired ending her nursing career after 57 years.  Bob had sold his dealership at Northgate Honda, years earlier and purchased an RV.  The Heschs went on the road fulltime. Bob started consulting, bringing the Heschs back to Cranberry Twp. on numerous occasions, where they had previously lived for over 30 years.

Janet Responds: Jan. 11

Janet responded to Bob’s email thanking him for responding to Judy’s note as well as asking if they had shared the news with their sons. Bob responded briefly, acknowledging “the sadness of this day.  This is a hard time of the year for us. Today is our oldest son (Rob) death day. We buried him on his 20th birthday. Very dark time for us…”

He also mentioned that Judy’s note had “hit Nanc pretty hard… she cried for a long time. We always thought that day would come but still it brought back some hard memories.”  He also conveyed the desire to inform their younger son, Christopher (Toph), but they wanted to do so in person.

Both Judy and Janet responded the same day sharing their condolences while addressing Nancy’s reaction to the card, when Judy wrote:

I don’t know what to say to ease the heart break of a decision made over 40 years ago, but I can say this, thank you. Thank you from two lovely ladies who had wonderful childhoods. Thank you from our parents to whom you gave a priceless gift that they desperately sought. Thank you from our husbands and children to which if it wasn’t for you, their lives would be drastically different. I hope this in a small ways starts the healing process for your broken heart. Eternally grateful – Judy.


Trip to the Big Apple to inform Toph

The emails between the Heschs and the twins continued. Several months later, on March 1, 2019, Bob and Nancy flew to New York City to inform their son Christopher of his twin sisters.

Christopher, also known as Toph since elementary school, emailed Judy and Janet expressing the “shocking and exciting news,” as well as, the “tearful moments” he shared with his parents after they broke the news to him and his wife, Kara.

He went onto to express empathy for his parents and couldn’t “…imagine the emotions/feelings they had to suppress all of these years. They are truly the most wonderful people and parents,” Christopher affirmed.

He went on jokingly to update his sisters regarding his life, as he put it, “Some things have happened in my life since we have been apart. Haha, starting when I was born July 9th, 1976.”

After returning from NYC, Nancy emailed the girls about “next steps.”  Ironically, Janet had just written a very similar email. Bob followed up by expanding the email chain to include the entire family suggesting that for the next “10 weeks,” one day a week, each family member would “…share our life experiences in 5-year increments,” suggesting the following schedule.

First Week

Monday – Bob

Tuesday – Janet

Wednesday – Nancy

Thursday – Judy

Friday – Toph

Hence, the email chain expanded with each family member sharing their life experiences covering a half of century of time beginning in the 1950s, including high school, sports, vacations, college, birthdays, favorite teams, hobbies, boyfriends, weddings etc…

During one series of exchanges, Janet asked if they had ever stayed at the Indian Brave Campground in Harmony, after noticing pictures of the couple on Facebook. Bob acknowledged that he had returned to the Cranberry Twp. area to work the summer of 2018 for a Honda dealership near Coraopolis. He parked his RV at the campground, while Nancy remained in South Carolina working for the local hospital. She joined Bob in August and stayed at the campground until Mid-September. One day, while Nancy walked their dog, she met a young boy who stopped and asked, if he could pet Benson. The family discovered months later that the young boy was her grandson that she had yet to meet.

Family Reunites

Nearly four weeks of sharing life experiences had past when Nancy brought up the subject that was on everyone’s mind by asking, “…when do we meet?”

L-R : Bob Hesch, Judy Deer, Janet Holland, Nancy Hesch
L-R : Bob Hesch, Judy Deer, Janet Holland, Nancy Hesch

Janet expressed not the timing of when they met but how they should meet suggesting the twins reunite with Bob and Nancy first. The group decided to meet at the Berkeley Hills Lutheran Church where Janet is a member and bookkeeper. Ironically, Bob and Nancy also had friends who were members of the church.

The date: Friday, April 12, 2019

As they neared the church, Bob held out his hand to Nancy. Puzzled by Bob’s gesture, she said, “what?”  “Just take my hand. It’s going to be okay. We’ve got this,” said Bob.

The girls peeked anxiously out the window as Bob and Nancy walked up the sidewalk to the church with flowers in hand.  The door opened and the girls presented a red rose to each parent, and “We hugged, hugged, hugged and hugged,” Nancy explained. They were only to be at the church for about 30 minutes, but an hour and a half went by before the twins started receiving text messages from their spouses.  “There are not words to describe this wonderful meeting,” acknowledged Bob.

Flowers in a caseA few months later, the twins met their brother Toph at Judy’s home. Judy and Janet jockeyed for position as they competed to be the first one to introduce themselves to their younger brother as he walked in the door. Toph laughed as he described the moment as “anxious excitement.”

“It has been a great experience, over the last few years we have really gotten to know each other really well,” explained Toph.  “Sometimes it feels like we have known each other for all of our lives.”

The Heschs eventually sold their home in Townville, South Carolina. They always knew that they wanted to live in a continuing care retirement community like their parents, explained Nancy. However, a late Christmas card took them on an “incredible journey,” bringing them to the cottages at the Passavant Community in Zelienople.

“Bob and I are internally grateful for the love, kindness, compassion, and discipline Judy and Richard Smolski provided in raising two amazing daughters,” noted Nancy. Without them, there would be no story. According to Bob, “this is the end of the beginning and we are excited and grateful to watch as the next chapters unfold.”

“We went from having two children that we knew, to four that we were and are still getting to know and from one grandchild to five grands plus extended family and friends,” explained Nancy.  “That spot in my head where I kept their memories closed, and my heart is warmer.”