The first family reunion
SLAYTON -- Ben Nagel said he doesn't get nervous.
But last week was different.
And who can blame him. For the first time in his life, he was meeting the family of his birth mother, Lynette Carlson.
"I don't really get nervous about anything at all," Nagel said, "For some reason, I've been nervous all week. That's like a new thing for me. I knew it wasn't going to be a big deal, but I didn't because I hadn't met everybody. It went great. I'm glad that I'm here and I'm glad there is a whole bunch of crazies like myself out here."
"The apple didn't fall too far from the tree," Carlson said.
More than 30 years ago, Carlson gave up her only son for adoption.
Three years ago, she met Ben for the first time.
And it all started from a Facebook message.
"Are you by any chance from Slayton, Minnesota or Rossville, Kansas?" Nagel wrote. "I really hope you can help me out. Please send me a response back. I look forward to hearing from you."
"When I saw that, goosebumps were head to toe," Carlson said. "By the time I got on the computer, it was quarter to five on Jan. 27. I'm reading this thing and I'm bawling my eyes out."
Nagel was searching for his birth mother by any way possible.
"When I turned 18, I contacted my adoption agency and the case worker sent me some papers and told me it was going to be $25 to apply to see if she had filed a denial with the state of Michigan," Nagel said. "You have to file it with the individual states. I pretty much knew that was impossible she would have done that. I was so angry at that charge. My dad was like, 'We'll pay for it.' I was just so angry and I kind of put it in the back of my mind."
But it crept back into his mind. He sought out a social worker for Bethany Christian Services -- the adoption agency.
"The social worker for Bethany goes to my church," Nagel explained. "She has a daughter she adopted that's my age as well. I was like, 'Can you send me the paperwork?' She said they dropped that fee about six years ago. It was right before Christmas, it was Dec. 5 or 6. She sent me the paperwork and I sent it back. It could be two weeks. Well, two weeks from when I got it sent back was Christmas day. She called me and said they got all the information back and I could come in and have an appointment."
From there, Nagel's task was to find his mother.
"We got all the information and just trying to figure it out," he said. "We looked on People Finder and all this other stuff and I had never done that before. Me and my sister-in-law went to a coffee shop and she brought her laptop. I was like, 'What about Facebook?' I looked her up, there was 44 different ones. I read over her profile and I was 28 at the time and I knew from the letter I had gotten from Bethany she had quit drinking when I was three years old. I saw on the profile that she was sober 25 years, so that made sense. I knew you loved to bake and all this other stuff. I knew it had to be it."
So he sent the message.
"The ironic thing was of the 44 Lynette Carlson's in the United States, I was the second one," Carlson said. "He didn't have to go through all 44."
"I would have read all of them, if you were No. 44, I would have read through until I read that," Nagel said. "I didn't just send someone a random message because I thought they were my mom."
Nagel knew that his mother would embrace finding him.
"You see all those stories about how they don't want anything to do with you," Nagel said. "I always knew that was not going to be the case. First of all, this lady is who I came from and I would never be like that. I was never worried about sending a letter and getting a response of, 'I don't want anything to do with you.' That never even crossed my mind."
The first time the two talked on the phone, they hit it off.
"The first time I called her, I asked, 'What are you doing?'" he explained. "She said, 'Just pouring myself a bowl of cereal.' I was like yep, 'You're my mom.' I'm addicted to cereal."
Now, Nagel has a whole new family.
"I always wanted to know where I came from," he said. "The whole reason I did it was because I love my parents to death, but we are absolutely nothing alike."
Since the first meeting, the two have kept in contact.
"Ben and I met already three years ago, my pastor and his wife brought me up to meet him for the first time. It will be three years ago in August," Carlson said. "Of course, I was excited to see him. I hadn't seen him in three years. We've chatted on the phone, Facebook and text and all that."
The two have continued their relationship.
"We are definitely closer than we were three years ago," Carlson said. "I'm always giving him a hard time, 'You know you can call more than once a year.'"
Nagel lives in Grand Rapids, Mich. and made the 700-mile trip to Slayton Friday night. He picked up his mother in Austin before going to meet his extended family in Slayton.
"It was interesting, to say the least," Nagel said.
It was exciting for the both of them.
"I think what really got me going was just for Ben to meet my family," Carlson said. "Letting him get to meet them for the very first time and just seeing the reaction on their faces.
"When I got to meet him three years ago, they said 'I wish we would have got to go,'" she said. "When I went to Michigan the first time, we took a ferry across Lake Michigan. We picked up the ferry in Manitowoc, Wis. and we docked at Ludington. It was a four-hour trip over and a three-hour trip back. I had never been on a ferry like that before."
The two arrived at 8 p.m. Friday night. After introductions, a rousing game of Boggle was played.
"My excuse was I was focusing on the road for 710 miles," Nagel said. "As soon as I got off the road, my brain was still going. I was watching these letters go around and around. I'm going to have to beat everybody today."
For Carlson's mom, Fran, she gained another grandchild. She has four grandkids and two great granddaughters.
"It was a shock," Fran recalled of the first time Lynette told her about Nagel. "She said, 'You sit down, I have something to tell you.' She went through the whole deal. I said, 'Good, when is he coming or when are you going to see him?''
This weekend, Fran was able to meet Ben.
"I couldn't wait until he got here," she said. "I've talked to him a couple of times."
While Nagel and Lynette have continued to learn about each other and build their relationship, the two are hoping to see each other more often.
"We'll still remain in contact like we are," Lynette said.
Through it all, Lynette believes there was a higher power at work.
"I believed that God was going to bring him back into my life one way or another," she said. "I still believe to this day it's a God thing. That's the only reason Ben got ahold of me. How his social worker goes to church with him and was able to give him the information he needed."