How to Make Two Little Old Ladies Happy: A Thanksgiving Story
By Nate Thayer
November 27, 2013
When I was a young boy, between five and 12 years old, I had a second mother.
Her name was Reba Thomas and she loved me and I loved her.
We have not been in contact for decades.
A few minutes ago, I dialed a number and asked for Reba. There was silence on the other end.
“Who is calling, please?”
“My name is Nat Thayer.”
There was silence for a moment, and then an urgent, hushed whisper to someone nearby. “It is Nat Thayer! Mrs. Thayer’s son!”
Then Reba Thomas came on the phone, her voice full of vigor and love. It has been more than 30 years since we last spoke.
“Oh! Nat! How are you? Where are you? I have missed you for so many years!” And then her strong, animated voice became tender. “You are still my little boy. I love you. I have always loved you. When are you going to come visit me?”
My mother messaged me yesterday saying she wanted to be back in contact with Reba Thomas. She was worried about her and her old phone number didn’t work.
My mother is 82 years old. Reba Thomas is 84.
Reba Thomas worked for my family taking care of us in Washington, D.C., between 1965 and 1973. I remember the days when Washington burned down during the violent race riots of 1968 after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. I remember Reba Thomas, a black woman, holding me, a little white boy, tightly in her arms, in my home. I felt so very comforted that I was not hated, but loved, that day. I was scared. I was 8.
Yesterday my mother messaged me: “Dear. Nat, As you are good at tracking people down I hope you can help me find Reba, and that she is not dead! Her phone is disconnected. I have sent a letter to her address but no answer. I am afraid she may be ill? Hope you can help. See you on Thanksgiving? Love, Mom.”
So, I spent a couple hours yesterday tracking down Reba Thomas. I did not know whether she was alive or dead. I did know my mother was worried about her. And I knew Reba Thomas would be happy to hear from me.
Yesterday, I found her property records which showed she still owned the same house in Virginia she bought in 1976. But her land line phone was no longer working. I found a slew of relatives connected to her and that address. I located the church of which she has been a devout member for many, many years. I found a couple dozen telephone numbers connected to Reba and her expansive band of offspring, in laws, grand-children and others who she had, no doubt nurtured and loved over these many years.
When I was a very young child, Reba Thomas took my hand and heart and tried to lead me towards being a good person.
Reba Thomas made sure I was loved, clothed, fed, comforted and protected, like all children should be and too many are not. She cooked my dinner every day and made sure I was filled with the nutrients of food and warmth and love and guidance.
She was firm in what I should and should not do, in the daily cadence of early childhood life experiences that are so vital and gently guided this child along the right, firm path towards happiness in life.
She hugged me every day. She comforted and encouraged me and loved me, always. She listened and encouraged a little boy.
Reba Thomas made a little boy happier, stronger, more worthy, taking me by the hand and nudging me down to right path in life.
She told me exactly when she thought I was being bad—as bad as little boys can be–which is not very, but also a crucial time to gently influence them, with however much loving force is required.
She always made sure I knew she loved me and made sure that I would have no doubt that she thought I was a very good boy, no matter what I did.
Reba Thomas was both moral conviction, strength of character, and unconditional love personified. She was selfless in her abundant overflow of generosity, kindness, and self sacrifice for others.
But she had no reluctance to redirect me, when I veered off the right path, as all children do. She never was reluctant to share her loving words and touch, nor her very unmistakable disapproving gaze of ‘this is not an issue up for discussion or debate’, followed by a declarative statement of what I must do, not do, and not do again.
This was always followed by a hug, a smile and accompanied by Reba Thomas making sure that this little boy knew he was loved unconditionally. That combination of qualities has been a mantra, so deeply important to me, that I have tried, though too many times failed, to replicate in my life with others.
Reba Thomas has had a challenging life, of which she has lived gracefully and with dignity and charity and compassion.
I have know doubt she has suffered, unspeakably. But, also, I have no doubt she has been and is loved by many, many people.
I am one of them.
Her husband, Samuel Thomas, died, young, many years ago. She had 9 children. Some are dead. Others are in prison. Others have been luckier. All loved their mother, their wife, their grandmother, their friend, deeply.
She took solace in her devotion to the Jehovah’s Witness, an apocalyptic Christian sect/cult. It has worked for her.
Yesterday afternoon, I started to track down Reba, using the same skills and knowledge and tactics I have used to track down international organized crime figures, politicians, and various assorted others of news interest during my career.
I am sure I can find her status pretty easily. What is her last name or names? And her full legal name. And the names–first and last–of her children. Addresses, phone numbers, employers, former addresses, church, and any other details etc. Any of the above will be useful. I will, of course, use the info discretely without alerting any of the above that someone is looking for Reba. And, yes, see you on Thanksgiving.
My mother replied: “Thanks, Nat! Her full name is Reba Thomas. Mrs. Samuel J. Thomas. Her daughters name is Angel Thomas. I don’t think she uses any other name. Lester Thomas and Samuel Thomas, Jr. Are the two sons who I think are still alive. Sam Jr. I think lives in Florida. She did work at a hospital in Virginia for a number of years..I think it was Inova Fairfax but am not sure. I am afraid she may have died! Oh, yes, she was a longtime member of a church not too far from her house..I don’t think it was Jehovah’s Witness. I remember that they do not celebrate Christmas. Wow! Is this really all I know? Oh, yes. She owned the house, probably had a mortgage on it, and it may have been sold.
Thank you, dear. Love, Mom. PS. no reason not to let others know I am looking for her. Nothing secret about it…worried friend!!”
A few hours later I replied: “Mom: I have done some digging on Reba. She still owns the house under her name in Arlington. She is listed as 84 years old. There are a slew of people who are connected to that address. The most prominent of which seems to be Lester P. Thomas, her son, now age 61. But the official records show the house has not been sold in several decades. She bought it in 1976 for 52,000 dollars. It is now appraised at 550,000 and is not for sale. A number of phone numbers are no longer operative. But there are also a number of people who have connections suggesting they may have lived there. They include Samuel Thomas, Linda Crumity Nakia Thomas Michael Thomas Rowena Abdon Patrick Thomas Reba Thomas Patricia Mahan Ashley Thomas Deon Crumity William Thomas Theodore Thomas and more. I think Angel’s real name may be Ashley.
One of the best ways to locate her, it seems to me, is through her church. I contacted the church in Arlington and the regional overseeing diocese. They will be back in touch. Whatever, I am sure she can be tracked down.
I think we can conclude that she has not died. There are no death records and the house is in her name. I think we can conclude her son, Lester, is still alive, as are a number of other offspring and grandchildren and in laws etc.
But I think the most important and easiest way is to determine which church she went to. Since she was devout, and these sort of churches are small and intimate, they would remember her. Or frankly, we can just go to her house. and knock on the door. It is a 15 minute drive away and that would answer all, or most all, the questions. The house remains owned by her. It has not been sold. If, by chance, she has died recently, her relatives would still live there. I suspect she still lives there.
I will let you know other info. I have several calls out which I expect to be returned. One way or another you will know by tomorrow.
My mother responds: “Nat dear…thanks so much! You certainly unearthed a lot! Maybe you would be willing to go out there with me? I admit to not wanting to go alone! And, you were always her favourite. ‘How is my Nat? Is always her first question.’ Well, thanks again very much! Love, Mom”
Later, last night, I got a message from an author who is working on a book on organized crime in Cambodia. He wanted to talk and meet with me.
My name is Patrick, I wrote to you recently about Cambodia. I hope I’m not bothering you. I would really love to talk to you some time. I am writing a novel (it will be published by Grove / Atlantic) that is going to take place, partly, in Cambodia. Part of the book is about the manufacturing, and global trade of MDMA. I really want to talk to you, as you’ve been referred to me as an absolute expert in organized crime in Cambodia. Again, I hope I’m not bothering you, I know we’ve never met, and I know it might seem presumptuous to try and talk to you, but I really want to and I think you’ll like me if we get a chance to meet.
Please let me know, as I’ve bought a ticket to go there in early January. Hope this finds you well.
PS, since my last email I also saw you written about in one of the history books I’m reading. Now we must talk!!!”
Patrick and I talked on the phone last night. Recently, he has worked as a private investigator, much of it on contract with various U.S. local governments. This gives one access to data bases of information that are often too costly to subscribe to or in that grey zone of legality for civilians to obtain.
I mentioned to him that I was trying to track down an 84 year old woman and old friend. He said he thought he might be able to help and to send him the basic data.
I sent him the following message: “Patrick: The elderly woman’s name is Reba Thomas or, sometimes, Mrs. Samuel J. Thomas. She has two sons Thomas and Samuel Thomas Jr. Her address is/was xxxxxx xxxxxx Virginia. Her telephone number was. XXX-XXX-XXXX, but is no longer operative. I have other details. Anything you can come up with would make two old ladies happy.”
He responded within an hour: “Hi Nate, Great talking to you! Loving your articles. Try these numbers for Reba:
Sam Thomas = (XXX)XXX-XXXX
Let me know if they don’t work out, and I can dig deeper.”
A few hours ago, I dialed the numbers. The first one came up disconnected. The second one was a machine. The third one, a sweet young voice answered.
“Is Reba Thomas there?” I said.
There was a pause. “Who is calling, please?”
“This is Nat Thayer. I knew Reba when I was a child.”
After a longer pause, she said “please will you hold on for a minute.” And there was a whispered but urgent conversation I overheard in the background. “It is for you! It is Nat Thayer! Mrs. Thayer’s son!”
And then a strong vibrant voice came on the line. “Oh! Nat! I have missed you for so many years! Where are you? I love you, Nat. You know, you are still my little boy! When are you going to come visit me?”
Honestly, I was weeping and it was hard to talk. I felt, once again, at 53 years old, like I was Reba’s little boy.
I was so happy to hear her strong, warm, loving voice. And she was happy to hear mine. And we promised to get together soon, very soon. And we promised to talk later this afternoon again.
Reba was, today, as we talked, at the bedside of her son, Lester, in hospital, who is dying, when she answered my call.
I will call her again this afternoon. I called my mother and passed on the news I had located Reba, that she was not dead, and she was very happy to hear from me and to know my mother wanted to know she was OK.
So two little old ladies in their 80’s are happier this afternoon than they were this morning.
And so is a 53 year old little boy.
My Thanksgiving has come early and with special meaning.
I am very thankful, as I am sure are many, for Reba Thomas to have been, and now again to be, in my life.