GREENVILLE — The story of Ralph Palmer and his sisters — both the one he grew up with and the one he hadn’t met before last Thursday — reads like a novel from Dostoevsky. The characters are myriad and the plot convoluted.
And the ending, the payoff, was over 80 years in the making.
The story begins in or around 1923, when Paul Thompson — who would one day father Ralph and his sisters, Virginia and Goldie — married Gladys Norman. The couple was young and in love. But there was too much young and not enough love.
Their tumultuous marriage ended in divorce three years and two children after it began. Paul moved to Idaho and was never seen by his former wife or two children again.
Shortly after Paul’s departure, Gladys remarried Frank Palmer, and the two went on to raise Ralph and Virginia, never telling them that Frank was actually their stepfather.
It wasn’t until years later, when Ralph was inducted into the U.S. Army, that he learned the truth. According to Ralph, it was around this time that his stepfather told him about his biological father, and that his real last name was Thompson.
Having already filled out the Army paperwork as Palmer, it was too late for Ralph to change anything and he entered the service under that name. After the Army, Ralph married and had two sons, both of whom carried the Palmer name into their own terms of service with the military.
Meanwhile, in Idaho, Paul Thompson had remarried to a woman named Gladys Kuiper. Paul and his new wife had one child, a daughter named Goldie.
Unlike Ralph and Virginia, Goldie grew up knowing she had a half brother and sister somewhere, but since she was looking for siblings with the last name of Thompson, her occasional attempts to find them met with failure.
Part of the problem stemmed from the fact that during the 1930 census, Gladys Thompson (now Parker) listed Ralph’s and Virginia’s last name as Palmer rather than Thompson, the name appearing on both their birth certificates.
Decades passed and the tenuous connection between Goldie and her siblings, Ralph and Virginia, grew even more frayed.
Shortly after he remarried Greenville resident Irene Jensen in 1982, Ralph legally changed his last name to Palmer. However, he continued to be fascinated by the idea that somewhere, he had a biological father whose face he could not remember.
But it wasn’t until recently, when Irene mentioned Ralph’s familial interest to her friend and amateur genealogist Barb Parker, another Greenville resident, that things began to happen.
“I was talking with her about it and she said she could find out about Ralph’s father on the internet,” Irene said. “She started out with some birthdays and stuff and a week later she had all this information on Goldie, the sister Ralph never knew he had.”
Letters were exchanged and it turned out that Goldie — who had always known she had siblings somewhere — was anxious to meet Ralph and Virginia. That reunion took place Thursday at Turk Lake Restaurant, where the three Thompson children, all now in their 80s, finally met.
“It’s wonderful,” said Goldie, adding she had always wanted to meet Ralph and Virginia and was grateful for the chance to do so “while there’s still time.”
Considering all three have relatively serious health conditions and Goldie is headed to Florida for the winter, Irene said, this could likely be not only their first meeting but their last.
“This might be a one-time thing for us,” Ralph admitted.
“It’s wonderful that, at least this one time, they can get together as brother and sisters,” Irene added. “After all, they’ve gone their whole lives without that contact.”