This week was both serious and funny — as I share new news with old college friends (Oo-Oop to my girls!) in town for Howard University Homecoming and spend time with new friends at Oasis, the Salahi family vineyard. Sometimes it seems that being clueless is better than knowing half the story; especially when you begin to sense that there is MUCH more to the story, and that much of it is being hidden or distorted. Episode 4 finds me with conflicting thoughts — emotionally, as I struggle to unlock the full mystery of my birth story, and socially, where a day trip to Oasis creates more questions than answers.
Who Am I? A little history: Just after midnight on Valentine’s Day in 2007, Jason surprised me by showing me, for the first time in my life, the full name and picture of my birth mother. From that moment, my desire, my need to know the full story of my biological reality moved from the back burner to top three on my life’s bucket list.
After months of letters, pictures, emails, all communication ended in the first (and last) phone call with my birth mother. She flatly refused to provide a name or any info that would enable me to find my birth father. But it's all good — I fundamentally respected my birth mother’s privacy and understand her desire (fear) to protect loved ones unaware of her self-described “secret”. I was content knowing who and where she is, with a clearer picture of my biological heritage (well, half of it anyway). I grew up an only child; now, the prospect of siblings at age 43? In Nigeria? WOW! I yearned to make contact ... to connect. Ironically, our communication gave me a sense of just how similar we might be, both stubborn at least. The disappointment only strengthened my resolve to get ALL the information - with or without her help.
So I decided to keep it really real during the taping by fully sharing what was going on in my life, my mind, and my heart during this exciting, difficult, confusing period. In no way am I ashamed of being adopted — in fact, quite the opposite. I grew up thinking that I was in fact more special than most kids, because my parents actually “chose” me! As an adult, I know that my birth mother (and all women who choose to give a child up for adoption), are angels. Adoption is a truly selfless act of love. I am eternally grateful for the chance she gave me, to belong to a wonderful family who provided all I believe she wanted for me, but could not herself provide. While I have absolutely no desire to inject myself into her daily life (think: Guess Whos Coming to Dinner?), I am deeply affected by her firm, frank decision to keep the identity of my birth father from me. I remain hopeful that once he knows I exist, he might welcome and accept a relationship of some sort with me and my children.
Who are THEY? On a much lighter note, we head to a grape stomp at Oasis Vineyard. All the ladies were invited—and all accepted but Lynda—who I respect for not pretending she could stomach the Salahis. Cat—was being Cat. Despite a clear disdain for the hosts she accepted their invitation, and entertained with "bitchy” comments, followed by an early exit. Is there a pattern here? A hilarious scene you didn’t see was Cat bringing store bought grapes and bottles of wine into the limo — in mocking anticipation of there not being any grapes or wine at the Vineyard. CLASSIC! There was real debate about what we were going to see at Oasis. Cat would prove prophetic.
Jason and I were vaguely familiar with stories in the local media about a family feud over the vineyard, so we knew the winery had been defunct for a few years, and that the idea of a grape stomp at a "grape-less" vineyard seemed outrageous. It appeared that the Salahis bought grapes from the supermarket (OK — let’s say farmers market) just as Cat had predicted. Unlike real winemaking grapes, the skin of the grapes was so thick, you couldn't stomp out any juice! Regardless of my future as a grape stomper, the outdoor experience was fun. The combination of curiosity, food, drink, and fall mountain foliage still trumped skepticism. The climate in the limo on the ride out to Oasis was almost all about the Salahis, and anything but complimentary (surprise). I was completely shocked to hear Jason Baake's reflections on the "crash" of the CBC gala. Sneaking thru the kitchen? Casing out empty seats? WHAT? This is all sounding CRAZY, but the fact that Tareq and Michaele traveled across an ocean and gave love to our family event – won them the benefit of our RAPIDLY increasing doubt. The mama drama that warranted a security detail was totally unexpected by everyone, this is not "Vineyard in the Hood." What is up?
But despite the security drama, the Doberman, the dried-up vines and cobwebs, Oasis Vineyards, the real estate, is gorgeous. Set against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Skyline Drive, with a lake and acres of vines as far as you can see, there is little doubt that Oasis was a thriving business in its hey day. The weather was ideal; the sunset was incredible as we sipped wine on the observation deck. Inside welcomes visitors to a large, open lodge and huge stone hearth (I have a fireplace, this was a hearth) for dinners, receptions, tastings, etc. Downstairs, you find the operational guts of the place: a huge underground, temperature controlled concrete bunker with vintage Italian imported vats, automated bottling/corking machines, and racks of wine holding hundreds of bottles. It was impressive, yet dormant. More than wine and equipment, most intriguing to me was the decades old family memorabilia on the wall: photos of Tareq as a tot riding horses and farming the land with his dad; trophies, medals, and newspaper clippings acknowledging Tareq's polo accomplishments and the quality wines produced at Oasis. It was sad to see a place where love and family once thrived, now left to deteriorate. Jason and I chose to appreciate the positive — the scenery, the hospitality, the silly grape stomp experience, the catered dinner in the wine cellar and the Oasis wine, which had aged nicely!
No question, at this point, we are seeing “holes” in the Salahi story, and are questioning who we are dealing with. Micheale goes on the offensive with Mary ("who never talks about or judges anybody"). Can't wait to see what comes next...