When Cheryl McKenzie received a phone call five years ago from "Bill Marone's best friend," it was a late evening surprise at the end of a long and tiring week.
"The caller I.D. showed it was from out of state, in Vancouver, Washington, so I came really close to not even picking up the phone," says the 52-year-old Medford grandma.
At first, she insisted she knew no one by the name of Bill Marone — no one who'd be calling from Vancouver, Washington for that matter. Finally, the caller on the other end of the line sent her back more than 30 years.
"He said, "Ma'am, I'm so sorry to do it this way, but he's your son!"
Flashback: The year was 1971 and the Klamath Falls sophomore had moved from California a year earlier to live with her father. Midway though her sophomore year, a late-night party resulted in an unexpected pregnancy that would turn her life upside down.
After struggling to finish the school year despite morning sickness and taunts from classmates, Cheryl, 15 at the time, realized she could give a child little more than love.
Near her final trimester, the young girl made the difficult decision to place her child for adoption, requesting she not receive any information about the baby, including gender, or see it following the birth.
"I realized that if I saw his face I would never be able to go through with it," Cheryl recalls.
When signing away her rights following the birth, a caseworker slipped, telling Cheryl how happy the adoptive parents were "about the birth of their son."
Fast forward 30 years: A marketing consultant living in Medford, Cheryl McKenzie was a mother and grandmother married for three decades.
"Thirty years had gone by and it was so buried in my system that I had almost forgotten that pain" ... I always told Blake (her husband) that some day the Lord would let me know that he got a good home," she says.
"When his friend said he was my son, I just kind of froze. I asked, 'What's his birthday?' and he said, 'Shoot, I don't know!' Then I heard him say, 'Hey Bill, when's your birthday?' I heard Bill coming up the stairs, shouting his birthday, and I just started bawling.'"
Now 35, William Carl Marone was raised in a large, loving family, just as Cheryl had hoped.
"I never really had an urge to find my parents, which I think came from the fact I had a good life," Bill says. "I never really thought about it until I got older. Even my adopted mom, when I was 14 or 15, approached me about it. I just never had any urge to go looking."
Bill joined the Marines right after high school. Getting married and starting a family of his own finally prompted him to look for his mother. While he was working as a Marine recruiter, Bill requested his birth record shortly after turning 30. After an online search, his wife found Cheryl living in Central Point.
"One of the very first things I said to him was, 'I need to ask you, do you want to know who you are and where you came from and just go on, or do you want to be a part of this family? Because I guarantee you, if you want to be a part of this family, we're gonna be all over ya!'" Cheryl says with a laugh.
"He thought about it for a minute and then he said, 'I think I'm going take the all over ya part.'"
Five years later, Cheryl's two younger children, Kirk and Heather, are close with their big brother, sharing a family website and common bond in appearance and humor.
Cheryl's younger son, Kirk, realized why he spent so many years feeling like "a weird middle kid," and her daughter, Heather, found a near twin in Bill's athleticism and appearance. Cheryl's father found his ideal match — both have an unusual knack for arm wrestling.
Bill and Cheryl both admit the reunion was meant to be. "It was just weird, for the first time walking into a house where you see people who look like you or you see albums full of people who resemble you," Bill says. "Like I finally found something I never knew I was missing."
Home in Oregon after three years in Japan, Bill and his wife are setting up house in Silverton. In regular contact, Cheryl says she got far more than she ever prayed for.
"I just wanted to know he was okay," she says. "Still, to this day I look at him and go, 'Oh, God, that's really him' ... It's the most wonderful gift the Lord could have given me."