When Mona Bradford saw him in the airport she did not recognize his face, but there was something familiar in his presence. Bradford was meeting her foster father Steven King, whom she hadn’t seen for more than 44 years.
“It’s real tender. It makes me wonder what my life and her life would have been like had I continued to be her parent for those years,” said King, recalling the reunion. “I am happy to see her doing so good, but sad to know I missed so many years of her life.”
King met Bradford in 1967 while he and his wife were working at a school for the deaf in Oregon. Bradford was born three months premature and deaf. The couple, who have one child of their own, fostered Bradford as a toddler for three and a half years. Then the Kings were offered jobs in Seattle. They wanted to adopt Bradford, but her birth mother would not allow it, so they had to leave her.
“It was like I was losing a child. We were really close. For her it was her first family and the first time living with two people using sign language,” said King. “I wouldn’t be able to do it again knowing I would have to give her up.”
Bradford had 18 foster families in 18 years. She describes those years, through sign language, as a “confusing time.” She has tried to connect with some of her other foster families, but mainly found only dead ends.
King eventually moved to San Juan Island, but he always wondered what happened to his foster daughter.
In 2005, King and his wife made an impulsive decision to purchase a pet camel. His wife had worked in Egypt and had an affinity for the animal. The only problem was her name: Mildred the moaner.
She was named such because her original owner would be gone for weeks at a time and in their absence Mildred would cry – a sad, terrible sound.
So King changed her name to Mona after the toddler he had lost so many years ago.
“The camel was so happy and playful,” said King. “She reminded me of Mona when she was a child.”
Flash forward 40-odd years. King’s now partner Kit Moorhouse decided to start looking for Bradford, and after a few clicks on Facebook, she found her.
Within ten minutes, Bradford and King were messaging one another online.
Just seven months later on Sept. 20, Bradford made a trip to the islands to reunite with her foster father and meet her namesake Mona the camel. She didn’t see the similarities right away, but eventually admitted they have one thing in common: Bradford likes animals as much as Mona the camel likes people.
Bradford lives on a farm in Kentucky with her boyfriend, who was also born deaf. She has one daughter who is 22 and training to become a bush pilot in Alaska.
Bradford flew home to her farm on Sept. 23. She said she hopes to move to the island one day. She considers King her family.
“It’s very special,” signed Bradford as King translated. “Most foster parents, once they lose a child they don’t stay in touch. The state does not encourage that. It was very special for him to contact me. It was important. When I told people at my work they cried.”