Rekindling Old Fires

UPDATED 07/03/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/03/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT

THE LAST TIME 31-YEAR-OLD LAURI KELLER HAD BEEN with both her biological parents was the day she was born. On Oct. 28, 1963, at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, Barbara Colvin, then 20, gave birth to a daughter; her college boyfriend, Larry Kellem, 24, had come to be at her side. After an agonizing month, Colvin had decided to give the infant up for adoption and go on with her life—apart from Kellem, as it happened.

Not until July 4, 1993, would the three come together again—this time, at a restaurant in Boston, where their lives would once more change direction. For Keller—now a San Diego-based marketing consultant—the dinner was the culmination of a yearlong search. Just five months earlier, she had joyfully reunited with Colvin, owner of an antiques shop in Billerica, Mass. Over the Memorial Day weekend, she had met Kellem, who owns a lawn-sprinkler business in nearby Upton. Eager to see the two together, Keller had arranged the dinner.

As she watched Barbara and Larry in the restaurant, she sensed they were still in love. "Seeing the look in Larry's eyes," she says, she dallied in the powder room so the two could be alone. Afterward, she urged Kellem to ask Colvin to lunch. After Colvin ended a second marriage in 1994, Keller encouraged her parents to date. They did. Now Keller will serve as bridesmaid when, on July 16, Barbara Colvin, 52, becomes the bride of Larry Kellem, 56. "This whole thing has been like a dream," says Keller. "I believe in my heart that they belong together. I knew the feelings were there. I just sort of stoked the flame."

The attraction between Kellem and Colvin had been powerful from the first. "Larry," says Colvin, "was my first love." The youngest of four children, she had been raised in a strict Methodist home in Waltham, Mass., by her father, Norman, a businessman, and her mother, Mildred, a housewife. A buoyant journalism major at Newton Junior College, she met Kellem, an Air Force veteran majoring in liberal arts, in a writing class in 1962. Larry, the younger child of Samuel, a plumbing contractor, and his wife, Dorothy, appealed to her, she says, because he was "thoughtful and sensitive."

Inseparable by October, the two discovered in early 1963 that Colvin was pregnant. Unable to face her parents, she fled to the home of her older brother Don, a school principal in Fairfax, Va. Kellem kept in touch, and the day after Colvin gave birth, he flew to be with her. Although she felt the baby would be better off with adoptive parents, Colvin wavered. Leaving the infant in foster care, she returned to Boston to meet Kellem, who had suggested that they live together along with their child, to search for an apartment. After looking at the sort of "dreary places" they could afford—and realizing that she couldn't face the stigma of being an unwed mother—Colvin signed away her parental rights. Weeks later, she said goodbye to Kellem as well.

By Keller's account, her life with her adoptive parents, who want their identity to remain private, was "ideal." As an infant, she lived with them and her older brother Mark, also adopted, in suburban Silver Spring, Md. Later the family moved to Miami and finally to Oregon. And though her parents prefer not to speak publicly about her reunion with the couple who gave her up, Keller says, "They've both been very supportive—if anything, this has brought me closer to them."

Like many adoptees, Keller had an enduring curiosity about her birth parents. "I wanted so badly to know who they were, but I was afraid to actually find out," she says. After graduating from the University of Oregon with a political science degree in 1985, she worked as a consultant and fund-raiser for the Democratic National Committee before eventually switching to marketing. Deciding in the summer of 1991 that she was "mature enough to deal with whatever would happen," she contacted the Washington adoption agency that had placed her and was told her records could be released only with her birth parents' permission.

Coincidentally, Colvin too had just phoned the agency. Moving furniture at home with her son Jeffrey, now 27 (he and a sister, Dawn, 29, were the offspring of a four-year first marriage that ended in 1968), she had found a letter postmarked December 1963, informing her that the baby she had named Anya had been adopted. Ambivalent about conducting her own search ("I didn't feel I had the right to intrude"), Colvin says she "sent the agency my address in case she wanted to find me. And I waited."

She gathered her courage as well—telling her children about their half-sister and breaking the news to her second husband, Frank Sullivan, a contractor whose marriage to her was already failing. Then she tracked down Kellem through his parents. Identifying herself at first as "a voice from the past," she told Anya's father—who had a son, Phillip, 14, by a marriage that ended in 1989—that she wanted to find their child. Though shocked to hear from her that their child had embarked on a search, says Kellem, "I decided that if my daughter wanted to meet me, I would do it."

In February 1993, Keller answered the phone in her airy apartment in San Diego: "Lauri," said Colvin, "this is your mother." Two weeks later, the two met at the airport in San Diego. "We hugged and just stared at one another," says Colvin. And after Kellem visited Keller in June, he shared his excitement with Colvin. "We were thrilled just talking on the phone about Lauri," he says. "Something was happening."

Keller felt the electricity when the three met for dinner in Boston; when they visited her childhood home in Miami in May 1994, she told them, "You belong together." The two stayed on in Florida after Keller left, and romance flourished. "The next time I talked to Barbara, I heard it in her voice," says Keller. "She said, 'It started again.' I knew then that they'd be together forever."

These days, the three are looking forward to the wedding, which will be at Colvin's antique-filled house near the ocean in Hull, Mass. Seventy guests (including Keller's half-siblings) will be on hand, and it's safe to say that a few tears will flow. Says the daughter-cum-bridesmaid: "I'm so lucky that I have them now and that they have each other. Sometimes there are happy endings in real life."

LORENZO BENET and JAMIE RENO in San Diego and SUE AVERY BROWN in Boston

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