Family Reunited for Thanksgiving

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Maybe 35-year-old Dean Gilbert has always had a different last name, but he fits the Johnson family mold.

"You wouldn't know he hasn't been part of the family," said Gilbert's sister, Helen Weber. "He talks a lot and the rest of us are gabbers too. When I first heard him on the phone, I couldn't tell if it was Uncle Daniel or John. He has that goofy laugh. There's a warmth there."

Gilbert, a respiratory therapist at Kaiser Hospital in San Diego, and Weber were among 18 relatives celebrating a belated Thanksgiving on Saturday at the Thousand Oaks home of John Johnson, who was the first family member Gilbert contacted last week when he concluded a five-month search for his natural family.

Gilbert, who was put up for adoption as an infant, got into town from San Diego Friday with his wife and four children. Weber flew in from Oregon on Friday. Another sister, Pat Adams of Arizona, drove in with her children Friday night. Parents John Sr. and Marylou drove up from Buena Park on Saturday morning.

As the younger of the 11 children played on the swings and in the tree house in the spacious front yard, the grown-ups continued the happy reunion.

"This just puts you on an emotional roller coaster. What in life prepares you for this? Nothing," said John Johnson, 38, a contractor and owner of JH Johnson Industries Inc. in Lake Sherwood. "One of the things we said this morning was, 'Now what? What's next?' Christmas is next. My two kids have four cousins they don't know. They are becoming fast friends."

Gilbert said he tried to avoid having any preconceptions about his brother. "I thought it was best to come in with an open mind," he said. "I didn't having any feelings one way or another . . . except for feelings of joy. It was tough to work all week long. John and I talk to each other every day. We just have to talk about something."

Adams, 40, said it had been about eight years since the entire family had been together. "We decided to come here as soon as we found out," she said. "We thought it would be easier for Dean, not as strange, to meet all of us together and to see how neat we are."

Adams said earlier this week that Gilbert was put up for adoption at a time when his family was worried about money.

"There are no ill feelings. We thought we did the right thing at the time," John Sr. said. "Thank goodness it wasn't the same way then as it is today. It would have been a whole different thing."

"In those days, abortion was illegal," added the younger John Johnson.

John Sr. said he and his wife woke up at 4:45 a.m. Saturday to get to their son's house early. "I slept some, except my wife woke me up a couple of times," he said. "We're just thankful. Everything worked out really good."

John Sr. is recovering from a stomach operation he had in August and on Friday will retire from his job of 27 years as a tool operator at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard.

Suzanne Johnson and Rosemary Gilbert said they have been trying to keep their husbands on an even keel. But it hasn't been easy.

"It's like he thinks Dean is going to disappear, so he carries the portable phone around with him," said Johnson. "After a while you say, 'Get real.' "

"There's so much going on, you kind of want to grab someone and say, 'Tell me about yourself,' " said Gilbert. "To think a week ago we didn't know this was going to happen and now we've got a whole new family."

That family soon may get even larger. The youngest sister, Iloann, was also put up for adoption. She was last known to be living in Rancho Cucamonga, but has yet to be located. She has a 4-year-old daughter.

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