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LANGLEY A chance meeting during Choochokam Arts changed two lives in an instant this summer and left one Langley man with a whole new family.
Andrew Gilkerson, owner of Ace Leather Goods, Inc., knows the drill at Choochokam; sell, sell, sell his leather products. He has participated as a vendor in the festival for more than 17 years.
But at this years festival, his wife Kathy was spending too much time talking with a particular woman and not making a sale. His frustration factor edged up as he continued with his own customer.
Then, his wife motioned for him to walk over. After completing his sale, he did.
I told him this is Sheila Drucker-Dumas, Kathy Gilkerson said. This is your sister.
Andrews reaction was totally what I would have hoped for. He had this dumb-founded look, just opened up his arms and started to tear up. She just walked into his arms and laid her head on his shoulder. They hugged and both cried, she said. There wasnt a dry-eye around.
Gilkerson and his half-sister Sheila had a lot of catching up to do and they both walked into a quiet alley and talked for more than an hour.
For Gilkerson and Drucker-Dumas, it seemed as if the stars had aligned themselves for the two to meet. Almost 32 years of synchronicities had worked together to bring the woman to Langley that particular day.
Only three months earlier, Gilkerson had put his name on business cards his sister picked up when she stopped by the leather booth and recognized his name.
Only half of the cards in our booth had our names on them, so she could have easily gotten one that didnt have Gilkerson on it, Kathy said.
After Gilkersons wife and Drucker-Dumas determined from a long exchange of back-and-forth questions that they knew the same people, Kathy asked the woman her name.
She told me Sheila Drucker-Dumas. She had given me her maiden name, which was Drucker. I knew right then that she was my husbands sister, she said.
Are you Maxs daughter? I asked. We knew then Andrew and Sheila were brother and sister.
For Gilkerson, the story is a haunting reminder that a difficult past can be redeemed in a moment after many years of pain and anger, clouded by questions that seemed to have no answers.
The largest question that had loomed in Gilkersons mind since he was 15 was simple yet complex. Who am I?
Andrew Gilkerson was borne of tenuous circumstances to a mother who had survived the Holocaust, had lost her own mother at 12 and then her father in the concentration camps.
At 21, Laura Oberlander, his mother, emigrated to the United States and met Moffet Gilkerson, who was 33 at the time and had been divorced with two kids. They were married shortly after that and settled in Oakland, Calif.
In the 1960s, as the children grew, Gilkersons mother, who loved music, wanted to expose the children to music. Her husbands oldest son, Obie, began taking violin lessons from a teacher named Max Drucker.
A mutual love of music between Laura Gilkerson and Max Drucker drew them together into a romantic relationship.
Music was very much a part of our life and that appreciation of music was the key factor in their having a relationship, Gilkerson said. My mom didnt have an affair. She had a 16-year-long relationship with another man while married to the man I called my father.
And Moffet Gilkerson, at nearly 50 years of age, was not about to walk away from a second marriage when he discovered Andrew was not his son.
I dont know if Id have the strength to do what he did, Gilkerson said.
Only three people knew about the truth of the matter; his mother, Moffet and his biological father, Max Drucker.
Unaware of his true lineage, Gilkerson grew up doing the things many fellow teenagers did. He could not know that a storm was brewing at the horizon.
I did pretty normal stuff. I was pushing the marks like a lot of teenagers do.
Music has been in my life and I played classical guitar, he said.
That was a big thing in my life. I did the normal stuff of riding a motorcycle and putting everybody on edge. We had a family swim every Saturday night at the Albany Pool, for an hour, which was cool.
But throughout his young life, Gilkerson could not understand why his father would never share his affection.
Moffet would not say the words I love you. Basically his actions spoke for him. And if you asked him that, he thought the word was totally overused. I love the dog, I love the cat, I love this car, whatever, he said. That would be hard to be in a relationship where someone didnt say that.
It was during this time that Gilkersons mother told him that Moffet was not his father during dinner one night.
As a person growing up, this man, Max, was always pushed on me and I never put two and two together, Gilkerson said. He wasnt just a friend of the family. He was my biological father.
Max Druckers wife, Hannah, had also been unaware of his 16-year relationship with Laura Gilkerson.
And when Drucker told his wife, Gilkersons life changed for the first time, as his wife forbid him from any future contact with anyone from the Gilkerson family, including Andrew.
Gilkerson found himself confused by the news, without a way to get answers to his questions.
To go from where this guy had been pushed on me, to realizing he was my biological father, and then him being taken out of the picture. The whole family just moved on, he said.
Gilkerson became angry, and his relationship with his parents soured. So at 16, Gilkerson set out on his own and spent a summer in Seattle with a friends uncle who owned a leather goods shop.
I wanted to follow a path of my own. I started working at a young age, he said. I was doing something that wasnt illegal and it also provided me with the opportunity to move on.
He returned to the Bay area in late 1976 and worked for Acme Leather Goods until April 1978 when the company ceased operations. He brokered a deal and his friends uncles bought the company. Gilkerson returned to Seattle to work in the company.
Soon enough, Gilkerson said, the owners sold him the leather goods portion of the company and, since then, has rolled four other businesses into Ace Leather Goods, Inc.
In 1982, he began showing his leather work in shows and by 1990, was participating in Choochokam, which was where 17 years later, his sister Sheila would walk into his life.
Sheila Drucker-Dumas, 64, Quartz Hill, Calif., knew that she had a half-brother but she was not looking for him that day or any day.
Drucker-Dumas daughter lives in Sammamish and she had flown up from her Southern California home to visit her daughter and her new granddaughter. The family was looking for something to do, Drucker-Dumas said, and though the Choochokam festival looked interesting.
We were looking for something to do and saw that Whidbey Island and Langley was a destination location, she said. It was a beautiful day so we went to the festival.
Drucker-Dumas happened to need a cell-phone cover and thought leather might fill the bill, so she stopped at the Ace Leather Goods booth. Then, she saw the business cards, and after that, it became a day shed never forget.
It was the most powerful thing that has ever happened to me. We both started crying. It was the beginning of a new book for me, the retired librarian said. I have another brother. This has opened up a whole lot of things to think about. It is July 14, 2007 and on for me.
Drucker-Dumas thinks about what might have happened had she not visited Whidbey Island; had she not picked up a business card; had her mother not told her about Andrew years before.
I do still think I would have met Andrew some way, she said. I would have pursued finding Andrew. But it all came together. I am going to get into a lot more leather now.
Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or at email@example.com