Together Again

By Kerry Haglund

Mariah Washington, nine,  got off an airplane in Amarillo chattering
with her mother about her first flying experience — the television
screens, the peanuts, the plugged ears.

Mariah is back in the Texas Panhandle after a five and a half year
absence. The girl and her mother, Georgeann Foster of Dalhart, were
reunited in January in Huntington, W. Va., for the first time since the
girl?s non-custodial father is alleged to have taken her. Mother and
daughter returned to Amarillo in January.

The reunion brought feelings of relief to a mother severed from her
child for more than half of the girl?s life. But as far as reunions go,
this one was fairly sedate.

“After the long separation, the two need to get to know one another
again,” Foster said.

“We were both kind of reserved, I guess you would say,” she said. “I
really just wanted to grab her up and squeeze the stuffing out of her,
but I wanted her to kind of get used to the idea.”

The reunion took place at a West Virginia police station after tips
in recent weeks led authorities to the girl?s father, Perry Washington,
who was placed in police custody in Huntington, W. Va.

“We both looked at each other pretty hard. She was trying to
remember if she remembered me. Of course, I knew I remembered her,”
Foster said.

Mariah said she never knew exactly what had happened to her mom, but
said she missed her.

Times have changed them both. Mariah, now nine, is much taller than
the four-year-old child her mother remembers. She wears glasses. Her hair
is darker. Foster, meanwhile, also looks different to Mariah, who
remembers her mother?s hair as being darker brown, or even black.

Re-establishing their relationship is possible but will take time,
said Linda Aldridge, a caseworker at OPERATION LOOKOUT® National Center
for Missing Youth.

“On a general level she was really young (when separated from her
mother), but I?m sure she has some recollections of her mother,” said
Aldridge.

“Mother and daughter will need professional counseling,” she said.

“The child may not respond immediately to the mother, and may have
to deal with issues of broken trust with the father,” Aldridge said.

And the issues include things as simple as names. Mariah has two.
Her father renamed her Myra Pracher. She said she doesn?t care if she is
called Myra or Mariah. But she doesn?t know how to address her mother,
Mariah said while her mother was out of ear shot.

“I don?t know what to call her. I?ve always called my grandmother,
mom — mommy this, mommy that, mom this, mom that.”

The girl?s grandmother, Merle Washington, died in August of 1992.

Then there is the life that the girl left behind. Mariah didn?t get
to say goodbye to her friends, people at church, or her father for that
matter.

But Mariah said she feels good about being back in Texas.

“I?m glad because I get to ride horses more often,” she said.

Reprinted by permission of Kerry Haglund & Amarillo Daily News. Photo
courtesy of Amarillo Daily News.

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