GLENBURN, Maine — Donna Keniston was 17 when her mother left Maine in 1981.
“I thought she was dead,” Keniston, 50, of Plymouth said Sunday.
So did Betty Lukich’s four sisters: Virginia Allen, 72, of Winter Harbor; Dorothy Ham, 77, of Brewer; Mary Inman, 75, and Laura Riegelman, 78, both of Glenburn.
The family was reunited Sunday when Lukich, 69, of Phoenix, Ariz., landed at Bangor International Airport for a month-long visit. Three of her sisters, her daughter and other relatives gathered at Inman’s Glenburn apartment for a mini-reunion that evoked many tears.
“I had to get away from it all,” Lukich said of her disappearance.
The story that she was dead came from a brother who lived in Indiana.
“He got drunk one day and called and said he’d buried her in the pot field behind his house,” Riegelman, who lives downstairs from Inman, said Sunday.
The more time that went by without any communication from Lukich, the more believable the story seemed.
Lukich was in her mid-30s when she moved to Arizona. She spent the next 14 driving a tractor-trailer. She drove through all the lower 48 states except for North Dakota.
Keniston was just 18 months old when her parents divorced. She and her three siblings lived in the Bangor area with their father. The divorce was acrimonious and visits from her mother infrequent, Keniston said.
“I was 12 the last time I saw her,” Keniston said. “I’ve been searching for her but I never found her. My dad told us that my mother didn’t want us.”
Earlier this year, Lukich connected with cousins who lived in central Maine on the website www.myheritage.com. The cousins had stayed in touch with Lukich’s sisters and asked if they could tell them she was alive and how to get in touch with her. She said yes.
“We cried all day,” Inman said when she learned her sister was alive and well.
Keniston learned her mother was alive on Feb. 9, her grandson’s fifth birthday.
“I talked to mom right after that and told her all about us,” Keniston said Sunday. “She said she had a Facebook page and we started getting reconnected that way.”
Lukich said Sunday she planned to eat lobster, scallops and fiddleheads and visit Bar Harbor during her visit.
“I haven’t had fiddleheads in more than 30 years,” she said.
Keniston has planned a family reunion for about 200 people on Aug. 10, her mother’s 70th birthday.
Lukich said that after she returns to Arizona, she plans to move to North Carolina to live with a daughter.
“I missed Maine springs, summers and falls,” she said.