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A New Life Together : Teen-age sweethearts torn apart in the 1960s have reunited and plan to wed. They also met their daughter, given up for adoption in '66.

July 30, 1993|MARYANN HAMMERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Maryann Hammers is a regular contributor to Valley Life

When Carla Swift and Jim Montgomery sat down with daughter Holly Ullman at an Arizona restaurant in 1989, they looked like any happy family. But that dinner was no ordinary get-together. The event marked the reunion of Swift and Montgomery, teen-age sweethearts torn apart in the 1960s by the pressures surrounding unmarried pregnancy.

Montgomery was meeting his daughter, who had been given up for adoption, for the first time. Swift had met her just hours before. Hundreds of phone calls and letters followed that dinner four years ago. This year, on Valentine's Day, Montgomery slipped a sparkling diamond engagement ring on Swift's finger.

"It only took me almost 30 years," he said.

Ullman, now a 26-year-old rancher in Virginia, proudly cheered them on. "This is exciting! There's nothing wrong with doing things a little backward," she said.

Swift, 45, and Montgomery, 47, met in the summer of 1964 at a church function. Swift, then Carla Thompson, was a 16-year-old student at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys; Montgomery was 18 and attended Cal Lutheran College. Their first date was a moonlit hayride and, for the next two years, they were inseparable.

Then Carla got pregnant. "That was when everything fell apart," she said. "Our families began pressuring us to get married, and Jim withdrew. He became distant and hostile. He just shut down."

Montgomery says: "I just flat lost my mind. I was getting so much conflicting advice from my folks and her relatives that we never had a chance to figure out what was right for ourselves."

His biggest worry, he explained, was the prospect of being sent to Vietnam and leaving a new wife and child at home. "I had several friends who died in the war," he said, "and that really weighed like an ominous black cloud on my mind."

Forced to face the situation alone, Swift dropped out of Pierce College and got a job to earn enough money to stay at a home for unwed mothers in Sioux Falls, S. D. When she was five months pregnant, she quietly disappeared from the San Fernando Valley. Even her best friends did not know where she went, she said.

She spent four lonely months in Sioux Falls, along with a dozen or so young girls with swollen bellies. "I ached inside when one girl got a call from her boyfriend asking her to bring the baby home and marry him," she said. "I cried when another girl's parents called to say, 'Bring your child home; we'll raise it.' I knew I did not have those choices." Her parents were not willing to help Swift raise the child.

Swift gave birth to a baby girl on Nov. 3, 1966, and named her Sunshine Faith. "I wanted to say something significant on the birth certificate," she said, "something that said love, something that said I tried to do the right thing."

The years passed. Swift kept in contact with Montgomery's mother, who had remained her friend. Swift married, raised a daughter and son, settled in Newhall, became active in community and church activities, and returned to college, eventually earning a bachelor's degree in speech communications. She and her husband divorced in 1989.

Montgomery married, too. He joined the Army and spent 18 months in Vietnam. His wife left him while he was overseas. Five years later, he married again. He and his second wife raised a daughter, now 17, in Tucson, where he runs a financial consulting business. That marriage ended after nine years.

But just as Swift and Montgomery's separate lives unraveled, a new life together began--this one including the child they never knew. With the assistance of International Soundex Reunion Registry, a service that connects biological parents and offspring, Swift located Ullman in 1989. She was invited to visit the Tempe, Ariz., home that the young woman shared with her mother, who adopted her as an infant. (Ullman's adoptive parents were divorced when she was 9.)

"Holly hauled out all her school pictures and home movies," Swift said. "She looked more like me than my other two kids do. When I sat across the table from her and heard her laugh, it was like listening to an echo."

During her visit, Swift impetuously asked, "Would you like to meet your dad?" Ullman said yes.

"I was curious," she said. "I wanted to see who my natural parents were and what they were like." So Swift called Montgomery and asked, "Want to have dinner with me and your daughter?"

The three met. They remarked on how Ullman and Swift look alike, laugh at the same jokes and share the same mannerisms. They learned that Ullman had attended college in Tucson, less than 15 miles from Montgomery's home. As a child, Ullman took riding lessons from a Montgomery family friend.

"It was amazing. It was really wondrous. It is hard to put into words how good it felt," Montgomery said. "Holly is a great kid, and I regret all the growing up I missed."

They stayed in touch. Montgomery attended Swift's college graduation last year and began dropping hints about buying a California beach house. Then came the Valentine's Day proposal; the couple have yet to set a wedding date.

"This reunion was almost inevitable," Montgomery said. "This is a family that, one way or another, was meant to be."

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