Norman Ellis, Lawson's son, was 24. An Army veteran, he had survived the Vietnam War. He had moved from the Seattle area to Kentucky, where his mother was raised and still had family. Relatives helped him get a job there.
And then came that terrible call.
Although she was newly remarried, her grief was overwhelming.
"It was so devastating. I just wanted to die for a long time," said Lawson, 79, who lives in Marysville with her husband Wayne Lawson.
In June, she received other news that would change her life. This time, it was a letter. And it was a blessing.
The June 12 letter was signed by a man with a familiar name. The writer was the son of a friend Norman Ellis had known from his days at Seattle's Nathan Hale High School. "I am working on a project for a good friend in need. Sadly, he knows very little about his family," the letter said. It asked if Lawson is "the mother of Norman K. Ellis (1953-1977)."
"If I am correct about your connection, and you have no interest in knowing this family member -- I completely understand," the letter said.
What family member? "We immediately thought there was a child someplace," Wayne Lawson said.
Marie Lawson had to find out, even as she and her husband wondered if they were victims of a scam. She called the letter writer, who lives in Oak Harbor, and said "I'm who you're looking for."
There are still unknowns in this complex tale, but Marie Lawson has no doubt about her new role -- as a grandmother and great-grandmother.
The Lawsons have learned that more than two years before Norman was killed, a woman in the Seattle area was pregnant with his child. They don't have a clue whether he knew about the baby, or what his relationship with the mother was like.
"I always thought he told me just about everything, but it's almost impossible to fill in that gap," Marie Lawson said. She doesn't think her son would have left had he known about a child.
Steve Ellis was born in August 1974. "She did give Steve his legal name," Marie Lawson said. Before his death in 1977, Norman Ellis had married a young woman in Kentucky. He and his wife had no children, and she died last year.
Marie and Wayne Lawson recently met Steve Ellis, 38, who in pictures looks remarkably like his grandmother. In short order, they delighted in getting to know his daughter Hannah, 13.
"He looks more like me. Hannah looks like my son," Marie Lawson said. "We've met twice. Hannah melted right into the family."
Steve Ellis lives in Lynnwood. Marie Lawson said he had no objections to her sharing the story, but chose not to comment. Steve Ellis has told the Lawsons his mother wants no involvement with his new-found family. "I haven't talked with her," Marie Lawson said.
How they were brought together again is a little complicated.
It turns out that Steve Ellis' fiance's sister is married to the man who wrote the letter, the son of Norm Ellis' high school buddy.
"His fiance was trying to help him find his roots," said Marie Lawson, who is putting together an album with photos of her son so Steve can learn more about his father.
There are two sides, especially in matters of the heart. They may never know what happened in the 1970s between Norman Ellis and Steve's mother. "There are lots of questions we haven't asked," Marie Lawson said.
What's undeniable is her joy at having a grandson and a great-granddaughter.
"It's hard to explain what this did to my life," she said. Living far from loved ones in Kentucky, "I always felt alone after my son passed. This has brought a whole new happiness into my life."
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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