MANCHESTER — When Beverly Herbert "Bev" Cotton saw Glenna Lint for the first time in 1956, his mouth popped open.
He was a Kentucky boy, stationed in Maine — he had joined the Air Force as soon as he could to get out of Clay County as fast as he could.
She was a hospital maid who showed up at a restaurant near base that Cotton liked because it was nice and quiet and played country music on the juke box.
He walked up and said, "Hi," and she said "Hi back," and he loved her.
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Now 76, back in Manchester, he says he wanted to marry her then. But life happened, and he was transferred to Okinawa, Japan.
Cotton wrote letters, he said, that came back marked "undeliverable," and apparently she wrote letters that never reached him.
So he never knew Glenna Lint had had a son named Beverly Herbert "Bill" Lint.
And in 51 years, Bill Lint thought his father knew but had abandoned him. Lint grew up with his mother, who eventually married and had three other children, but life was always rough.
His stepfather drank too much and treated him badly — worse than his other children because he knew Bill wasn't his. He was a good provider, which counted for something, certainly, for a single mother and hospital maid.
But Bill Lint grew up with no father and entered adulthood, marriage and fatherhood adamantly against trying to find a father who had not tried to find him. Even his wife, Christine, could only dig up the barest details when she asked Glenna Lint about Bill's father.
He was in the Air Force. He was about 25 then. He was from Kentucky.
Bev Cotton eventually did marry again and have three more children. (He was already separated from his first wife and supporting a son in Massachusetts when he met Glenna.)
After 20 years in the Air Force, he lived in Texas, Cincinnati and Bell County, Ky., before settling down as a widower in Manchester, where the Cotton family has lived for generations.
In April of this year, Bill Lint's half-brother, Daniel Lint, who lives in Alaska, had an urge to do something good for Bill. Growing up, Daniel Lint said, he knew there were differences between them. Daniel's father never treated Bill right, he said, and even into adulthood, it had affected his life.
Inspired by TV shows and Web sites celebrating families reunited, he started a search, calling Beverly Cottons all over the United States. Eventually, he said, between the spare details he and Christine got from Glenna and help from friends on Ancestry.com and other sites, he found a family of Cottons in Manchester, Ky.
In June, Daniel Lint called Bev Cotton, but got no answer. Then he called Ralph Cotton, Bev's youngest brother.
Ralph knew Bev pretty well, he said, and he knew his four children. But he had never heard Bev mention another son or another woman or much at all about Maine. But Ralph would put them in touch.
Bev Cotton was visiting his children in Michigan when Ralph called. Does he know anyone named Daniel or Glenna Lint? This man in Alaska wants to know.
"Well, sure," Cotton said, memories flooding back.
"You've got a son," Ralph Cotton told him.
Bev Cotton was dumbfounded. How could this be? He hadn't heard from Glenna Lint since he moved from Maine.
But there was no question about what to do. "Do you have their numbers?" he asked Ralph and called the moment he returned to Manchester.
He spoke to Bill Lint for the first time on Father's Day of this year, and he was certain they would begin a relationship.
Lint said after that phone call, all his fears were relieved. What if his father had not wanted him? What if he was married and had other children who wouldn't accept him? What if he didn't want his family to know?
"This is a step out on a limb here, but it's something I've got to do," Bill Lint said. "I really didn't have a lot of hope that it was possible."
This week, Bill Lint and his wife and two sons trekked from Maine to Kentucky to spend the week and meet their new family. They were overwhelmed by the welcome.
Waitresses and flight attendants cry over the story as the family tells it. It turns out Bev Cotton has quite a big family; the Lints are meeting uncles and aunts and brothers they never imagined.
After a phone call this week, Bev Cotton said, his daughter in Michigan told him to tell Bill "hello, and I love him." The Lints in Maine live not too far from Cotton's oldest son, Kenneth, in Massachusetts. There might be plans for a meeting there, too.
Already Bev Cotton has Bill Lint's birthday memorized, filed away with those of his other four children.
Bev Cotton has only one regret: "From the bottom of my heart, if I'd have known, I'd have supported him" all that time.
He understands the pain Bill must have gone through, but now there's only happiness and relief.
"I thank God for tenacity," Bev Cotton said.
"I only wish it would have happened a lot sooner."