You may recall the front-page story my PD colleague Jeremy Hay wrote about a quiet, diminished man who lived in the shadows and died the day after he stepped into the path of a car as he crossed College Avenue before dawn on Oct. 15.
Santa Rosa native Monique Duval-Von Merta read the story in Tucson, Ariz., with her heart in her throat. The alcohol-ravaged homeless man was the father she'd never met but had looked for, and imagined.
Monique, 32, came back to Sonoma County on a couple of occasions and volunteered at shelters in order to watch for and inquire about Joseph Von Merta.
"It seemed he didn't want to be found," she said.
She was still an infant in Santa Rosa when her parents divorced and her mother won custody of her and her older brother. Growing up with her mom and her grandmother, Monique knew very little about her father.
I ASKED HER what she might have said to him had she found him.
"I would probably have said, 'I love you, you're my father. I always wondered what you are like. I wish I would have had you in my life.'
"I probably would have asked him why he left," she said. The mother of two daughters added, "I wanted to tell him he has grandkids."
News of the death of 57-year-old Joseph Von Merta's was especially harsh to Monique because her mother also died this year. "It was a bit of a double whammy," she said.
But quite a bit of good has come, too, since Hay's story told what some of had become of Joseph Von Merta.
Beyond not having to go the rest of her life wondering if her father is dead or alive, Monique learned that he had 12 siblings, and in recent weeks she has connected by phone or Facebook with many aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.
"It's been nice to get to know everybody," Monique said. "There are so many of them, and they all want to talk!"
IT HAS HELPED, TOO, for some of the aunts and uncles she never knew to share memories of her father as a boy and young man who suffered the divorce of his parents and his father's death, and didn't want to be a burden to his kin.
"Everybody speaks kindly of him," his daughter said. "They all said he wouldn't hurt a fly and he was very loving and protective."
And now, at least, Monique knows where she can go to visit her father. Following his death 21 days ago, his ashes were interred next to his mother at Petaluma's Cypress Hill Cemetery.
Monique anticipates one day meeting the cousins she has found she has in California, across the Midwest and as far away as Maine.
"I have a whole new family," she said.
She has discovered since mid-October that the real name of San Jose-based entertainer Bobby Badfingers, who's appeared on TV plenty as the world's fastest finger-snapper, is Robert Von Merta. He's another of the cousins Monique never knew she had.
Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and firstname.lastname@example.org.