Jim Moore still remembers the sweet smell of drugstore perfume, his birthday bike, a broken promise. But that's all he has left of his mom.
She disappeared 56 years ago. He never knew why.
Just after Christmas last year, his youngest grandson started grilling him. What happened? Where did she go?
His grandson is 13, the same age Moore was when he lost his mom.
Now Moore is 69. He had no answers. He wasn't sure where to start searching — or if he wanted to know.
At his home in Washington state, he logged onto Craigslist and clicked "Tampa Bay." He typed into the blank box:
Are you my mother?
• • •
She was beautiful, he remembered, tall and slender. Auburn highlights threaded through her dark hair.
Marjorie Adele Ring was just 18 when she married James Moore in Geneva, N.Y. They had two children — Jimmy and Jana. Then James was shipped to World War II. Soon after he got back, they divorced. "Something about him taking too long to take the babysitter home."
Marjorie, who was 25, rented a place of her own and started waiting tables. She paid families to take in her children. By the time Moore was 8, he said, he and his sister had been shuffled between "a series of strangers' homes."
Their mom sent for them in November 1951. She had moved to Tampa, she wrote, and enclosed plane tickets for Jimmy, 11, and Jana, 9, to join her.
"It was a really big deal," Moore said. Their mom wanted them.
"Those two years in Tampa were the best part of my boyhood," he said.
They lived in a little duplex off S Manhattan Avenue. He and his sister climbed trees, rode bikes to the bay. Most nights, their mom zipped into a cocktail dress, spritzed on drugstore perfume and took them to the Tampa Terrace Hotel.
"That hotel was really ritzy," Moore said. Baseball great Dizzy Dean bought him an orange Nehi at the bar. An accordion player treated him, his sister and mom to lavish dinners. "She always had lots of boyfriends there," Moore said. "She never seemed to pay for anything."
After dessert, after his mom downed a couple of creme de menthes, she would kiss her children in the hotel lobby, close them into a cab and wave good night.
"That was the closest we ever came," Moore said, "to having a normal life."
In the morning, Moore and his sister would get ready for school and tiptoe into their mom's room to get lunch money. She would always be sleeping. Often she was not alone.
"None of the men seemed to be really long-term," Moore said. "Except for one: Doc Ferris."
Lawrence Grant "Doc" Ferris owned 380 acres of orange and grapefruit groves in Citrus County. Though he was married, Moore said, "he seemed to pay a lot of attention to my mom."
For Moore's 12th birthday, Ferris bought him a bicycle.
You never forget the guy who gives you your first bike.
• • •
Moore's best friend, in seventh grade, was Eddie Harnett. His sister's best friend was Eddie's sister, Emily. The Harnetts lived up the street.
Their mom was always home. She was always inviting the Moore children to sleep over.
So no one thought anything of it when, just before Christmas 1953, Moore's mom asked her neighbor if she would mind watching Jimmy and Jana — just for a couple of days.
Marjorie Moore packed a suitcase, hugged her children and told them she would be back in time for Christmas.
That whole week before Christmas, all the kids stayed up late, trying to guess their gifts. But by Christmas Eve, Moore and his sister started to wonder: Shouldn't their mom be back?
She hadn't left a phone number. She hadn't even said where she was going.
Christmas came and went. Every day, Moore and his sister told each other their mom would knock on that door any minute now, tell them how much she missed them. And take them home.
By New Year's Day, they decided, something must be wrong. Their mom wouldn't just leave them. Would she?
After another week, their neighbor tracked down the children's aunt in New York. No, she hadn't heard from their mother; neither had their grandparents. No one knew where Marjorie Moore might be.
• • •
A Tampa orphanage. An uncle up North. Grandparents.
Moore and his sister bounced through a half-dozen houses before landing in a New York children's home. They kept asking everyone about their mom. Either no one knew, or no one would admit knowing.
Moore was 17 when he got the courage to call Doc Ferris. "Remember me? Marjorie Moore's son? You bought me my first bike."
The line went silent, Moore said. Then Ferris said firmly, "I don't know anything about that. Don't ever call here again."
A couple of years later, Moore's sister, Jana, returned to Florida — and booked a room at the Tampa Terrace Hotel. She asked workers, waitresses, everyone: Had they known Marjorie Moore?
The next night, she told her brother, a man knocked at her hotel room. "If you know what's good for you," he said, "you'll quit looking for your mother."
Moore and his sister never asked again.
• • •
What if something had happened and she was hurt — or dead? That would mean she never meant to leave them.
What if nothing happened and she was okay — just gone?
Maybe she found a new man and escaped the shackles of motherhood, an angry aunt maintained. She could be living it up right now, in Cuba.
Which would be worse — loss?
Moore tried to tell himself it didn't matter. His mom was gone. He had his own life to live.
But she kept creeping into his mind. When he graduated from high school, she should have been there. Would she have been proud he joined the Air Force, or built a career helping teenagers find jobs? She should have been at his wedding. Even after he became a dad, he found himself wondering if his mom might someday show up.
"Losing her like that affected everything I did," Moore said. "My sister died eight years ago, not knowing. My children's lives, now my grandkids' too, have been affected."
They can't visit their great-grandmother. They don't even know if there is a grave.
• • •
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has no record of Marjorie Moore from the 1950s. Ditto for the Tampa Police Department and the Floral City Police.
It seems no one filed a missing person report when Moore's mom disappeared. No one searched for her. No one found an unidentified body.
Ferris died in 1975. If you research Ferris, the only curious reference is an anonymous quote on a genealogy Web site: "There was also a girl that died at his house. I don't know who she was, I think they said it was a suicide." It might not mean anything.
Researchers could find no obit for Marjorie Moore.
"If she was still alive, Mom would be 88 years old," Moore said. "Every once in a while, I like to think she's still alive." He paused.
The worst part, he said, is not knowing. Then again, maybe knowing would be worse.
"If she was alive," he said, "I'd like to think she would have found me by now."
Times researchers Caryn Baird and John Martin contributed to this report.