As a little boy, I used to get anxious when I'd hear other women say to my mother, "Oh, he looks just like you!"

Of course, I didn't.

I was adopted, and my face was a gypsy-mix of unknown genes, some maverick topography of muscle and bone not locatable on the map of my mother's big, open west Texas features.

While I was growing, in the thousands of times that I'd look up at her utterly familiar, utterly different face, I'd often feel pulled between the twin gravities of gratitude (she loved me, she saved me, she took me anyway) and exile (I'm strange, suspect, not in the bloodline). More so when she gave birth to the boy who was my brother.

So over the years, as I watched his features become a handsome amalgam of my parents', I began to wonder about my biological mother, fantasizing about a woman whose face would mirror mine, in whose body I could see my ancestry extend back endless to the dawn of time.

Finally there came a day when I could make the fantasy real. I was a legal adult, I had the money and I was driving into Idaho, the cold mountain fastness where I was born. A quarter-turn of the steering wheel would take me north to Boise and the courthouse records and the mystery of motherhood.

And I started thinking about that other woman, in whose warm muskrat coat I used to bury my face, the magical pastry-baker and miraculous problem-solver who taught me that a loyal and loving heart is the greatest human achievement; the plumply cheerful and selfless woman who despite my defeating every dream she had for me, despite bad drinking and worse behavior, despite a hundred trusts betrayed, was always there like a billion-dollar check in the strongest bank in the world, who would tear the very hide off anyone who threatened me, her alien and chosen son.

I turned south, toward Salt Lake, knowing at last with absolute, perfect certainty who my real mother was.

And she has the biggest Texas smile you ever saw.