Jenette Pace put her arms around the two men standing before her and in three words erased three decades of silence.
"I'm your mama," she said.
For 34-year-old Edwin Connors, Jr., of Wheaton, Md., and 32-year-old Jim Connors, of Alexandria, Va., it was the end of a 30-year separation from their mother.
"I want you to know that I love you and I missed you," Edwin told his mother.
"I just can't believe this is happening," said Jim, as he shook his head in disbelief.
"Neither can I, honey," said the 53-year-old Pace.
The separation of Jenette Pace from her two sons followed a bitter divorce from her first husband. reluctantly, she describes the marriage as troubled, and to this day she rarely mentions the marriage to her second husband, Jim Pace, or their four children.
"It was a tragedy in my young life," said Pace. "It ripped me apart. I hated being driven from my children, and I didn't want to impose any of that in this family. We never talked about it."
Pace says she recalls visiting her two eldest sons at their grandparents' home in Mount Rainier after she and her first husband separated, but soon stopped the visits -- and made no further effort to see Ed or Jim -- when her former husband made it clear she was not to contact him or the boys.
"When I lost my children I wanted to commit suicide," said Pace, who was born and grew up in the Washington area. "Having been raised in a foster home, I didn't want that to happen to my children."
The journey that ended this family's separation began 10 days ago when Jim and his wife, Kyung, were watching a television show called. "That's Incredible." One story described the reunion of two young men who had been best friends for 14 years before discovering that they were brothers.
Jim, a real estate agent, said the show revived his curiosity about his mother.
"i had no idea where she was. I had thought a lot about trying to find her, getting a detective or taking three months off from work to look. I just didn't know where to begin."
The only clues he had were his mother's maiden name, Triplett, and that she had grown up in the Washington area.
A year before, he had tried, without success, to find a Triplett relative in the Washington phone book.
But this time, his wife, Kyung, picked up the Virginia and Maryland telephone books and tore out the pages with the name Triplett.
The third number Jim dialed was in Wheaton, Md., to the home of Eugene Henry Triplett.
"I'm trying to find my real mother," Jim told the man who answered. "Do you know anyone who had the name Jenette Rowena Triplett?"
"That's my daughter," came the reply.
"I just started yelling and going crazy," Jim recalls.
His grandfather gave Jim the phone number for the Pace family and assured him that Jenette Pace would like to hear from her sons. A few minutes later, Jim was on the phone to his brother Ed, and Ed's wife Lori, in Wheaton.
"I asked him how would he like to talk to his real mother," said jim, "and told him to wait for a conference call arranged through the phone company."
About 15 minutes later, the phone rang in Pace's small, suburban home here.
"When i answered the phone someone said "This is Ed,'" Jenette Pace recalled last weekend, as she sat in her daughter's living room before the reunion. "I thought it was my ex-husband calling to tell me someone had died. r'Well, I said, 'How are the boys?'"
"The boys are fine," answered Jim. "And we're the boys."
Said Pace, "That's when everyone started hollering. I was so excited that I scooted up in the seat and fell out of my chair. then, I broke down and started crying."
After overcoming their initial bewilderment, Ed, Jim and Jenette made plans to meet in the West Columbia home of Jenette's daughter, Cheryl Frierson.
Even after the reunion was arranged, the brothers still had some doubts. "I wasn't sure if we were doing the right thing," said Edwin. "We all had a lot of questions."
For many years, Jim and Ed said, they did not know anything about their mother. "I didn't really know if she was dead or alive," said Ed. After their parents separated, the boys spent part of their time with their father's parents, and part with their father and his new wife. Their mother, they say, was rarely mentioned -- and they didn't ask.
Their father, like their mother, is reluctant to talk about the events that led to the long separation. But he had no objections to the reunion.
"It was just a marriage that didn't work out," said their father, Edwin Connors Sr., in a telephone interview from his home in Virginia Beach, Va. "I sent the boys with my blessing, but there no need to bring up old dirt.
"It's a closed chapter in my life, but it was not a closed chapter in their lives. The boys just needed to fill a void."
Last weekend, Ed, Jim and their wives drove nine hours from Washington. At 3 a.m. Saturday, they arrived on the outskirts of Columbia, where they spent the night in a motel.
The next morning they drove into Columbia, hoping to surprise their mother at her home. But she was already at the Frierson house a few miles away, running from one window to another, looking for her sons. "I'm so nervous. I hope I don't get sick," she said as she sipped a cup of coffee.
But when her sons arrived, her fear turned to joy. Jenette Pace met her two new daughters-in-law; Ed and Jim Connors met their stepfather, two half brothers (another was in Minnesota and unable to attend), a half-sister and a crowd of relatives and friends.
Pace, who was successfully operated on Monday, to remove a tumor on her neck, said having her family reunited will allow her to forget a troubled past and dwell on the future.
"This is a real miracle of the love of God," she said, "to bring me great joy and take away the hurt."