SAN JOSE -- The first time Lou DeFeyter saw her days-old son was also the last time she would see him for 63 years.

"He had curly hair, a cute face," she said of the quick peek at the baby down the hall from her hospital room in Davenport, Iowa, where she had been whisked away by her mother after getting pregnant out-of-wedlock at age 23 in San Jose. Her mother and Iowa relatives ordered her to put her baby up for adoption.

"I didn't want to do it," DeFeyter recalled. "But it was decided for me. I never got to hold him, feed him or anything. They knew I'd get attached to him."

During her furtive reconnaissance, though, she saw his name -- Ronald Lee Albright.

And then he was gone.

A series of events over the decades, however, finally led her back to the baby she had only glimpsed at long ago at midnight in the dimmed hospital lights.

Her longing ended last week when her son turned up at her San Jose doorstep.

DeFeyter, who feared talking about her secret baby with anyone, searched for Ron in her heart for six-plus decades. Ron -- who didn't fully learn he was adopted until he was 33 -- found himself scanning the faces of older women in and around his hometown of Rock Island, Ill., just across the Mississippi River from Davenport.

"I thought she might be around the Quad Cities area looking at me," he said of a group of cities along the Mississippi River on the Iowa—Illinois line. "Or maybe she just didn't care, and that's the way it's going to be."

Ron had his first inkling that he was adopted at age 16 or 17, when an uncle blurted out to his parents one night, "He's not yours."

It was the last time the uncle visited his house.

Years later, Ron's adoptive mother was ill and needed blood. At the hospital, his father said bluntly that his son did not have the same blood type as his mother's because he was adopted.

"I was flabbergasted. It really hurt," recalled Ron, who nonetheless loves and respects his deceased parents, who were strict but provided for him the best they knew how.

Ron has had what he considers a good life. He's a retired casino janitor who sells coins part time at coin shows. He's attended 500 baseball games and witnessed three no-hitters. Ron's a whiz with numbers. He never married. He considers a dozen or so squirrels that visit his porch for the peanuts he feeds them "family."

A letter from San Jose -- sent via registered mail -- upended his life.

DeFeyter, who would eventually marry Ron's biological father and have two daughters with him, wondered what clothes her boy wore and how well he did in school.

"I always had Ron in my heart," DeFeyter said.

Then one late night in July, a discussion about babies triggered an uncontrollable urge in her to tell her secret. She announced to daughter Margie Moura: "When I was 23, I had a baby."

The next day, she told her other daughter, Fern Bokamper, who began to cry. "I was stunned," Bokamper said.

At their mother's request, the daughters began a frantic search for their brother. They had a huge advantage: Mom knew his name.

With the help of volunteers working with groups like Search Finders of California, they found his location. Last month, DeFeyter and her daughters sent him letters -- first to a wrong address, then by registered mail.

After initially ignoring repeated notices by the U.S. Postal Service to pick up a package, Ron finally got the letters.

"It felt funny," he said. "It felt strange."

Ron, in disbelief, asked a buddy to immediately meet him at a local Wendy's and read the hand-written letters.

"I couldn't believe it," he said. "Something like this -- you hear about it on 'The Jenny Jones Show,' 'Montel,' 'Unsolved Mysteries.' But this doesn't happen to me."

He dithered for days before dialing the number his mother provided in her letter. Two-hour phone chats ensued. And then he decided to drive across the country to his birth mother's house.

On Saturday, the family hosted a lunch reception at a San Jose Olive Garden for the son who was lost but now is found. The gathering was an emotional one. Simultaneously total strangers yet vitally connected to each other, Ron and his new/old family exchanged hugs and kisses. He, like his mother and sisters, has an upbeat disposition.

"God directed us to find him," said DeFeyter, now 87, who remarried after divorcing Ron's father, who died in 1986. "I couldn't have had anything better than this happen in my life."

After lunch was served, Ron was given gifts -- photo frames engraved with messages of love. On Monday, he'll attend the San Francisco 49ers-Chicago Bears game at Candlestick Park with a nephew.

"We wanted him to know how much we love him," Fern Bokamper said.

The blood that binds families together can also haunt those separated at birth, said Dorothy Yturriaga, founder of Search Finders of California, a nonprofit that assists adoptees and birth parents looking to reconnect.

"People get married. They have kids -- that's big. But this is bigger," she said. "It's your identity."

Not all searchers, though, end in happy endings, Yturriaga said. Sometimes birth parents find such reunions too painful.

Particularly for birth mothers, "The guilt is very deep," said Yturriaga, who tracked down her birth mother only to be turned away.

Ron plans to return to San Jose in the spring. His family, though, is trying to persuade him to relocate to San Jose.

After connecting with his mom for only the second time in his life, Ron told her: "Now I know who I am."

Contact John Boudreau at 408-278-3496; follow him at Twitter.com/svwriter