14 months ago, Max and Hanna were babies living together in an orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This weekend, the two were reunited after over a year apart, and oddly enough, it was because of college football.
Hanna was adopted by an Auburn family living in Birmingham – Mike and Ashley Hill, whose family on Ashley’s side owns Toomer’s Drugs in Auburn on Toomer’s Corner. Hanna landed in Washington D.C. on September 11, 2013.
On Saturday, when MSU hosted Auburn for a battle of top-five SEC teams, Max and Hanna saw each other again, playing together underneath a tailgate tent 100 yards from Davis Wade Stadium. Quite a change in surroundings since the last time they were together.
Max is two years old, while Hanna turns two in December, so the incredible circumstances surrounding their reunion mean relatively little to them. They’re just happy to share cookies, nibble on chicken fingers and run around in the grass.
Their parents, however, couldn’t stop smiling. The fullness of feelings inside them wasn’t an easy thing to describe, though it wasn’t difficult to tell how happy they were Saturday afternoon.
“This time last year, I was a wreck,” Meaghan said. “My kid was halfway across the world.”
It was a two-and-a-half year process for Max and Hanna to find their families, a lengthy ordeal which began before they were even born. It was during that stretch when the Gordon and Hill families met. They were working with the same adoption agency and became friends as they spent time together and used each other for support.
In fact, after meeting each other, the families were able to meet each other’s children in Ethiopia when they flew across the world to adopt them. When Mike and Ashley went to visit Hanna and complete the necessary steps on the Ethiopian side of the process, they brought presents for Max from Wes and Meaghan and even got video of him.
“The first time we heard Max’s voice was a on video they sent us,” Wes said. “That was really special.”
Two weeks later, Wes and Meaghan did the same for the Hills on their visit to Addis Ababa.
At the time, the families’ greatest interest was in getting their children home, as each had to wait nearly three months between visiting them at the orphanage and getting their visas approved in the U.S. But that didn’t stop them from looking just a little bit ahead to the future.
“We used to talk about it,” Ashley said. “I said, ‘One day, we’ll have them at a game together.’”
And it happened Saturday. Whatever rivalry there is between the two teams was kept squarely on the outside of that tent, though each has their own reasons for strong allegiances.
Ashley grew up steps away from Auburn’s campus, while her Birmingham-native husband Mike quietly is prideful of his alma mater – MSU.
“I flew to New York in 1996 to watch State in the Final Four,” he said. “That was my senior year.”
Wes was an athletic trainer for MSU’s football team when he was in school, and it was his freshman year in Starkville when he fell in love with a cheerleader named Meaghan.
All these years later, the two families really shouldn’t know each other, and they certainly shouldn’t have been tailgating together. But Max and Hanna made it happen.
“Max is pretty happy,” Wes joked. “The Bulldogs got a win and he got to see his girlfriend.”