I’ll call her Melinda. Melinda is 77 years young, the mother of two. She is your typical American grandma.
She helps arrange flowers at her Methodist church. She belongs to a bridge group. She has two very spoiled lap dogs with double first names. She has been married for over half a century.
Last month Melinda and her husband drove from Florida to California. Her Toyota traversed 2,676 miles across the American interstate system for a very important meeting.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Melinda’s story starts about 60 years ago, when she was 16 years old.
It was a different age. Kennedy was president. Gas was 31 cents per gallon. She was pretty, brunette, innocent, and aimless. She had a relationship with the son of a prominent man in town.
Melinda believed she was in love, but teenage romances between rich boys and blue-collar girls are not bound to last. Melinda was in way over her head and social rank, but too naive to know it.
When her family doctor told her she was with child, it came as devastating news. This was 1961. Rich boys did not father the children of working-class girls. And if they did, the girls were taken away and dealt with.
As I say, different times.
No sooner had her belly began to show than she was whisked out of town. A cock-and-bull story was invented to keep everyone from wondering where she had gone.
“She’s helping at a church camp,” was one rumor going around.
“She’s attending a prestigious school up north,” was another story.
“I heard she became a nun.”
“Didn’t she join the Peace Corps?”
The girl was strongly advised by adults in her life to give her child up for adoption. And by “strongly advised,” I mean she had almost no choice.
This wasn’t what she wanted to do, mind you. But she was 16 years old, so she signed the adoption papers and made the biggest decision of her life before she was even old enough to drink.
“You’re doing the right thing,” the adults assured her.
Except, it didn’t feel right. Not to her.
And so it was, the young woman went through the pain of child labor in a strange place, all alone, in secret, away from prying eyes. She was cared for in a home for unwed mothers, but it might as well have been a foriegn continent.
No sooner had her child been born, than the infant was confiscated from her arms.
“I never even got to hold my baby,” she tells me.
She caught a glimpse of her child’s gender as the nurse carried the child out of the room. But it was purely accidental, she would have never even known her child was male if she hadn’t peeked and seen.
That was a long time ago.
Last month, she received a call from an unknown number in California. The old woman was eating dinner at the time. Her husband was seated across from her.
She answered the phone.
“Hello?” she said into the phone receiver.
It was a young man on the phone. “Are you Melinda?”
“Yes. That’s me.”
“The same woman who put her son up for adoption in 1961?”
Her stomach went sour. “Yes.”
“I am your son.”
The world went silent. Her eyes became wet. Melinda nearly tested the limits of her pacemaker.
They arranged a time and a place to meet, mother and son. Melinda hung up the phone and wept for nearly a week thereafter. She admitted during our brief interview that she wasn’t sure if her tears were shed out of joy or remorse.
“Maybe both,” she said.
She and her husband chose not to fly, and instead drove across the Continental U.S.
“My husband was my cheerleader,” she said. “He just kept telling me to hang in there. He kept telling me to relax.”
When they arrived at the public park where they agreed to meet, she was trembling. Her husband held her quivering hands and whispered reassuring words to her.
Then she saw him. She knew it was him. Melinda could tell by his gait. The late middle-aged man was across the park, wearing a ball cap. He hadn’t seen her yet, but she saw him. He was tall, and lean, and, in her own words, “very handsome.”
The old woman released her husband’s hand and raced across the pavilion.
And after nearly sixty years, and old woman finally held her baby boy.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South. His work has appeared in Southern Living, The Tallahassee Democrat, Good Grit, South Magazine, Alabama Living, the Birmingham News, Thom Magazine, The Mobile Press Register, and he has authored seven books.