In early November of 2019, my oldest child told me he had found out in a Google search that his biological mother had died in 2015. An adopted son, he had met his biological mother when he was eighteen—they sat in her car during her lunch hour. Besides one small photograph of her the Christmas before he was born, the lunch hour was all he had, except for what I shared with him. Always interested about her, he kept that desire at bay, but had recently searched her name only to find that she had been dead for almost five years. He told me because I am his biological father, her sweetheart in 1967-’68. He and I now share some common emotions about her death by cancer: 67 is such an early age to die; its sadness for her mother, siblings, and husband; its finality for the son who will never meet her again.
I last saw her in 1969 at the Pot-of-Gold Restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest D.C. She had enrolled for graduate school in Washington and called to ask me for some help. She and I had managed to continue our romance for a short time after he was born, but by our meeting, she loved someone else and soon married him. But my memory of that brief time with her at the restaurant is sweet and kind- especially how she laughed telling me a story about one of her first commutes into the city from her house in suburban Maryland. After all, she was a young girl from the rural South and D.C. was a new and large adventure.
“The Song Remembers When” is a fine explanation of how some of us recall past times in our lives. Over the years as I have listened to Trisha Yearwood sing it, I admit to having had wonderings of her and her life. After all, do you honestly forget someone who you impregnated, wanted to marry, and with whom you shared your senior year of college? I didn’t and at times, as Yearwood sings, “Still I guess some things we buried/Are just bound to rise again/For even if the whole world has forgotten/The song remembers when.”
After my son told me of his biological mother’s death, I went to Google and found Karen’s obituary. I read it all: the summary of her life, the kind condolences, and I studied the photographs, especially the one showing her from our brief time. I shared it all with Mary Ann, my wife, who understood and supported me, and we both saw that Karen had had a productive life full of friends, family, and professional success. But finding out of her death ended any hope that her son and she would ever know one another. She had, years ago, made the decision to give him up for adoption and have no other children. She had her reasons. But her decision, so many years later, landed at his feet, forcing him to acknowledge a fact that he did not want to accept. Now, she would never hear his voice, touch his face, share in his life.
He and I talked about her after he told me of her death. We had found out much about her life since his birth, but we wondered if she realized that she was dying of cancer on his birthday? On June 01, 2015 did she remember his birth on June 01, 1968? If she did, I hope the memory of it gave her comfort.
Roger Barbee is a retired educator living on Lake Norman with his wife, five cats, and two hounds.