One Saturday evening in September of 2003, while hosting a group of friends for our monthly Salon, I received a telephone call from an old friend of mine, a woman I haven’t seen in 15 or 20 years. Her name was Mary LeCarre. We took an acting class together way back when, and she pointed out to me that we had done a scene from “The Importance of Being Earnest.” She was Gwendolyn and I was Jack. I was a little embarrassed because I couldn’t remember. Well, maybe vaguely, but it was a long time ago. She told me that she had been shopping online for a dog. She saw a cute little Beagle, whose name was Perry, and it made her think of me, so she thought she would look me up and reconnect. I told her that I was flattered that she still remembered me. We talked for a while, then I told her I was hosting the Salon and that I should get back to my guests. I got her phone number and promised to call the next day.
I gave her a call on Sunday and we talked for a couple of hours. I remember her very well. She was one of the most beautiful women I have ever laid eyes on. She was a real bombshell, the kind of girl who, when she walked into a room, all eyes, male and female, would turn to. Unfortunately she was hooked up rather solidly at the time with a friend of mine, Eugene, who never left her side. He was crazy about her and I could understand why. Maybe he was a little too crazy about her, because she ended up dumping Eugene and running off with a hairdresser. She married the hairdresser. Eugene was crushed. They both moved away. Eugene ended up marrying a girl from Florida, they moved to California, and I stayed in touch with them, seeing them once in a while in New York, and sending Christmas cards every year.
I ran into Mary one more time at the Metropolitan Museum, where she was working after having gotten a divorce from the hairdresser. The marriage hadn’t lasted long, about a year and a half. I was hoping she was back in the market, but no, she was in love with someone else and getting ready to move away again. That was the last I heard from her until I got the phone call. She told me that she was now married to her third husband. They had two children and several pets. She was living in Harrisburg, PA. She said she was actually “estranged” from her husband. They haven’t lived together for the last two years. She also told me that she was sick. She has something called CLL – Chronic Lymphatic Leukemia. It is an incurable disease. She is now in recession. She said the average life expectancy with this disease is about seven years. She tries not to think about that. She just tries to make the most of each day.
We talked for a long time. She loves to talk. At one point she was telling about all the bills on her desk. She went through each one and asked me if I thought she should pay it. We talked about a lot of things. I told her that I had been in Pennsylvania for the Memorial Day weekend with the Appalachian Mountain Club. I went white water rafting and hiking in the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.” She said she had never heard of it. I told her there were many Pennsylvanians in the same boat, so to speak. Someone needs to do a better PR job. She said she loved to go camping with the kids and invited me out for a camping trip. I told her I would have to think about that.
A few days later I emailed her a photo of me in front of the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. She emailed back that it looked beautiful and that she was ashamed of not having heard of it. She sent a picture of herself about to cut a slice of her fiftieth birthday cake. She’s still a bombshell. We talked on the phone again and I agreed to come out for a visit. We decided that a bike trip in Harrisburg might be better than a trip to the Grand Canyon. She had to go to Boston for a bone marrow biopsy and she might be a little weak afterwards.
So that Friday I put my bicycle on the back of the car and drove out to Harrisburg to see Mary. It was a beautiful day, not much traffic and I arrived at her house with no trouble. Her 13-year-old daughter was outside to greet me. Mary was in excellent spirits, we hugged and chatted outside for a while, then went inside where she introduced me to her 11-year-old son, Alex, who was immersed in a video game. Mary’s daughter, Anna, is adopted. She came here from Russia to get an operation. She had a severe cleft palate and needed several operations to have it fixed. She still has more plastic surgery to be done. She was very quiet and shy and, of course, just irresistible. She was a real sweetheart. Mary said she worked very hard at not coddling her or babying her. She didn’t want her to feel sorry for herself or to feel she needed special treatment. Alex was the typical 11-year-old terror, American through and through. He spent hours playing this very graphic, violent video game, but he was a pretty normal kid, and he seemed to be very good with his sister.
So the four of us went for a nice bike ride on a rails-to-trails path in Harrisburg. It was great. It was another beautiful day. We had a picnic in the park afterwards, then went home. Mary cooked dinner. We watched a video, “Bend It Like Beckham,” then went to bed. I had my own bedroom, but I slept with Boots, a little gray cat who had quickly become my best friend. There were three other cats, a young Huskie dog named “Wolfie,” and a rabbit named “Gracie” all vying for my attention and affection. It was a bit overwhelming, but I managed quite well. The next morning we went to church, where Mary and Alex both sang in the choir. I sat in the congregation with Anna. After church, we had lunch and I packed the car for my return trip to Brooklyn. I said my goodbyes, thanked Mary for a wonderful weekend, and set off. On the ride home I thought a lot about Mary and her kids and the menagerie at their home. I thought about the strength it must take to live with a life threatening disease and to raise two kids as a single mother. I thought about the courage it must have taken to adopt a handicapped child from Russia and to deal with all of her physical and social problems. I thought about how simple and easy my life has been compared to hers.
When I got home, I put all my stuff away, then turned on the tape of the Yankees-Boston game I had missed. I already knew the Yankees had won, but I wanted to see beanballs and the fights and all the bruha of the game. Then I prepared dinner and checked my answering machine for messages. There were two wrong numbers and a message from my brother saying some guy had called him looking for me, and Sharon (his wife) had given him the number. In the middle of my dinner the phone rang, I answered it and the voice on the other end said, “Hi, my name is Steve Hurd. I got your number from your brother. I have something I want to talk to you about. Do you have a few minutes to talk to me?” I told him that I was having dinner at the moment. How many minutes would it be? He said maybe it would be better to call back. I told him to call me back in an hour. After dinner, I called my brother and asked him what this was about. He said, “Sharon took the call. The guy said he had a letter from a girl that you knew in college, and that he wanted to give you the letter.” I told my brother that it sounded like a scam to me, so I would be on my guard.
When Steve called back, he said “Let me give you my name and my home telephone number and my cell phone number.” I wrote them down. He said, “I have something to tell you and it may sound a little crazy but please just hear me out.” I said OK. He said, “Were you a student at the University of Mississippi in 1968?” I said yes. He said, “Did you know a girl there named Carolyne Phay?” I said, “Yes, I did, but I’m not going to answer any more questions until I know what you’re talking about.” He said, “I understand, I’m not trying to put you on the spot, just let me tell you what I have to say.” I said, “OK go ahead.”
He said, “I’m 34 years old, I’m a police officer and I live in Conroe, Texas. I’m adopted. For many years, my adoptive mother told me she didn’t know who my biological mother was. But she finally told me a few years ago that she did know who it was, and that her name was Carolyne Phay. With surprisingly little effort, I found Carolyne Phay in Florida. I went to visit her, we got to be friends, and she came out to visit me in Texas. She told me all about herself and her life. The one thing she wouldn’t tell me was who my biological father was. But after a lot of badgering on my part, she finally broke down and said she would tell me, but then she wanted to be out of it completely. She told me the father was you. So, I think that I’m your son.”
I was in total shock. I swallowed hard and tried to talk but I couldn’t. He said, “Do you think it’s possible you have a son?” I said, “No.” Then I said, “Did Carolyne say she knew for sure that it was me?” He said, “Yes, she was positive.” My mind went racing back to my college days at Ole Miss. I remembered Carolyne very well. I remembered dating her for a while and having a brief affair. I even remembered one particular night at a friend’s apartment. I said, “Why didn’t Carolyne ever mention this to me!” He said, “Because she didn’t want you to know – ever. She made up her mind 34 years ago to have her child and put it up for adoption, and she didn’t want anyone talking her out of it.”
I told him it was all a little too much for me to absorb all at once. I needed some time to think about it. He said, “ I understand. I know it must be very difficult for you. By the way, I want you to know that I didn’t call you because I wanted something from you. That’s not what this is about. I just thought that you would want to know, and that you had a right to know. If I had a son out there I would want to know about it.” I told him that I agreed and that I was glad the he called me to tell me. He said he would email me a picture of himself the next day. He laughed and said “Maybe you’ll see it and say, oh yeah!!” I told him that I would send a picture of myself to him. Before he hung up, he said, “Oh by the way, I’m married and I have a five-year-old son.”
So in one quick phone call on a Sunday evening, I became a grandfather.
October 18, 2003