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Roger Barbee: Memory that speaks


By Roger Barbee

Memory does not remember much of this day, 45 years ago when a recent college graduate made his way from North Carolina to Jacksonville, Fla. But we know that his trip involved a young girl he had met the previous summer at college and the baby she was to have at any moment. We remember that his purpose was a last attempt to persuade her to marry him and keep the baby.

Memory holds pieces of the days he spent with her while she was in the hospital giving birth to a baby boy on June 1, 1968, and memory recalls how the young graduate talked, but she, with one more year of college, wanted to continue her education and life without the burden of a child and husband.

In 1968, a biological father had no legal rights and with nothing more to fight for, the young man prepared to make his way back to his hometown and summer job in the cotton mill, memory says. Before leaving, memory tells how he went to the hospital to say goodbye to the young girl, and maybe try just one more time to persuade her. She was adamant, memory knows, and had signed legal papers the night before so the baby boy was to be adopted by the family who had paid the medical expenses of his 19-year-old mother. It was over.... The young man left her room and while riding down on the elevator a man and woman (who was wearing a blue dress) entered the elevator, memory knows for certain. The woman held a baby wrapped in a blue blanket. The young man nodded to the older couple, but he knew, and so does memory.

He had no place for his feelings, so he did what young men of his era did -- he worked at his job in the mill, spent time with the mother of his child on weekends after her summer school classes, and worked hardest at making every minute of his life filled with something. Soon, before he left for his first teaching position in another state, he had managed to put the fact of his having fathered a child in a small box that rested on a shelf somewhere deep in his soul. Years later, however, on reading Hawthorne's words, "Every heart has its secret door," he understood perfectly. But this was 1968 and a young man had many means of forgetting, at least for a moment. And before too long, even the relationship that had created a life faded into the dust of young lives. But memory, like that dust, settled into small places and rested, waiting to be shaken.

Eighteen years later the baby boy was grown, and his mother had made contact with his biological parents as she had promised. He wanted to meet them and both acknowledged his wish. Both had moved on into separate families and careers, so there was little room for a young man almost the age they were when they met. But, he came and asked questions of his biological father about shaving rash, how he hung shirts in the closet, and shared all that was possible in an hour lunch time.

It was all the father of other children could give then, but the last thing shared was a phone number of a sister which led to a relationship with the biological father's siblings. And slowly, over time, the relationship grew between the son and the family and finally the biological father.

Memory holds some truths of June 1, 1968 and the summer that followed. Most truths, though, are blocked by the abyss of time, which may be a good thing. The young graduate, now nearing his 7th decade, does not remember many particulars of that time, just snatches of light caught between then and now, but he remembers that it was a difficult time which seemed to him then to be unjust. But now he and the baby boy share life in a comfortable relationship of common interest, family, and love.

But each June 1, the old man allows himself to return there. In some way, it is harder now than it was then.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at redhill@shentel.net.


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