Patricia Hamlin, 71, and her mother Brooke Mayo, 90, together in Paso Robles, Calif.

Mel Melcon • Los Angeles Times,

Mother and daughter are reunited after seven decades

  • Article by: Scott Gold
  • Los Angeles Times
  • January 4, 2014 - 7:21 PM

The host was a good cook, famous for his mashed potatoes. No — not potatoes. Beans. Baked beans. That was it. Brooke Mayo held a finger to her cheek. “Old age is getting to me,” she said at last.

The images of that night are somewhere in that head of hers. They’re clear as day, just a little hard to find, like a carousel of slides stashed in the attic a long time ago. After all, it has been 72 years. Brooke Mayo was 19 then — bright and beautiful.

It was late November in 1941. Europe was in the grip of war, Pearl Harbor was days away, and Brooke was preparing to move to London with a civilian Army corps. But for one night, everyone would try to ­forget all that. There was a dinner party in the Hollywood Hills to kick off the ­holiday season. Nice, not too fancy. The famous baked beans. A turkey. The host wore a belt buckle encrusted with tiny diamonds.

Brooke had driven herself to the party. After dinner, she walked down a set of stairs to head home. He came out of nowhere, she said, and raped her. She never saw his face.

You didn’t go to the police back then. “They would have said it was my fault,” Brooke said. “In those days, the man was never at fault. For anything.”

When she found out she was ­pregnant, she considered getting an abortion. But it would have been a back-alley thing. “Women were dying,” Brooke said. “I wanted to live.”

So she went home. She went home to her mother, and she cried, and together, they made a decision: Brooke would postpone her plans to move to London. She would have the baby. “But I’d have to give her up.”

The baby arrived in 1942. Cherub-cheeked, just like her mother.

When you were giving a baby up for adoption, they were supposed to just whisk her away. But a little before midnight, a kindly nurse bent the rules and brought her into the room for a few minutes.

Brooke named her Delphine.

“She was so beautiful to me,” Brooke said. “I held that little darling. But then I handed her back. I handed her back, and I wasn’t going to think about her again.”

Brooke moved to London not long after the birth, staying for a good chunk of the war — arranging housing and other logistics for military officers, running underground into the Tube when the bomb sirens went off, gas mask in hand.

After she came back to the United States, she called to check on Delphine. Just to make sure she was OK.

“I called the hospital,” Brooke said. “The lady said she had passed away. I couldn’t believe my ears. I said: ‘You mean she’s dead?’ She said: ‘Yes. That’s it. She’s dead.’”

Brooke begged the woman for more information. There wasn’t any.

It felt like Delphine had barely existed. And now she was gone.

Brooke worked as a fashion model for a spell. She became a showgirl, and moved for the work, to L.A. and New York. She was a voracious learner; at every stop, she took classes at a local college: mathematics at UCLA, drafting at NYU.

She had two more daughters, finally found the love of her life with husband No. 4, and learned accounting to help him with his CPA practice in Los Angeles.

She had a nice life. But the memory of Delphine was always with her. She kept a box of yahrzeit candles, a traditional memorial in Judaism. Every August, on the 12th, she would take one out and light it, for the baby, for the dead. She did it for 66 years.

Meanwhile, in Wichita

Patricia Hamlin was stumped. The phone had rung at her house in Wichita, Kan., one day in 1993. It was her older brother, calling from Omaha. His wallet had been stolen, and he needed a new driver’s license. For that, he needed his birth certificate. When he couldn’t find his, he called Los Angeles County, where he and Patricia were born. But the clerks couldn’t find him in the computer system.

That’s weird, Patricia thought. “So I called too.” The clerk couldn’t find her either, and told her there was only one explanation. Her records were sealed. Because she was adopted.

Patricia was 51 at the time. She knew her life story, or thought she did, and it was pretty simple.

She had been born in Burbank, in 1942. Her father was an engineer with Lockheed Martin, and when he took a job with Boeing, he was transferred to Wichita. She helped run an oil-drilling company in Kansas for 18 years. Now she was a middle-aged woman who liked grandfather clocks and charm bracelets, the mother of three grown children, a volunteer for the Red Cross and an animal shelter.

But she had never been told that she was adopted. “So now,” she said, “I needed to get my head straight. As you might imagine.”

That day, she launched a quest to find out what happened. The adoption, it turned out, was “closed,” conducted quietly and privately, as many were at the time, orchestrated by her biological mother’s doctor and the couple who would become the only parents she had ever known. There wasn’t much of a paper trail.

An organization that provides information to adopted adults determined that her papers had been filed in Boone County, Ark., — probably, the group surmised, because the ­doctor had found a judge willing to sign off on the adoption there.

She flew to California to file a court petition to receive a copy of her original birth certificate, not the amended version she had at home. Finally, last year, she got the number of a new judge in Arkansas. “I just called him. He said: ‘Yep. It’s been long enough. Send me eight dollars and fifty cents.”

She still had the candles

Earlier this year, Brooke Mayo was at home in Paso Robles. She and her husband had moved here nearly 20 years ago. Since he died, she had lived alone on a cul-de-sac in a planned community. And she still had the candles for Delphine.

The postman knocked on the door. Brooke’s caretaker, Robin Barris, signed for the letter and brought it to her. “I said: ‘Well, open it up.’ She read it to me. I just kept saying the same thing: ‘They told me she was dead. They told me she was dead.’ ”

Brooke e-mailed Patricia with the OK to call, and the phone rang a short while later. “Are you sitting down?” Patricia asked. “I said: ‘Yes. I am,”’ Brooke remembered. “She said: ‘This is your daughter.’ And she said: ‘Are you all right?’ And I said: ‘Yes. Yes. You have no idea.’ There is no way to describe what I felt. For the rest of my days that I have on this Earth, I will remember that feeling.”

This summer, Patricia, now 71, visited Brooke, now 90, for the first time.

“It’s a gift,” Brooke said, shaking her head. “It’s a gift that God gave me. I must have done something right in this world. You know?”

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