It began with one of those email catch-ups between long lost collegiate contemporaries four decades past the last final. Whatever became of so-and-so segued into story swapping, including a whopper of a tale my new old friend told of her lost weekend with a famous pop star she’d encountered at an all-night pharmacy in Manhattan.
Top that! Well, who could? But one has to say something and there was my spring training fling with the secretary to Mets general manager Bing Devine, a woman I would come to call “my Mrs. Robinson.”
Later that night I started to wonder and to search. She’d be close to 80. Three relevant links surfaced. One led to a PDF of a 1967 St. Petersburg Times feature on the Mets clerical staff, the second to a brief reference in Devine’s autobiography. The third gave me chills. It was an inquiry posted in 2007 by a woman who called herself Joan in search of her birth mother she said “may have been a legal secy for Ny Mets.”
Then I remembered Marilyn Schroeder’s wistful story of placing a daughter—“out of wedlock” was the polite phrase then—for adoption. This just had to be that child 43 years later.
On a Sunday morning in December 2009 I clicked on “Contact Submitter” and wrote: ” Joan, I stumbled across you on the Internet. I met your mom not long after you were born but have not been in touch for many, many years. Did you ever find her?”
An hour later, a reply:
”No I haven't yet. Where did you two know each other?”
She said her adoptive parents, now gone, had named her Julie. I tried to be as forthcoming as I could and as discreet as truth would allow:
“I was a young sportswriter at Newsday in the spring of 1969 when I was assigned to cover the Yankees in spring training in Fort Lauderdale. We made a trip across to the West Coast of Florida to play the Mets in St. Petersburg, where they then trained. Marilyn and I met there. I was almost 24. She said she was 33 (though later owned up to being older). There was an instant attraction and when each of us returned to New York we became an item, as they say (or said back then, anyway).
“She lived with her beloved little dog Spice in an apartment house just across the Grand Central Parkway from Shea Stadium in Queens. Marilyn (she called herself SHRAY-der, the way it is pronounced in German) and I dated until that Memorial Day, when I left New York for four months of active military duty in the Army Reserve at Fort Gordon, Ga.
“I was a pretty good writer but a lousy soldier, just trying to stay out of Vietnam. I swear Marilyn got me through -- writing almost every day, taking all my forlorn calls, even meeting me in Atlanta that July when the Mets played the Braves. I thought she was wonderful, but our age difference was weighing on me even before I returned to New York and not long thereafter I told her I did not see a future for us.
“Marilyn spoke of you any number of times, Julie, the first when she discovered I was Jewish and told me she was comforted by the knowledge that she understood you had been placed with a Jewish family. She thought Jewish families generally raised children very well. She never went into detail about the circumstances of your birth but was clearly torn by her decision to place you for adoption. What more can I tell you?”
It was another day before Julie Sanscrainte responded.
“It took me until now to catch my breath. To begin with, I want to say thank you for writing me and sharing what you remember about Marilyn. You asked me what more you could tell me, and my answer would be to tell me anything and everything you might possibly remember about her because I have been longing for a glimpse of who she is for most of my life. Do you have any photographs?
“My parents told me I was adopted when I was 5. They feared someone might tell me and wanted me to understand what it meant. Over the years, they supported my decision to search for Marilyn if that’s what I chose. I did try through a support group in NY, online registries and even a private investigator, to no avail.
“When I was a teenager, they shared with me a letter that Marilyn wrote to ‘The Parents of a Baby Girl’ and signed ‘A Would’ve-been Mother’. She did mention in the letter that she was glad my parents were Jewish. I still read that letter often (and of course have made numerous copies should the original burst into flames or something!)
“Sadly, both of my parents have passed away, my dad in 1997 of a heart attack and my mom in 2005 of pancreatic cancer. I have a brother (their natural child – 2 years younger than me).
“I only had a few details before hearing from you…The craziest coincidence is that I grew up within a mile of where you said she lived. I probably rode my bike or roller skated by her building. Gosh, I could’ve bumped into her while she was walking Spice one day.
“Having Bing Devine’s name linked to her name on Google led me to a newspaper article dated March 25, 1967 in which there is a photo of Marilyn. That is when I lost my breath. My mom always told me I was the ‘spitting image’ of my mother, now I have seen her for myself…
“Your recollections about how she helped you through a tough time, how she loved her little dog and the way she is described in the article are pieces of something that bring who she is closer to me and I am happy to know it. I believe she was a smart, caring woman, way ahead of her time with her career and dating preferences :-)
“Thank you again for reaching out to me. It would be difficult at best to describe in words what you have given me. A peek into who she was and that photo are gifts of peace. I'm thankful that you have answered a lot of questions, yet so many more remain.”
The only thing I could add was a snippet from my last conversation with Marilyn, who said she was dating a thoroughbred racing industry executive. That registered in early January, when Julie traced a Marilyn Schroeder with her mother’s 1932 birth date to addresses in Elmont and Saratoga Springs, N.Y., home to prominent horse tracks.
Julie drafted a letter to Marilyn and shared it with me “I've never considered myself a great writer and I think it mighty be too wordy,” she wrote. “Any suggestions?” I’ve been the “with” author of two books and have written for university and union presidents and even the mayor of New York City, but I never felt more nervous—or entrusted—with any collaboration than the one that produced this letter:
Dear Ms. Schroeder,
I hope I have found the Marilyn Schroeder I have been searching for. My name is Julie (birth name Joan Ann) and I was born in Manhattan on August 27, 1966 and adopted just a few days after that.
I am hoping to find my "might-have-been mother_____".
If you are "the" Marilyn, please know that I have thought of you often over the years and I have reason to believe that you have thought about me, too. I have re-read your letter to my parents so many times – with each passing year always with a new perspective. While I understand that this letter may be unsettling if not overwhelming, I am writing to you to let you know that I fully understand that your decision had to be an extremely difficult one and want you to know that your choice turned out to be a good one for me. There is no reason for you to feel any guilt or regret on my account. I am happy, healthy and well, and have only wished the same for you.
I promise to respect your privacy. I would be willing to accept as little or as much information as you are willing to share. On a practical level, I am seeking any medical background and information that you would be able to provide. At this stage in my life, I am also eager to learn more about my biological ties and who you are. Should you decide that you want to meet me, I am open and ready to meet you. If you feel it is something you are not ready for at this point, I will be disappointed but would understand.
Just writing these words is a highly emotional experience for me. I can only imagine how it must be for you to read them after all these years, and I apologize if it upsets you. That is not my intent at all. I hope to hear from you, but whatever your response is I will respect your decision.
I wish you the best and hope this letter brings you some sense of comfort. If it closes a long-ago chapter in your life, it will have accomplished something. If it opens a new one for us both, so much the better.
Two days later it was returned unopened, marked “addressee unknown,” but Julie was undeterred, and in four days she had a new lead in Aiken, S. C., another center for thoroughbreds. Three days after that, Jan. 23, Julie sent a message from her iPhone headed, “I found her.”
The rest of this story, the best part really, starting with an hour-long phone conversation that night and daily calls thereafter culminating in a first meeting on the central Florida coast barely a week later and another two weeks after that, belongs to one woman I haven’t met and another I haven’t seen for 40 years. They have discovered how much alike they are in ways large and small and how even nearly a half-century cannot sever maternal love.
“Marilyn and I finally got our HUG this weekend and it has been an incredible journey” Julie wrote after their first meeting. “What a beautiful feeling to finally know her and we laughed and cried and are so happy to have finally met. We are so much alike in so many ways it's remarkable. It was so easy to be together, like we've always known. She is a beautiful woman, inside and out and I am so blessed.”
I had one more chance to play out my bystander’s role. “I wanted to give you a heads up that she & I spoke about you last night and the whole story about how you found me and led me to ultimately find her,” Julie wrote to me after her third phone conversation with Marilyn,” She laughed, said ‘I'll be darned....’”
Three nights later, my cell phone rang and the first words I heard, in a familiar midwestern twang, were “Does the name Mrs. Robinson mean anything to you?”