PASO ROBLES, Calif. — 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's 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.
FOR THE RECORD:
Mother-daughter reunion: An article in the Dec. 25 Section A about a mother reunited with her long-lost daughter said the daughter's father worked for Lockheed Martin when she was born in 1942. Lockheed Corp. did not merge with Martin Marietta to create Lockheed Martin until 1995.
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. Not 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 one morning 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, scampering underground into the Tube when the bomb sirens went off, gas mask in hand.
After she came back to America, 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. But there wasn't any.
It felt like Delphine had barely existed in the first place. And now she was gone.