Mary was just a child when she was coerced into prostitution by her mother. After the death of her mother, she is mistakenly incarcerated in an institution for mentally retarded people. Fortunately she finds kindness in her heart when she is set to work caring for disabled babies. Because of her natural way with children, she is released to look after for a mentally impeded young girl from a wealthy family. The girl is murdered and Mary feels responsible. Her mind and emotions are restored by Charlie who, like her, wants to live life in a state of kindheartedness.
Eleanor, I told you a cleaned-up version of my life story when you visited. I wanted to impress you, my daughter, the daughter I never knew existed until you called me six weeks ago at 7:00 P.M. on January 25th. I answered the phone, sure that it was a telemarketer because they always call at supper time. But to my amazement, it was somebody looking for a Mary Reilly - a person who didn't exist anymore.
"Hello, is this Mary Reilly?"
"Yes, but my name now is Mary Reilly Webb. Who's this?"
"I know this is unbelievably shocking, but I'm looking for a Mary Reilly who had a baby on October 19, 1963. Hello... Hello... Are you still there?... Are you all right?... Can you talk?"
I don't know how I was able to talk eventually. It was as if I had been struck by lightning. My tongue was paralyzed. "Yes I can talk. I did have a baby on October 19, 1963, but the baby was taken away from me. I don't know if it was a boy or a girl. I haven't thought about the baby in years."
I could barely squeak out the words, "Are you my baby?"
"Yes, I think so. You've had an enormous shock and so have I. Do you want me to call back after you feel better?'
"No, no. Don't go away. Please. I can't risk losing you again. Who are you?"
"My name is Eleanor Kirk Hastings. I was born at Southern State School for the Feebleminded and immediately adopted by Bert and Hester Kirk."
"How did you find me? I'm sorry I keep crying, but this is an experience I never thought I'd have. I never imagined my baby might find me someday. This is beyond my wildest dreams. My God. My God. My God."
And then we talked, but we didn't really say much of any substance. I suppose it was the shock that tied my tongue. When you get to know me better, you'll learn that I'm very talkative so my reaction was totally unlike me. And during that first phone conversation, you weren't too talkative either. There were these uncomfortable silences. We had so much to say, but we didn't know where to begin. We were both overwhelmed at how easy it had been for you to find me, and how eager we were to start a relationship. When you said you'd like to meet me, I was overjoyed. I was on cloud 9.
And then we did meet here in Chicago on March 16, 2010. You and my granddaughter Wendy. Now that's a word I never thought I'd ever say - GRANDDAUGHTER. I love how that word tastes in my mouth. GRANDDAUGHTER. I was overwhelmed with doubts about how our meeting would go. I cleaned my house over and over so there wouldn't be a spot of dust or dirt anywhere. I changed clothes a few times so I'd look attractive, but motherly. I even made Charlie change his shirt. I thought it was too loud. I wanted him to look more formal, more dignified.
I wondered if you would reject me. You didn't. That hug you gave me when you walked in the door was total acceptance. I thought I'd melt in your arms. And the hug you gave me as you were leaving was even more loving. I wondered if you would hate me when you found out about my life. You didn't. And I'm hoping with time that you might even grow to love me. Then I wondered if you would you be ashamed of me. Well, here the answer is probably yes if you knew my whole life story. I have a lot to be ashamed of. I tried to gloss over the bad parts of my life when we were together. I talked about my education and my job and my marriage. I avoided saying much about my first 21 years. You didn't ask why I was in an institution for the retarded. You didn't ask who fathered you. You tactfully stayed away from the details of my early life. You knew there would be a time when I would share the ugly parts, but not then. Not until we knew each other better. How can you tell someone that you want to love you that you were a child prostitute or that you were labeled mentally retarded and locked in an institution? But now I'm telling you about my whole life without holding back the bad parts. I'll have to resurrect memories I buried. That won't be easy. But it'll be a lot easier talking into a tape recorder than talking to you face-to-face.
There was so much I wanted to hear about you over those two short days you were here. You only wanted me to talk about myself, and I only wanted you and Wendy to talk about yourselves. Eleanor, when I saw your curly red hair and freckles, I knew you were my daughter. But your height threw me for a loop. You're at least six inches taller than me. My neck got sore from looking up to you. But I'm looking up to you in another way. I'm looking up to you with pride at all you've achieved - a law degree and election to the school board and then mayor. And now you might be running for governor of the great state of Ohio. And that's what led you to me. You knew there would be lots of snooping around in your past, and the only part of your past that you didn't know about was me. So you took on the daunting task of trying to find me, and miraculously you did. How wonderful of your mother to tell you the details of your birth. She could have kept them secret as she had for 46 years, but she knew it was the right time for you to find out. From an early age you knew you were adopted, but you were never curious about who your biological parents were, and of course, the Kirks didn't want to tell you unless you wanted to know. And how Wendy was able to use that information to track me down is mind-boggling. How she was able to find people who used to work at Southern who were still alive and remembered me, especially Cora Jensen, the wonderful lady who worked in the hospital ward when you were born. When I visited her six years ago, I gave her my phone number and address, and that's how you how you were able to find me. Anyhow, I'm pretty sure that your political opponents won't be able to use my life against you because my past was covered up. Dr. Warner and his son Walter made sure everything was buried. I don't think anyone else can find out about me unless they knew where and when you were born, and I don't think that's likely.
Eleanor, what a strong woman you are. You were able to get the good out of the life that the Kirks gave you, go on to college and law school, get married, and have two kids. You had it all until Phil died. Then a drunk driver snuffed out his life, and left you a widow with a 12 year old and a 10 year old. But you survived. I think your ability to survive is genetic because I'm certainly a survivor. When you learn about my life, you'll realize that I'm one of the great survivors of all time. There's a T.V. show called The Survivor about people surviving in jungles and deserts, but that's not really about survival. No, survival is how we overcome what life gives us - death, loss of love, loss of freedom, sickness, hatred. I could go on and on.
I know you want to know my whole life story, and we didn't have a chance for me to tell much when you were here. And I really didn't want to say a lot about my life in person because the facts are so ugly. I just couldn't tell you face-to-face all the lurid parts of my past. So I'm doing what you asked. I'm dictating my life story into a tape recorder. You wanted me to write it down, but that's too hard and it'll take too long. And my word processing skills aren't the best. I don't know how long this'll take, but it'll be faster than me trying to write out my autobiography. My autobiography. That sounds so impressive. Celebrities, politicians, and famous people write autobiographies. Not everyday people like Mary Reilly Webb. But maybe I do have something important to share with my life story. And my story has a happy ending which is the key to any good book.
Eleanor, talking for me is easy. So talking into this tape recorder isn't really hard. In fact, in a way I like it. I feel like I'm talking to you because I have a picture of you and the kids next to the recorder. You're gorgeous with your red hair, but the kids are gorgeous too with their brown hair. I look forward to coming home from work every night, making Charlie supper, and then talking to you. So, here goes....
I should start with my birth, but that's hard because I count my real birthday as the day I was released from Southern State School for the Feebleminded - October 1, 1971. I don't count the day I came out of my mother's womb on February 2, 1950 as my birthday. I certainly never had a party to celebrate that day when I was growing up. I never had a cake or presents. Never. I would see T.V. programs with kids having birthday parties and I'd imagine that someday I'd have a party with kids wearing pointy hats and a chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and presents wrapped in shiny paper and big bows. The kids would sing, "Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear Mary. Happy birthday to you." Never happened in real life when I was a kid, only in my imagination.
But at age 28 I had my first birthday party given by my beloved husband. He invited friends over and bought a cake with a princess on it, just like a child's cake. He told me that I was his princess and everyone oohed and aahed. He lit the candles and everyone sang Happy Birthday on top of their lungs. That was some emotional experience for me. It took 28 years, but at last I had a birthday party. Charlie gave me a ceramic dog for my present. It was wrapped beautifully in silver paper with multicolored bows on top. He said it was too hard for us to have a real pet because we're away so much, but he wanted me to have a symbolic pet. So every year for my birthday, he gives me a different dog. I have a collection of 32 different dogs. I pointed them out to you when I showed you around my house. What a thoughtful, caring man Charlie is. And maybe Charlie is so good about making me birthday parties is because he, too, didn't have parties growing up. So I make sure that he has a party on August 7th of every year.