LIANE HANSEN, host:
Meredith Hall grew up in a small New Hampshire town where everyone knew everyone else's business. The husbands who cheated on their wives, the wives who are too depressed to get off the couch, the drunks, and the parents who beat their children. It was 1965 and all of these people were tolerated. They belonged to the community.
But when 16-year-old Meredith became pregnant after a night of what she describes as scared sex on the beach, she was shunned, kicked out of school and sent away. After giving up her baby for adoption, Meredith became a nomad, picking up odd jobs, boyfriends, and at one point living penniless and alone on a beach in Lebanon.
Meredith eventually married, had two sons, divorced, and reunited with the child she gave away. She tells her story in her first book, a memoir called "Without a Map." Meredith Hall is in the studios of Maine Public Broadcasting.
Welcome to the program, Meredith.
Ms. MEREDITH HALL (Author, "Without a Map"): Thank you very much.
HANSEN: Fill in some details for us. Your parents were divorced when you found out you were pregnant. What was their reaction when they found out?
Ms. HALL: Well, I think that there are two different reactions. My mother's reaction was a terrible surprise to me. I think that she felt very shamed by this in a community that she worked hard to be seen as a model mother and had been as model wife. And her response was a very simple and categorical, you can't stay here. And my father stepped in and said, well, then, she'll come to live with me. And I stayed for the last four months of my pregnancy with my father and his new wife.
And I think the times really had their effect. I was hidden away in the house and not allowed outside. And my father was certainly not unkind in any way, but I think it was a very overwhelming experience for him.
HANSEN: Why did your parents not want you to have any contact with anybody? I mean, no one wanted to have contact with you, did they think you were contagious?
Ms. HALL: Well, that certainly is the message. And it's a message that stays, that lingers with a girl who goes through this experience, that you're somehow a contaminant. And as soon as the baby was born, I was drawn back out into the public world without a word ever having been said about the child. This was a hidden and unspoken secret. It was a forbidden secret. I wasn't to speak about it. And it really - it never was spoken of.
HANSEN: How did you end up on a beach in Lebanon?
Ms. HALL: When I got pregnant and my mother told me that I couldn't live with her, I felt the loss of her love very profoundly. And there was a problem between me and my stepmother, and she forbade me from seeing my father again, from being in their home again. And by the time that happened, it just seemed to have been the final blow. Again, I don't think I saw it that way. At the time, I thought I was heading to Europe with a boyfriend and I was going to hitchhike to India.
But when I got to Europe, I made a very, very impetuous and reckless decision that I was going to head south hitchhiking by myself. And that led to months of wandering through Europe and into the Middle East.
HANSEN: You ended up coming back to the States. You went back to college at the age of 40, married, had kids, settled down.
Ms. HALL: Yes. I married in my mid-20s and I was very happy about that. And once, I had my two younger children that really eased me into this new life.
HANSEN: You reconnected with your mother, I mean; your mother became a part of your life again.
Ms. HALL: Very much a part of my life. And there was really never a disconnection except during that period of the pregnancy. But we were, in fact, quite close and she came to be really my best friend in many ways. But she was never again my mother.
When she got sick with the multiple sclerosis that I write about, I was cast, as many children are, into the role of being the caregiver. Now, I had to extend to her the kind of love and protection that she was not able to provide for me when I most needed it. So it's a very confusing time.
HANSEN: The son that you gave up for adoption found you when he was 21. Briefly, what happened to him?
Ms. HALL: He was adopted. He had a very difficult life. His family was very, very poor, and his father was very, very rough on him. He had a very profound love for his adopted mother. But, again, there are failures of love. She was not able to protect him. She died several years ago, but had the extraordinary grace. Both his mother and father - his father is a very changed man now - and both his mother and father extended great warmth to me.
HANSEN: What kind of relationship do you have with your son now?
Ms. HALL: We're very close, but it's not easy to reintegrate after so much grief.
HANSEN: I get a sense that you forgive your parents for what happened. How are you able to do that?
Ms. HALL: The work for me has been to find myself in my parents and that involved a process of recognizing their absolute love for me, and recognizing their flaws as human beings that I have no right to expect perfection in them anymore than I'm able to deliver perfection in myself. And I have come to feel great compassion for my parents, particularly of my father, and I do feel very, very protective. He's an old man now. And it grieves me that he carries that, sort of, weight.
HANSEN: Meredith Hall is the author of the memoir "Without a Map," published by Beacon Press, and she joined us from the studios of Maine Public Broadcasting.
Thanks a lot.
Ms. HALL: Thank you very much.
(Soundbite of music)
HANSEN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.