Season 4, Episode 10
Mary Gauthier + Kelley McRae
Photo by Laura E. Partain
Grammy Award-winning songwriter Mary Gauthier never expected to find out who her birth mother was. She was given up for adoption as an infant, at a time when orphanages intentionally and irrevocably sever connections between parent and child. But Mary found a person who specialized in reconnecting adopted children with their birth parents, and soon she had her birth mother’s phone number.
“It was scary. It took months and months of circling the phone before I could pick it up and dial,” says Mary.
Mary had few expectations, but she was still surprised to hear that her birth mother did not want to meet her. Her birth mother had gone on to have a family, and had never told her husband or her children about the baby she had surrendered to the orphanage all those years ago.
“She wasn’t unkind. She was unwilling. Because it would blow up her life,” says Mary, concluding, “It’s not a Hollywood ending.”
Yet over time Mary has been able to transform her sadness and hurt into empathy, and she attributes that transformation to grace. She writes eloquently about that process in her memoir, Saved by a Song.
“I think it is grace – if you can empathize with people who hurt you, and understand that they weren’t doing it to you; they were just doing it,” she says. “It wasn’t personal. Hell, she doesn’t even know me!”
Photo by Matt Castelein
Songwriter Kelley McRae is a longtime fan of Mary Gauthier, not just of her songwriting, but of her philosophy on life and art. In fact, she is such a devotee that she spent her honeymoon at one of Mary’s songwriting retreats, and it changed her life.
“I went home to my husband and said ‘Congratulations, not only did we not take a honeymoon, now I want to go live in a van and sing my songs full time,’” Kelley laughs.
Kelley and her husband Matt Castelein are partners in life and in art, and they spent years traveling the country. They played house concerts, and clubs, and, on one memorable occasion, a dog’s birthday party.
In response to Mary’s story, Kelley and Matt wrote a song called “What Do You Do,” and recorded it in their backyard studio. The song was also inspired by a conversation during one of the songwriting workshops that Kelley now teaches.
“When we don’t do the work that Mary has so clearly done – and that I’m trying to do – we pass on that pain,” Kelley says.
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