Those who did not live through those years may find it difficult to believe just how different the sexual mores of the first half of the1960s were from those of the years that followed. The story that Meredith Hall tells in Without a Map is a stark reminder of the living hell that most young girls who found themselves pregnant and unmarried could expect to be faced with even in such a transitional period.
Meredy Hall was 16 years old in 1965, the youngest of three children and living in a single-parent home that was created when her father left the family for his new life with another woman. Her mother raised her to be a “good girl,” and that is exactly what she was: a good student, a girl with sewing skills good enough for her to make some of her own clothes, a girl well-liked by the neighborhood adults and who babysat many of their children. Meredy knew that she was a “good girl,” and she felt secure in that identity.
But things changed for her that summer of ’65, when her mother found both a new boyfriend and a job working with him at the local beach. Suddenly Meredy was expected to accompany her mother to Hampton Beach each day and to find a part-time job there, at the very beach she had seldom even been allowed to visit because of its rowdy reputation. By the end of the summer, Meredy Hall was pregnant and alone, the result of her unfortunate meeting of a college student who had little real interest in her and who returned to school not knowing that Meredy was pregnant with his child.
The most unnerving aspect of Hall’s story is what happened to her next, the way that she was so completely shunned by an entire community and even by her own family. After she was expelled from high school, her former classmates would cross the street rather than speak with her. Her own brother and sister cut contact with her as if she had never existed in their lives. But worst of all, her mother and her father treated her as if she were a tramp, offering no sympathy, no understanding, and no physical comfort at all. “Good Meredy” had disappeared forever, to be replaced by a Meredy so “bad” that she was made to feel like an embarrassment to herself, her family, her church, her school, and everyone in her town.
Meredith Hall explains in great detail what it was like to be a child, which she still was, suddenly cut off from all emotional support at exactly the time it was most needed. That she survived the downward spiral that eventually found her penniless and walking from one Middle Eastern country to the other is amazing enough. What is more amazing is the forgiveness she found in her heart for the very people who hurt her the most, returning years later to help them in their own time of need despite their refusal to even acknowledge the awful things they did to her during her own period of helplessness.
Without a Map is one woman’s story, a story that will both inspire and anger its readers, a painful recreation of a societal attitude best left behind forever. Solace can be taken from the fact that Hall was able to eventually create a good life for herself and even to be reunited with the son that she was forced to give away, sight unseen. Anger will come from watching her parents and siblings so selfishly abandon one of their own for fear of personal embarrassment. There are lessons here for all of us.