An e-mail one Wednesday in early December

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Through the mlncn.com contact form on the morning of 2008 December 3:

I'm looking to personally contact Benjamin Melancon in regards to his father. I may have a family connection but would like confirmation.
Thank you.

I get a half-dozen to a dozen e-mails like this a year, just because Melançon is a fairly unusual name and the Louisianans and Quebecois who share it tend to assume you must be related somehow. The woman who e-mailed didn't give the last name Melancon, but she could have married in or out of it. As, to my knowledge, Dad picked up the name from a family / some kids who helped him after he left an orphanage, I wrote back:

To my knowledge my Dad had no family connections...

This was the reply.

My father, John C. Melancon, left when I was 10 days old. I was born in Schenectady, NY, 1968 and John was married to my mother for a brief time. I met John once, in Rutland, VT in the early 1990's. I too was always told he had no family, even at that time. My father's birth information is as follows - December 6, 193?, Rayne, LA. His social secuirty number was [the same, once i looked it up] - does that help at all? I have asked my mother to email a picture of my father to me this evening. Would you be willing to take a look to see if it is the same man?
Regards,
Heidi

Forget the social security number, ignore the 1930s instead of 1920s estimate, or U.S. instead of France for a birthdate. Dad had talked about Schenectady. Just not the wife and daughter he left there. I just wrote back:

Wow. I... would be willing.

And received:

My mother will not be able to send the picture until the weekend. I'm sorry for the way I have contacted you. I have tried for many years to find out information on my father, and/or any family he may have. I need, especially, medical history.
I only have stories, some photos my mother owns, marriage certficate, my birth certificate and a few of John's writings, from the 1960's, he left behind. No one really knows anything about him - including my mother. I know little things - John sometimes went by "Jack", he liked Ray Charles, worked as a bartender and restaurant manager, lived many places, wanted to be a writer and seemed very "worldly" to a young farm girl from upstate NY.
When I was able to meet John in the early 1990's, he was still a mystery and not willing to share very much information. The meeting took place at a restaurant, over dinner, and did not last long. I wished I had asked more questions then. If you are still willing, I would like to send you the picture sometime this weekend. Thank you for your time - and patience.
Regards,
Heidi

With that list including writings, Dad's daughter, with him for ten days, has more material remnants of his life than does the family he stayed with for more than thirty years.

Dear Heidi,

Good lord– I knew him and lived with him for most of 27 years and don't know much more. I also always wished I had asked more questions. Pretty much everything is on the web site-- I'm sorry.

Please don't apologize– I do feel I have to apologize for having what you did not have.

He has little medical history– which is good. He would certainly still be alive if not for smoking (and working in bars and clubs) almost his entire life. He died – at 78 or 79, apparently his true birth year was 8 years older than reported – from complications (which is a euphemism for systemic hospital incompetence) from emphysema. No other diseases and not even lung cancer to my knowledge. Also he had an allergy to penicillin, I believe.

My mother is traveling for three weeks but she may have access to more. I had always meant to go down to the hospital and get everything anyway, and can do that if you want.

Take care,

benjamin

And so began my correspondence with my sister.