When the airwaves were segregated, Nathaniel Adams Coles broke the racial sound barrier — not with a boom, but a baritone.
He would later be known as Nat King Cole, the “Unforgettable” singer out of Montgomery, Alabama, whose other hits would include “Love” and, in 1946, the instant classic “The Christmas Song.”
That holiday favorite would go on to be played every December for families across the country. But Cole would never get to sing it to his own biological granddaughter, Caroline Clarke. She was born on Christmas Day in 1964 — just six weeks before Cole died of lung cancer at the age of 45.
Clarke was adopted shortly after she was born, and told CBS News’ Michelle Miller she grew up in “the perfect family.” She was an only child but sensed something was different.
“Me and my parents…We looked nothing alike,” she said.
Clarke learned at the age of 7 that she was adopted — but she didn’t start searching for more details about her past until she had children of her own.
“I really became concerned about my genetic medical history,” she said.
Few details from an otherwise hesitant adoption agency revealed the truth.
“The report talked about nannies and maids and chauffeurs,” Clarke recalled. “If they had nanny-maid-chauffeur money, Black, in the ’60s — I can find these people.”
Then it hit her.
“I knew this family,” she said.
It turned out Clarke’s best friend while in college was in fact her Aunt Timolin — the sister of her biological mom, Carol Cookie Cole.
“It was odd enough to realize that I knew this family. But that it was sort of a family that the world knew,” Clarke said.
Though she never knew her famous grandfather in person, Clarke was intimately familiar with his work.
“I knew every lyric to every song. … Not just the Christmas songs and all the ones that everybody knows,” Clarke said.
Clarke and her biological mother lived on opposite coasts.
Asked what explanation Cole gave for giving her up, Clarke said her famous grandfather’s reputation was part of it.
Nat King Cole and his wife worried at the time that his daughter being “pregnant out of wedlock” would ruin the performer’s career.
“And so she was told … have this baby, come home and never speak of it,” Clarke said.
Cole and Clarke did begin a regular correspondence, which Clarke details in her book, “Postcards from Cookie.”
Clarke said her biological mother had used postcards to try and tell Clarke her story.
“You’re trying to fit a whole lifetime’s worth of living into this condensed space and these little cards,” Clarke said of Cole’s efforts.
Over the years, Clarke said her birth mother had asked whether she wanted help tracking down her biological father.
Clarke thought at the time, “We have all the time in the world for that.”
But time ran out — seven years after they reunited, Cookie Cole died. It was left to Caroline’s son to put together the final pieces of the family puzzle, with the help of a DNA registry.
Within 48 hours, Clarke said they had made contact with a California man named Stan Goldberg, who never knew he was a father.
Goldberg said the discovery affected him.
“The realization did hit me that I’d been on this planet for over 50 years with my daughter without realizing that she had been there,” he said.
Clarke learned her parents’ whirlwind romance was the result of a blind date in the summer of 1964.
She said they got together more than half a century ago and bonded over “everything that they hoped the world would become.”
A lifetime’s worth of catching up can be tough, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. However, Goldberg had a solution.
“He wants me to write another book called ‘Texts from Stan,’ because that’s largely how we communicate,” Clarke laughed.
Goldberg said, “I’m sure we’ve texted enough to make another book.”
Clarke said their story was one of love, loss, reunion and more.
“Family is always complicated,” she said. “It is really beautiful, especially when people show up with open hearts that wants to mend things.”
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