The road to this post is sort of long, please bear with me. Mom’s parents immigrated from England to Canada back in the early 1900’s, if memory serves they knew each other in England before they immigrated. They married in Canada and lived out their lives there; this story takes place after they were all gone. Back then, trips home to England were few because you had to go via ship, but they stayed in touch with family through regular letters written in ultra-small script filling every inch of the page. So, mom grew up knowing her cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents though letters and stories told. When travel got easier (airplanes), mom visited several times over the decades, she would spend several days with each family, they also kept up the letters so everyone knew what was happening in the family.
Now to the story…
In our family, Thanksgiving Dinner at mom and dad’s was the mandatory holiday growing up, even as an adult excuses usually didn’t cut it, you showed up, relatives close by were expected to attend the family dinner and did. The particular Thanksgiving Dinner this story unfolded was like most other dinners, a fire going in the fireplace and people sitting around it passing time until we were called to do something or that dinner was served, then a return to sitting by the fire. I usually was the one who helped mom as I knew how she wanted things done, and she didn’t need to hover over me, and then end up doing it herself if someone else helped. After chatting with those around the fireplace I would go into the kitchen to help. I don’t know if it was before or after dinner (think before because I was the one that always cleaned up after), but I remember walking into the kitchen and saw the stunned look on mom’s face and her brother standing there with his arm around her.
I thought someone had died.
And if you think about it, it probably was to some extent like a death. You see, that was the day mom found out her family members weren’t who she thought they were. The day she found out what it was like to grow up being told a lie about who was who, and who she really was to them. It shattered her reality and turned it into just an illusion. She got over it and adjusted because that’s who she was, but the lying by many in her family bothered her for a long time.
I’m also sure mom was thankful she’d never given into the temptation to pretend anything different from they adopted us.
That Thanksgiving Day, mom found out that her dad’s parents weren’t her grandparents, that his sister wasn’t his sister and her aunt. That instead, her grandparents were her great-grandparents, and her aunt was her grandmother and her uncle was her dad’s father, her grandfather, and the children they’d had after they’d married, her cousins, were really her aunts and uncles, her dad’s brothers and sisters but born legitimate. Mom also realized that her mom and dad lied to her, that her aunts, uncles, cousins lied to her, all done to keep up the pretense to make sure no one knew of the shame of her grandmother being pregnant out-of-wedlock, and that it must not be talked about, even in the family.
I remember mom telling me later that at least it explained why her dad always addressed his “sister and brother-in-law” as Mr. and Mrs., so obviously her dad had some deep feelings about the situation, but he kept his familial duty in keeping his parents secret and stayed in touch, but on his own terms, by standing stiffly on the outside looking in.
It also makes me wonder if the decision to immigrate to Canada wasn’t influenced by being a secret.
Secrets always come out and light wins over darkness, but the impact on the one the lies are meant to protect, costs them dearly, and that cost can extend for a long time and to future generations.
This story is probably one of the more benign adoption stories, but it still left an impact on mom. It hurt her deeply. Adoption and lies don’t mix. The truth always comes out in the end. Tell the truth from the beginning so you never need to find a good time to tell that never comes.