Over the last few years, I have spent a great deal of time reflecting upon and analyzing what I was told by my family.
I am devastated, at times, by how much of it was false.
Not Even Birthdays
A very painful reminder of the falsehoods arose this week. I had finally made contact, very carefully, on a very limited basis with a paternal great-aunt. I simply wanted to verify a death date, as a tangential detail regarding my late paternal grandmother. It was very insignificant, a mere trifle, and unrelated to my original inquiry.
I discovered my great-grandparents’ names. This was news to me, but not unusual, since my paternal grandmother rarely spoke of anyone but herself. I even found that their records were available via courthouse and newspaper accounts, allowing me to double-triple-quadruple-check my relatives’ information.
It turns out my paternal grandmother was two years older than we’d been told, and born in a different month as well.
You Know It’s Bad When…
A woman lying about her age is perhaps none too striking, other than the fact she lied about it to her husband and children, as well, and everyone on her side of the family agreed to maintain the falsehood. My great-aunt, when asked, e-mailed that “It was easier” than explaining to my paternal grandmother’s husband (my grandfather) that he’d been lied to.
Just when it can’t get worse, it does.
My paternal grandmother told her children, and her grandchildren that her mother died when she was “young”, sometime between ages twelve and fifteen, probably fourteen. Those dates are extrapolated by my paternal grandmother’s own references to herself at the time of her mother’s death.
Checking courthouse and newspaper records led me to the fun fact that my great-grandmother died after I was born.
In other words, my grandmother was over fifty when her mother died. Not twelve, not fourteen, not fifteen. She was over fifty.
When I e-mailed her older daughter, the one paternal relative with whom I stay in regular contact, my aunt replied in shock, “Grammy V was alive all that time?”
A quick check with the great-aunt confirmed that all the family went along with the idea that my great-grandmother V died sometime in the Great Depression. Census records, courtesy the US government online, showed that this takes “a few family fibs” to a whole new level. My great-grandmother V lived with her husband until her death, in the same house, receiving her Social Security benefits at that address, and so on. Yet her own grandchild never met her.
Duck! It’s Granny-World!
How the heck did my paternal grandmother’s family decide to go along with the Granny version of the world? In that question, I was joined by my aunt, who was shocked more than I was. (All things considered, that took doing.)
We’ve done a little research, asked a few questions, and we have no answer beyond the original. “It was easier” to go along with what Granny decided was “the world” than to set anyone straight. Including, apparently, Granny.
As irritated and astonished as I am by all this seeming lunacy, my aunt is devastated. She did not know her own mother’s true birthday. She never met her own grandmother. Her aunts knew truths, and held them back.
Why did my paternal grandmother re-create reality? Why did her siblings collude with her for the sake of it being “easier”? Why did this one woman’s needs twist so much?
I have no idea. I just know that whenever, in future, I ask questions about my paternal grandmother? I’ll have to suppress the urge to hide from the answers.
Have you discovered secrets kept for generations? We can sympathize. Let us know!