The Family Lore, The Family Lie

One day, in an e-mail conversation with Monika, I abruptly understood what it means to have a light bulb pop into life over my head.

In one sense, I feel silly. I aced math classes. Why did it take until 2015 for me to realize a fundamental error in the arithmetic? Why did I not see the lie in my paternal family lore?

Against All Odds

I’ve spoken in earlier blogs of my father’s family. In brief, seven of eleven children born to my paternal grandmother survived to adulthood. The other four died before age five. The five surviving boys were repeatedly told throughout their lives, by their mother, that they had varying ailments. The two surviving girls were not.

Graphic of light bulb

All the stories I have since confirmed or debunked, supports that assertion. The boys were “sick”, the girls were “not”, unless a doctor had it on record. Given the probability of  MSbP in that family, it seems a little strange at best.

Don’t Take Her Baby!

One incident in the family is still recalled by members of the local volunteer fire department. As told by the VFD, it’s a story of a volunteer fireman recognizing an ailment in a sibling, in time to save the sibling’s life.

As told by the family, including other siblings in the home at the time, and by my late paternal grandmother, it was the same story.

I refer to the victim of this as “H”. In my own charts of the family, I refer to my paternal grandparents as X and Y, their firstborn as “A”, my father as “B”, and so on. Thus, “H” is eighth in the birth order of the eleven children.

H, the younger of my father’s two sisters, fell ill. So far, that’s fact. My father found her unresponsive on a visit to his parents’ home. Again, that is fact. She was hot to the touch, and beginning to convulse. He called his VFD buddies for a rush on an ambulance, and his sister H was taken to the hospital. Doctors there brought down her temperature, and she was released into her parents’ care, with no better diagnosis than “possibly infectious encephalopathy or meningitis”, according to my mother’s version of the story. So far, facts.

It’s been confirmed by neighbors of my late grandparents that my grandmother was furious with my father as he took H from the home. She screamed quite loudly, according to all accounts (VFD, neighbors, my father, my grandfather), that my father could not “take her baby from her!”

As H was neither the youngest surviving child, nor ever otherwise referred to as “the baby”, my grandmother’s wording was odd, to say the least. (Child J was “the baby”, for the record, and was referred to as such by his mother until her death in 2005.)

That Doesn’t Add Up

blackboard covered in math symbols

Unfortunately, the story falls apart when I do the math.

When my grandmother, aunt, uncles or father told the tale, the aunt in question, H was  “a baby”, or at most “a toddler”.

The VFD, the neighbors, and public records show that is literally impossible.

First, let’s look at the dates of birth.  My father was born in 1941; H was born in 1956.  When she was a “toddler” (approximate age 3), my father was 18.

Second, my father joined the US Navy at age 18. He wouldn’t have been there if she were 3-4 years old. If H was truly an infant (age 2 or under), he would have been too young to be a member of the volunteer fire department, since the minimum age was 18.

Finally, my father entered the VFD while he was Navy Reserve, after his service, during which time he met and married my mother, and my older sister was born, in 1965. Her babysitter was my father’s mother. My father happened to be the one to pick up his daughter that day, found his sister H as described, and so on.

Do the math, and you realize: The family story was a lie.

My paternal aunt, H, was eight years old when my parents married.  My mother confirmed that. Math confirms that.

When the older of the two sisters (D, in the birth order) confirmed the family tale via e-mail,  she very interestingly still used the words “when H was a baby”.

Just in case the VFD wasn’t keeping good records—they had to look in boxes in someone’s attic to find the old logbooks of runs from that time period—I checked another hallmark date in my father’s VFD service. That, too, supported H being 8-9 years old at the time of the incident.

Yet… My paternal grandmother’s version of the event “won”, even among the participants. The lie became the family’s lore.

graphic of books

Does your family’s “lore” not quite add up? Share your stories or questions in our comment section below.

Images courtesy ClikrFreeVectorImages,  geralt, and Merio, via Pixabay


2 thoughts on “The Family Lore, The Family Lie

  1. Thank you for this great example of how the perpetrator seizes the narrative and tries to rewrite history. I have noticed that their goal is to displace things in time to make it look like they could not have been a “cause” that preceded an “effect”. This also happened in my family, as we discussed.

    I am forced to ask the question: What function did it serve the perpetrator to edit history exactly like that? I’m often mystified once I find these things in my family’s narrative as to what they were trying to hide exactly. Why did that event *have* to happen when auntie was a baby, not when she was older? Does it somehow make the perpetrator appear less culpable? What do you think?


    • In this instance, I think making the child “younger” gave the parent the illusion that she is more “heroic” for taking care of a sick “baby” than a sick school-aged child. The more dependent the child, the greater the stress perceived on / by the mother. This is all a guess, but it seems to “fit” in my grandmother’s case.


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