Thursday, February 7, 2013

Who Knows What Evil (or Good) Lurks...

"The Centenarian's Secret" by Diane Speare Triant,, featured on the 5-Minute Memoir: Tales From the Writing Life page in the February 2013 issue of Writer's Digest would spark even the dullest imagination. The author relates a chance acquaintance with a 103-year-old man and the treasure trove of Civil War letters she found (with permission of his heir) in the ramshackle cabin which had been the old man's home. You have to read this story, so get the issue from the nearest newsstand or find it in your library!

The memoir set me thinking about 'hidden treasures' I have found or searched for without success. I knew my family had taken so many secrets to their graves, but I felt they were discoverable. The first hoped-for cache was in my grandmother's Bible, but though I paged through it meticulously and more than once, I found only the stuff of her life: phone numbers, newspaper clippings, a pamphlet, family snapshots, and my grandfather's obituary.

I moved on, after my mother's death, to what she'd kept in shoeboxes and plastic bags: mostly handmade items from my school days but also many, many newspaper articles on breast cancer (her cause of death) which told me what I already knew: she'd ignored the warning signs for years until it was too late.

My aunt left behind two class rings and several scrapbooks, as well as the love letters written by her husband-to-be (who was twice her age). Despite my pleas, my mother sat in my kitchen one afternoon and tore them to shreds. A step-granddaughter to whom my aunt was close would have treasured them, but I couldn't save them for her. Before my aunt's death, I asked for and was given a box containing a dress, pinafore, and shoes her mother (my grandmother born in 1875) had worn. Those are preserved behind glass.

A cousin, son of my aunt's brother, brought me several boxes of papers and pictures belonging to his father and asked me to go through them. Among the papers was a page from the same aunt's high school diary. She'd sent it to him and commented on how amusing it was--but within the lines penned by a teenager before WW I, I found the dark thread running through my grandparents' marriage.

Finally, on a remote mountaintop, where my great-great-grandfather had brought his younger second bride (and where he probably lived with his first who died with two years of their marriage after giving birth to a daughter), I found the remains of the house, an empty well, bits of broken pottery, a tin barrel rim, and other reminders that people had once inhabited this now-barren place. I lugged heavy (probably slave-made) bricks down the old wagon road and sighed with regret that the rumored blood-stained floor had rotten away. In 1876, within the now-fallen walls, my great-grandfather had shot his stepfather to death. It's a tangled tale, the twists and turns of which we'll never really know, but at least I'd stood where it happened.

All of this brings me to speculate on what I want to or am willing to leave behind for others to find. I've already shredded all the letters which passed between my husband and me. I've destroyed, with unholy glee, a book of poems written about me by the aforementioned aunt, which everyone thought amusing but which had the end result of firmly pigeon-holing me as a third-class member of my own family. The rest to be left will simply be left, carefully labeled, even parceled out in some cases.

I will be, as others before me, the keeper of my own secrets. They are the stuff of stories--which I may or may not tell.

1 comment:

K9friend said...

Such a neat post. You're right, some family secrets will never be uncovered, but what fun it is to try!

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