I'm not sure how other families are, but in my family, everyone from my mother's generation was a saint. From the moment they exited the womb until the moment their casket was lowered into the earth, they could do no wrong. They were kept on very high pedestals, with nice lighting and appropriately angelic music.
The stories these people told about themselves and about one another were equally stain-free. They grew up, got married, had babies, and dutifully attended each other's birthday parties. It was truly remarkable that such a large family could remain so scandal-free for so very long.
But once these relatives shuffled off this mortal coil and were no longer able to paint their pasts with their own brushes (and no longer had siblings to continue telling the same slanted stories over and over), the truth came tumbling out. And the truth was, in a word, fascinating.
Let me give you a for-instance. My mother had a sister named Grace, and Grace lived in several different places throughout the years I knew her, but wherever she set up shop, she always displayed one photo prominently. It was a black-and-white 8x10 of a very stern-looking man with an even more stern-looking crew cut. This man was Hal.
Now I believe that Grace and Hal were married, since she had a different last name than the one with which she was born, but since I never met the guy, it's hard for me to be sure. Maybe she married someone else and kept a flame for Hal. I never asked. I'm also not sure of Hal's fate, whether he left Grace and started a new life or he died.
In either case, once Grace and my mother had both passed on, I learned a little more about Grace's youth, which, curiously, was never discussed.
It turns out that when Grace was 16, she had a habit of sneaking out of the house and making her way down to the local dance hall when, if you'll forgive the phrase, the fleet was in. It was at the dance hall that she met a sailor, whose fleet was in (if you catch my drift) and that sailor got 16-year-old Grace in the family way. As soon as that sailor found out, he disappeared—back into the Navy, where she never heard from him again. Grace was sent to a nunnery to have the baby and then shipped off to a school for wayward girls.
All of this was an astonishing revelation to me. When I came along, Aunt Grace was in her mid-fifties and a big believer in God and church and all the trappings, and picturing her as a wild teenager was simply not possible. But she was. Oh yes, she was.
So now when I think about that photo of Hal that Grace always had staring at everyone who visited her, I wonder about him. I wonder if Hal knew of Grace's salacious past. If he did, was he bothered by it? If he didn't, was he kept intentionally in the dark like the rest of us? Oh, Hal. For the first time in my life, I wish you were still here so I could ask you these things.
I also wish I'd had the presence of mind to maybe take advantage of some aunt or uncle's drunken stupor (and believe me when I tell you there were plenty of those) to dig into the past and uncover stories like this. To be honest, I was never a huge fan of Aunt Grace, but if I'd known she was such a wild child, I would have seen her in a whole different light.
Maybe someday I'll write a story about Grace and fill in some of the details about those crazy years.
Yes. Maybe I will.