Monday, February 8, 2010

where all good fiction comes from, to which all fiction must eventually return...

So I'm on Facebook the other day, minding my own business, when I notice a recent posting by Aunt D, my mother's youngest sister. Attached is a photo of a pretty brunette, age 40 or so; the caption introducing the Facebook world to D's new sister, Nancy. And I struggle with this one for a moment. New sister -- new sister? Aunt D has 10 brothers and sisters already, including my mom, and the last time I checked I could in fact remember all their names. No Nancy among them. Odd.

Later in the day my mother calls, to ask me a physiological question (if you sleep on your hand in such a way as to cut off the circulation for a good while, how long should you wait for feeling to return to every part of the hand before you start worrying?) And after dealing with this, I ask her as casually as I can, "So...who is Nancy?" "Nancy who?" "Um, D's new sister." Mom pauses for a moment, and I can hear her breathing as she decides how much she'd like to tell me. As usual, she settles on what seems to be everything there is to tell. (Note, though, that she gives this impression effortlessly, when in fact she could be withholding quite a bit more information from you. Everything I know about sins of omission, I learned from my mother.)

She goes on to relate a story not wholly unfamiliar to me -- I'd heard snippets of it first not long after Grandma passed away -- but I did not at that time choose to accept the information as fact, for good reason. My mother's side of the family is large, as I said, with aunts and uncles the product of multiple marriages, and plenty of cousins likewise. Irish Catholic, long since divorced from the church, prone to drama and vindictive in-fighting. After Grandma Mary died the kids fell to squabbling amongst themselves, over the property, over the rights to certain versions of the truth. At one point it was said that Grandpa George (Grandma's second husband, not her last) was not the father of Aunt D or Uncle D, Mom's youngest siblings. At another point it was said that their father might not even have been white, which in this case was meant as a stab. The family fractured then, with Grandma Mary and Grandpa Pat gone, and no reason for the kids to try to get along. Years later, Aunt D has tried to make up to most of them, but she never forgot the story of how she might in fact have been conceived.

The story is a simple one. For a long time the family lived in southern MN, in a certain town, and Grandma Mary had by her early thirties born three boys in her first marriage, then three more boys and three girls in her second marriage to Grandpa George, who was an ex-Army man and a drinker. George didn't work regularly, and while they ostensibly farmed, the family was generally in need and so Mary worked. My mother, as oldest daughter, was often times the woman of the house. When Mom was about 13, Mary held a job at a cafe in town, where she met one of the town's cops; over coffee and pie, one imagines. It could be said that despite a hard life and nine kids Mary was still good looking. According to my mother, the man, we'll call him Danny, was of the same age and similar disposition -- nice looking, gainfully employed and a father of six. Before long, Danny and Mary became friends, and as my mother says they were good together. Occasionally Mary would ask my mother if she wanted to go for a drive, and they'd meet Danny somewhere for a visit. He took a paternal interest in my mother, who at 13 had something of a serious crush on him; but he encouraged her to be a "good girl." Could be Danny took Mom and Mary to the movies once or twice, and when they thought she slept there in the back seat some evening, Mary and Danny demonstrated their growing affection for each other. Not entirely out of earshot of my mother.

And in due time, Aunt D and Uncle D were born. It should be said that neither of them looks like the milkman's child; but neither resembles Grandpa George. Mary eventually asked Danny to leave his wife, and for reasons having to do with family and money, the insurmountable facts, he refused. Before long, Mary was angry at his lack of support (though he still loved her, he didn't give her any money), and she stopped allowing him to see the children. By the time they were old enough to understand, Mary was bitter enough to tell them simply that their father was a no-good who didn't love them. Uncle D chose to go on calling George his daddy, and forget the rest. Aunt D, to whom George was never a father, settled finally on Grandma's third husband, Grandpa Pat, as her paternal love. Pat did his best by the kids, and as Mary was already 45 when they were wed, Mary's children were his. Many years later, Danny's wife, who had known everything from the start, pushed him down a flight of stairs in his wheelchair and killed him. The death was ruled accidental, and Betty lives on in a nursing home in Alaska.

Betty and Danny had three boys, and three girls. The youngest girl is Aunt D's age, and her name is Nancy.

At the moment, this reunion of sorts seems to be going well. Aunt D has gradually found out everything there is to know, and since Danny and Mary's affair was no surprise to Danny's kids, there was apparently room in Nancy's life for the admission of another sibling. The two have embraced the relationship enthusiastically, and while Facebook holds no account of the story, I can assure you now that it's quite true. And now Aunt D will learn who her father really was, and how he was, through the eyes of someone whose eyes look like her own.

No comments: