Mother-Daughter Stories of Secrets, Reflections, Life lessons #4

 A story about Family Secrets:
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The Secret Brother 
I’m about 11 and we have traveled by train from Oregon to the Mid-West to visit relatives. We’ve visited my grandparents and others, the typical family gatherings. But today feels different, something secret is in the air. We are walking up the steps of a boarding house and a man greets us there. Mother tells my little sister and I that he is her brother, but I had no idea my mother had a brother. Dad often tells stories about his childhood with his brother and sister. I’d assumed everyone did. Yet here he was, my mother’s secret brother? It feels so strange, like a dream.

I’m 15. Mother got a phone call a few minutes ago. She is crying so hard as my dad is explaining to me that her brother has died. I feel sad, confused and helpless. I can only stand and watch my mother. It seems odd that she is so distressed for the loss of someone she had never mentioned over the years. I don’t know what to say or do as she talks about how he never had a happy life. She is grieving for his life unlived.

I’m in my 40s. Mom and I are chatting and I’ve wondered for so long. So I ask about her brother. She talks about how they played together as children, him being only two years older. She even tells a funny story of how they’d explore their father’s furniture making business. Once they looked in a casket and found a body there. They ran away in terror and most certainly didn’t do that again!

But I push her, wanting to know more about him. All she shares is that when he was older her parents were disappointed in him because he wasn’t good in math. I wonder if he might have been retarded but she says no, that he was an avid reader of history.

I know there is more but let it go. I can tell she has told what she will. I’m left wondering. She seemed to have loved him so. I remind myself it was another time in history, a time when family secrets were kept.

Judy Breneman 2011
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