It was always there, a rumor, a hint of something no one wanted to know. The only way we knew of it, was when someone said, in a solemn whisper, “Something happened in Grandpa’s family before they left Europe.”
Personally, I liked the intrigue, the mystery. The secrecy fed my imagination. I often wondered and made up stories with varying degrees of derring-doo. I pictured trysts or feats of espionage. Perhaps it was a woman who stepped out of the family norm to become something more than a wife. In my daydreams she was bold, becoming herself in spite of the shame it carried.
There were hints. My dad didn’t look exactly like the other two brothers. They were taller, fairer, closer copies of my grandfather. Dad had darker hair and eyes. And being the youngest, I believe the speculation made him feel different, alien. That sense of otherness lasted until old age when these three brothers all died without having spoken to each other for years.
Recently, the grandson of one of the brothers found me in an internet search. We had a long talk on the phone and then met in Colorado for dinner, sharing memories and laughing at many remembered stories.
He shared his genealogy research, saying he had found the answer to the family secret. I crossed my fingers, but it was a rather bland secret as it turned out.
My dad’s father’s family hailed from England and Germany. Sometime in the 1800s there was a marriage that was not satisfactory to the family. A young great, great grandmother of ours had married a middle easterner, a Jew living in Germany.
Bland as I hope that story sounds today, I was thrilled to know we were were not the pure, white American citizens our elders prized themselves on being.
The evidence does not show up in me, I am an Irish lassie from my mother’s side. But my father’s darker skin, hair, and rich brown eyes came through to my oldest son.
When he was born, he was placed in my arms. In awe I held him, wondering who this new being would become. I said to the doctor, “He has brown eyes!”
“No, they are not brown.” he stated. “All babies have blue eyes.”
His eyes were and are to this day, a delicious, rich, chocolate brown.
He sent me a photo once, while stationed in Iraq. It was a group of Iraqis on a tank. I wondered why he would send such a picture to me. I had the photo several days before I spotted him among his Iraqi comrades, hidden behind some dark, newly grown facial hair. I laughed with love and pride, pleased that the family’s “horrible” secret is apparent in my family.