“I have an email I need to read to you.” my husband said over the phone.”Is everything okay?” As usual I was worried something was wrong.”It is good news Mary. I just received a message from a woman who says she is your dads sister.”
Growing up, we always knew our last name, wasn’t my fathers given name. It had been changed 3 times, for several different reasons. My fathers father was a mystery to him, having never known him, as he left his mother when my father was 2. My dad had always wondered about him, where he went, was he alive somewhere, were there more kids.Like most families there were secrets that were kept, I am sure, thinking it was the right thing to do.But everything that is done in the dark, eventually comes to the light.
My dad and his sister Pauline, were first generation Americans, on his mothers side. His mother, my grandmother and her family had come over from Dresdin Germany, in 1925.His mother married his father Walter and had the two children. Walter would be out of their lives by 1934. And a lifetime full of secrets, mystery and searching would begin.
My grandmother remarried, and had 3 more children with a man who already had a son. My dad took his last name, and he became the only father my dad ever knew.It wasn’t an easy upbringing, and growing up we heard the stories of his strict step father. My Aunt Pauline married young, 16 I believe.My dad left shortly after to join the military.My parents got married in 1953, and his mother, my grandmother Erna, passed away in 1955.His step father had already passed, so raising some of the younger half siblings fell on him and my mother.
My father tells a story of being a young man, in Chicago, where he was born and partially raised. A woman looked at him and said “I know you , you are Wally’s son”. My dad, never having seen a picture of his father, didn’t know what to say or do. At one point his Aunt Margaret hinted to him some information about his father, but stopped herself saying” I better not say anymore”. So the secrets continued, denying my father , his sister and all their children part of their heritage, part of who they are.
Several years ago, after the death of my husbands father, he started tracing his roots. While I was excited at all the incredible information he was finding, I was so very envious. I would call my dad, and ask him to give me every ounce of information he had on Walter, nothing was to small. My husband Mark would search, and think we had found something, and it would turn into disappointment.As time went on, my dad would call me, or when we would visit, he would say ” I found this, or I might have a clue.” and Mark would enter it into the website, still nothing. My heart was breaking for my dad. For most of my life, has been in poor health, he has knocked deaths door more than the Grim Reaper, yet somehow, fought back. Through it all, it haunted him, where was his father, and why had he left him. My Aunt Pauline, felt the same, until her death in 2010 was still trying to find him, or someone who knew him. And I myself, couldn’t stop thinking about and praying for anything to solve the mystery to my dad. One day last week, I prayed out loud, “Lord, I just want my dad to know who he is, before it is to late.”
I was at work when the call came in. “What? What? are you sure? What is her name? Where does she live?” I riddled my husband with questions.”Mary I gave her your number she is going to call you.” I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think. But I knew enough to call my dad.
“Dad” I said quietly, knowing what I was about to tell him, would change everything he knew. He was the last surviving sibling, or so he thought.”Mark just called me, and, there is a woman who says she is your sister.” ” What?, are you sure?” I in fact was positive, in my soul, and I didn’t even have all the information yet. “I am waiting for her call dad, and I will have her call you, if you are okay with that.” ” Yes.” he responded, and I could hear the anxiety and emotion in his words.
A few minutes later, my phone rang, as her name popped up on my caller i.d. I recognized the maiden last name. A name, my dad knew was his birth name. I smiled, and answered the phone.” Mary?” she said, and I knew. I knew she was my Aunt. I just knew. We talked briefly and I told her, her brother , was awaiting her call.
I wish I could have been there, when he first heard her voice, and she his. But I was there 4 days later when we helped him video chat with her on facetime. Her face came on the screen, and he lit up. I knew he could see himself in her, that he could see his sister Pauline. My sister Barb was there too, when she heard our new Aunts voice she looked at me, and we both said “she sounds just like Aunt Pauline.” Barb said “close your eyes, it’s her.” So my sister and I closed our eyes, and knew, our family had grown. My new Aunt, Jeanine, was raised an only child, never knowing she had any other siblings, or that her father was married before. Sadly, “our Walter” as my Aunt Jeanine refers to him now, didn’t raise her either. The sins of the father continued as did the secrecy. My dad said to his new sister, “Wherever our father is, it isn’t heaven.” I looked at my sister and said” no, I think poor Walter is shaking in his grave, knowing that his kids have figured it out, they have found each other.” My aunt Jeanine had done a DNA test who matched with a woman who shared a common grandmother, my fathers grandmother. And When she first contacted us, she sent pics of my grandfather, my fathers father, that only proved it more. There simply was no denying it. My Aunt, never having been an Aunt before suddenly had 11 new nieces and nephews and over 20 great nieces and nephews and now great great nieces and nephews.
Since last Tuesday my Aunt and I have been in constant contact. Emailing, texting, facetiming
.My dad is 84 and frail, so he has asked my husband and I to do most of the communicating with her when it comes to filling her in on anything she needs. So we share stories and ask questions of each other.We found out she would travel to within blocks of my family to go to the zoo, or the shopping mall. She was within our reach, and we had no way of knowing. But now she is. She is at my fingertips. And I have felt comfortable with her from the very first phone call. She is what was missing. Not Walter, who took raising his children with a grain of salt. But Jeanine was missing. Not anymore.
While texting with me yesterday, my Aunt asked me to send her some leaves, of the beautiful Wisconsin fall, as she lives out west. It made me think, all these years, my dad and Jeanine’s family tree had nothing but broken branches. But even broken branches, can hang on, to produce beautiful leaves.