Saturday, August 13, 2011

'Don't Air Your Dirty Laundry'

How many of us have heard that line in our lives? It seemed to be the mantra of those who went before us. Today's generations seem to live their lives without any thought of what others think, but there was a sense of shame in our elders. They were telling us to have a conscience about our mistakes and to keep them covered so that people would look upon us as 'decent' adults.

A friend and I were discussing that very thing this morning. We're both investigating our families histories and we got to talking about 'skeletons in the closet' that have been discovered. He wants to share them, but not for three or four generations, when those who did the deeds are long dead and buried, and relatively unknown.  I don't know how he'd go about hiding things that long, should he write the tales.

Things are often so well-hidden that we never stumble across them. Not so in another friend's life. He recently visited a cousin in another state. He and his cousin were discussing their individual searches of their ancestries, when the cousin laid out a huge family tree.  He pointed to a name and said, "See that guy? That's your brother."  After some discussion, it turned out that the named brother had been born some years before my friend had, and had been surrendered to an aunt and uncle of the mother to be raised. The mother went on to live her life, marrying and having other children, never mentioning that there was another family member!  Can you imagine my friend's shock ?! At sixty years old, he had an older brother he knew nothing about!  He has since contacted the man, and the two plan to meet in the coming months. 

I'm not sure what the reasons were for hiding that sort of information. In many ways, I feel that it isn't fair to siblings to be denied the chance to know and love those born of another father or mother. My own husband was denied the opportunity to know his own father, due to a nasty divorce when my husband was a toddler. An entire family was eradicated from my husband's life!  There was something within Mike's mother that felt her son should not know there was a living being on his paternal side. She would not speak of any of them right up until she died. She'd have been horrified to know that, as I dug for information on his ancestors, I discovered that Mike's great-grandfather was alive and living in Casper, Wyoming up until Mike was fifteen years old.  His grandparents both died in 1965, as did Mike's Dad. Though he'd spent very limited time with his father during his up-bringing, he'd never really gotten to know him. That caused Mike to 'idolize' his Dad.  He didn't get to meet his grandparents, though, or the half-brother who also died in the 1960's in a car accident.

They say that you don't miss what you never knew. Seeing my husband's responses to each of my discoveries of his 'lost' relatives, I can't agree with that statement.  But, for whatever reason, his Mom thought it best to keep them all a secret.

I suppose there are things that people would want to keep hidden away, and if I should stumble across anything in our family, I will honor those words not to 'air the dirty laundry.'  However, the long and short of it is, things happen. People you are related to, are still related to you, even if they've done something horrible.  It can't be changed or erased, but if families want to hide it, it's important to them for us to keep it buried, at least until enough time has passed so that the person is 'just a name' to those who discover the secrets of the past.


  1. I know! My grandfather, unbeknownst to him, left a girlfriend pregnant in Sweden when he worked his way over on a steamship. He was going to send for her once he got settled, but she quickly married somebody else (terrible to be unmarried and pregnant in the early 1900s). So we have a side of the family we have never met and couldn't locate in Sweden because Grandpa kept that secret--never ever told his wife because he knew she would leave him if she found out. (And, knowing her, she probably would have, even after all those decades of marriage.) Some other relative finally spilled the beans to his son, my dad, when grandpa was dying at 88. He was terrified for Grandma to know and swore my dad to secrecy. (Hey--she lived to be 104, so it was a long time yet keeping that one!) Families and secrets!! That child may never have known that his biological father was in the United States, either--LOL!

    Tell or not tell? Well, with us, everybody quickly knew about it. My dad tried to track down his sibling when he went to Europe (no luck). But nobody ever told Grandma. ;)

  2. You beat me to post on this one. I did write one as well and am posting this morning as ususal.
    Enjoyed your thougts as always.