I've been thinking about the secrets I carry. Not the military secrets, trade secrets or government secrets. No, these are the more fragile family secrets that families nurture and hide.
I finally called Mom Sunday. I spoke with her for two hours today, calling at 6AM my time. I live on the west coast and she's on the east coast. Managing that time difference becomes a challenge. Her 77th birthday - or was it her 76th - was in October. My wife and I sent her flowers but I had planned to call. That was the day my cold began, and I lost my voice. So I'm catching up with what should have been done.
Mom said her Mom and Dad disagreed about what year she was born, and she didn't have a birth certificate. Mom has a letter from the doctor confirming she was born. All agreed that it was either 1935 or 1936. Such is 1930's rural Iowa's nature of life. Record keeping was spotty.
I've always tried learning more of my parents' lives and histories. Mom has been forthcoming. No go with Dad. He won't talk about himself as a child or teenager. For years Dad's life in photographs and legend began with his marriage to Mom, after he was in the US Air Force. Little seemed to exist of his life before Mom. Dad's youngest sister was at his 80th birthday celebration. I pumped her for info but she was ten years younger. Not much was remembered. He left home was he was sixteen, lying about his age to join the Guards, and then enlisting in the military.
There were pictures at Dad's birthday bash. My aunt had a photo album she put together for her mother's wake decades ago. A somber black and white photographs captured grade schoolers posing. Dad, as a young lad in knickerbockers, stands with others, a surreal testament that Dad was a child, and he wore knickerbockers. Knickerbockers are the stuff of ancient American culture. Now here was the garment, brought to life in a photograph of young boy Dad.
Catching up about family and what's going on with them is another challenge, but Mom and I tried. She's my official informer. I have sisters but I don't call them often. Three of them are younger, still little girls in my mind, even though they're all mature adults. They're mothers and wives. Two of the three younger sisters are grandmothers. I'm always embarassed meeting their friends and their husbands' families because I'm big brother, and they're always bragging about me. On my side, I'm amazed that such beautiful, wise mature women are my little sisters.
All isn't well in family land. While most are coping as generations do, graduating from schools, finding employment and beginning families, a few have followed dark paths of drug abuse and trouble with the law. One graduated college but returned home to live with Mom and Dad, now umemployed, and apparently disinclined to find a job. His girlfriend of many years finished her PhD in nuclear medicine and broke up with him, telling him that he didn't have focus and motivation.
But see, these are all secrets. If you met each, their intelligence, talents and good looks would impress you. You would probably walk away with the conclusion, such nice people. They are nice people.
There is a line. I may be brother and uncle but Mother and Child secrets and protections are much stronger. Years will pass before I learn some version of truth about what's going on with them. As for those of you outside the family circle? No. You will not know these secrets. Icebergs reveal more.
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com