This is a letter to my paternal grandmother that I would like to send to her today. I've written similar letters to two of my other grandparents on their birthdays. This one is more... difficult, for reasons that you'll see. Some of the other people mentioned are her husband, who I called Granddaddy, and her other children, Aunt B and Uncle W.
You would be 85 today. The family has grown since you died 9 years ago. You have three new greatgrandchildren, including my son Leo. The rest of the family is doing well. Your house was sold after you died. It wasn't the same after the new highway went in and took out half of your neighborhood. Your house was the last one on your street that wasn't removed, so it is close to the new road.
I need to let you know that I know your secret, and have known parts of it since I was a teenager. I realize that you are probably ashamed about what happened, but in my opinion you shouldn't be. It wasn't your fault. I know that you went to great lengths to hide it all of your life, and you mostly succeeded.
I first found out part of your secret at the dinner table when I was an early teen. I commented that it was strange that Uncle W, my dad's younger brother, was named after his father, when it is usually the first son who is named after the father. Dad told me then that Granddaddy wasn't his biological father. I was shocked but didn't ask many questions. It turns out that Dad didn't know much more than that at the time. Later I found out that he discovered it by looking through some family papers when he was 11 and finding his adoption paperwork. That must have been devastating to a kid, to find out that his father wasn't his biological father and that the truth had been hidden from him.
It was only after you died, Grandma, that Dad found out the whole story. Uncle Herbert, your last sibling, told Dad all that he knew in the last few months before he died.
Grandma, I want you to remember that you have nothing to be ashamed of.
It wasn't your fault.
He was your high school bus driver.
You were only 15 years old.
He raped you.
Then about 9 months later Dad was born.
You told your family, and the police got involved. But in 1940 in rural South Carolina, it was his story against yours. There was no DNA evidence then, so he was questioned by the police and released without charges being filed. That must have been awful for you.
Your plan was to leave Dad with your parents to have them raise him while you moved away and lived with Aunt Ruth and Uncle Harry. But you were the youngest of eight children, and your parents were old. Your father died when Dad was 3 or 4 years old, and not long afterward your mother became too old to live alone. By then you had met and married Granddaddy, so Dad and your mother moved in with you and Granddaddy.
It must have been very difficult for you, because Granddaddy's family never accepted Dad as part of their family. When Dad discovered that his father adopted him, he understood why Granddaddy's parents didn't show him any love. One of the "funny family stories" about your bad temper concerned your relationship with your mother in law. She lived across the street from you, and one day came over with a Coca-Cola and a cup. She gave half to Uncle W and half to Aunt B, her biological grandchildren, and didn't give any to Dad. She had started to walk back across the street when you came out and saw that Dad didn't have any. When you asked Dad about it and he said that he wasn't given any, you grabbed the drink from Aunt B and Uncle W and poured it out. You then grabbed the glass bottle, threw it across the street directly at your mother in law's head, missing only by inches, and screamed at her "I have three children, not two!" When Granddaddy got home after work, you met him outside and sent him across the street to talk to his mother. I never understood that that wasn't a funny story at all, but a mother defending her child, until I knew your secret. I understand why Dad was kind of your favorite, since you had to defend him.
You hid your secret well. Uncle W didn't know that Dad was adopted until Dad told him after you died. You and Granddaddy never celebrated your anniversary so as not to let your kids know that you were married a few years after Dad was born.
I hinted to you a few years before you died that I knew about Dad's birth circumstances, but you ignored my hint and didn't want to discuss it. I guess that you were still ashamed, nearly 60 years later.
I do have to ask why you gave Dad, and he gave me, such weird first and middle names. Our first name is a last name, supposedly of a family friend of your father's who did some bid favor for the family. And our middle name is, well, a girl's name. I know that you didn't mean it that way, and it's spelled differently, but it's still a girl's name. And our last name is sometimes a first name. I can't tell you how often my first and last names are reversed.
But I have lots of good memories of you, Grandma. Mom went back to work when I was just a few months old, and she left me in your care each day. Then once I started school, she picked me up and took me to your house each day after school until she or Dad got off work and picked me up. You were in some ways a second mother to me. We always had a good time, although looking back I watched way too much television.
I still feel bad about your last hospitalization. You had been in and out of the hospital so many times about your intestinal problems that the last time didn't seem any different. With the time difference, by the time I came home each night visiting hours were over and I didn't call to talk to you. I didn't realize that something would happen and you would die during that hospitalization. I guess that nine years later I should forgive myself, but I still can't. I can still hear your voice when I would call you on the phone and you would use the nickname for me that no one else ever called me.
I miss you, Grandma. I wish that you had lived long enough to meet Leo. I tell him about you. He likes to hear family stories and there are several about you and Dad that he enjoys.
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