Tough choices can be painful. More so when a family covers those choices up. What happens when those secrets are found out? And how can perceptions of people change when you start to learn more, and even understand? Read Donna’s story to see what it was like for her.
My Father’s Father by Donna Schlachter
I learned that my grandfather was, in fact, my great-grandfather, and that my grandmother, who had just passed away, wasn’t related to me by blood at all. And that my aunt was actually my grandmother.
My father learned when he was thirteen years old that the woman he knew as his sister was actually his birth mother.
The only reason my father found out was because his “father’s” brother had died, and his son, my father’s cousin, was going through some papers, and saw the birth certificate which my grandfather asked him to keep in a safe.
My father was a very pragmatic man. He couldn’t change the circumstances, so he decided he’d just carry on. In fact, he never told the man he called Dad that he knew the truth of his birth until about twenty years later, and he never discussed the matter with the woman he called Mom, who was actually his father’s second wife, the first having died.
The idea for a book came from my father’s idea that although the story isn’t unique—many children are born out of wedlock and adopted by family—he felt that the time and the setting were. Newfoundland, in eastern Canada, during the 1930s and 1940s.
I agreed, and I wrote a “family only” version of the story, using the real names of the people involved. I spent hours recording my father as he told his story, which included his birth mother’s story, his growing-up years, and ultimately finding his birth family.
I did a lot of research into the location and the time, including connecting with the town historian, who helped fill in the gaps. We also used the journals and cashbooks kept by my grandfather in the course of his business, a grocery and dry goods store in this same town. Wonderful notations such as “air ship landed on the ice last night” sparked visions of dirigibles crash-landing. However, when I checked into it, it was a small airplane that landed quite safely because of weather in the destination city.
Another notation, “gave to garden party committee” reminded me of those grand social occasions where everybody gathered to drink tea, play lawn games, and buy baked goods and knitted goods to raise funds for one thing or another.
There were more somber notes: “Rendell Walsh missing in woods” and then three days later, “Found Rendell. Funeral tomorrow.”
I worked my way through the source documents and the oral history, filling in the blanks when memory or information failed. I cried over several chapters, including the one where my father’s birth mother mourned her own mother’s passing; when she learned she was pregnant and the father nowhere to be found; and when she handed the child over to the birth father’s family and said, “Here. This belongs to Clarence.”
Through the process, I learned more about this glamorous aunt whose lifestyle I’d always admired. When I was only about eight, I realized the family treated her life a black sheep, and I wasn’t sure why. Perhaps it was her three marriages and three divorces. Perhaps because she was a career woman who moved up the corporate ladder.
Only now do I understand that perhaps the circumstances of her childhood and pregnancy caused her to make these choices.
I also came to understand more about my father and his way of thinking. The man was a genius, even as a boy of nine doing experiments in electricity, chemistry, and physics that would astound most college students today, self-taught, in the attic of the family home.
But one real eye-opener for me was seeing his birth father from a different angle. During the writing of the story, I saw him as a man who used my father’s birth mother, then dumped her for a woman with more family influence and money. The man who never acknowledged my father, even though he knew for certain who my father was, and worked in the same building with him for years, even riding in the same elevator and never making eye contact.
But once the book was published, my father’s half-siblings started talking about their father, Clarence. He was a loving man, faithful to his wife, making sure his children had the best education money could buy.
This was not the man I’d imagined.
In fact, he was just like my father.
Donna Schlachter pens historical suspense while her alter ego, Leeann Betts, writes contemporary suspense. Donna’s recent releases include Nuggets of Writing Gold and a collection of short stories, Second Chances and Second Cups. She plans to release her father’s story in the market version, with names changed to protect the guilty, in the Fall of 2016. Her books and her pen name’s books are available at Amazon.com and Smashwords.com. You can follow Donna at www.HiStoryThruTheAges.wordpress.com and Leeann at www.AllBettsAreOff.wordpress.com.
Let’s talk about this. Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first to speak in court sounds right–until the cross examination begins. There’s always, always, always two sides to a story. But when we’re hurt or someone we love’s been hurt, it’s hard to see the other side. It’s hard to have the strength and courage to even look. That’s where prayer comes in. The next time you hear a scandalous story, or maybe simply a nugget of gossip, pause to pray. Ask God to show the situation or person through His eyes. You may be surprised by what He reveals.
Can you relate to Donna’s story, and if so, how? Share your thoughts in the comments below.