Friday, April 18, 2008


My mom just called to let me know that my Aunt Jane died. She's been in Hospice with Colon cancer for some time now, so it was just a matter of time, but it's real now. She's gone. I have never been close to her, I've seen her probably 4 times in my life - the last time was last summer when I was up in Wisconsin meeting my parents after a trip to Chicago. We took a picture with her and my dad, me and Elle. Four generations . . . in my family of short life spans, this was quite a feat.

You see, she is my dad's real mom. She was 16 when she got pregnant (by a visiting German soldier) - and in the quintessential family secret story, she was sent to a 'boarding school' for a year and came back just in time to say goodbye to her older sister, Alice, who was moving to Florida with her husband, Bill, and their newly adopted baby boy. Alice, Bill and Jon would become the 'other' family - the one the rest of the Wisconsin clan would only see at funerals or special occasions. They bought some hotels in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea with Bill's sister, Dorothy. Little Jon would grow up living in these hotels, spoiled by the money the hotels brought in, eating dinner at the most expensive restaurants, watching his parents living the life of wealthy, popular, and out-of-control alcoholics. He spent many nights eating alone at the dock, or sneaking noodles from his Aunt Dorothy, pouring bottles of booze down the kitchen sink and wondering when his parents would come home. His only brother died at 11 days old. He was a very lively young boy, used to the best things money could buy - including clothing and gifts, happiness and friends.

In Wisconsin, Jane grew up and got over her lost baby boy. She fell in love with her sister Betty's husband's brother. Despite his strict Christian doctrine, he 'forgave' Jane her past transgressions, yet insisted no one was ever to know about this tainted past she had. They got married and had 5 kids - 3 girls, 2 boys. The family grew up among the other Quinn's - big family, tight family - and would sometimes remember to wonder about Alice and her little Jonny.

Grandma Alice told my mom the story of Jane when she went into labor with my older sister. She is still not sure today if it was because she was drunk, or felt the need to release the burden of this huge secret, or if it was in fact so that they would have as much family information for the new little baby. My mom was told that no one should know, no one should ever know, until Jane was gone.

My Grandma Alice died before I turned one year old. My Grandpa Bill got remarried and there's a whole other story from there. But my dad just carried on like he had since he was a little boy - by himself, being motivated by money and what it could bring him and his family. He never once told us he loved us without buying us something. He never visited his family in Wisconsin - he went back once for his father's funeral, 20 years ago. The few times we went up to visit, it was just me and my sisters and my mom.

Four years ago, he wrote a letter to Jane on Mother's Day to let her know that he knew . . . she never responded but since then she has sent him birthday cards and Christmas cards, and he calls her every Mother's Day and on her birthday. He found out that one of her sons lives right here in Lee's Summit - when my parents come to visit, we always go out for dinner. When they called him last week to tell him that she wouldn't make it through the weekend, he flew up there to see her. Jane's daughter - his half-sister he's never met, or at least doesn't remember - was in the room the whole time watching over her mom. I know he wanted so badly to say so much and to just hold her hand, but no one would understand why her adopted, half-nephew that they had never met would be weeping at the bedside of this dying old lady. They wouldn't understand his mourning of time lost, his appreciation for giving him a life she thought would be better, his goodbye to his final family member, and his acceptance of his life.

I am so sad for him today. I am sad that he does not have siblings to share in his grief, I am sad that he doesn't feel right going to the funeral, I am sad that he must be thinking of his own mom and dad that he lost so long ago, I am sad that I don't know enough of how he feels to even call him today. I leave tomorrow for Wisconsin to say goodbye to my Aunt Jane, a matriarch of my family, mother to my 2nd cousins, sister of my grandmother I never really met. I'll fly there with three men I don't know, who under different circumstances I would have grown up with, shared meals with, and most likely kicked their asses in Spoons. I will see people at the services who will ask me about my dad, who will wonder who I am and why I'm there, who will look like me, and who I will wish knew this secret I hold.

But it is a secret that will be buried with my grandmother on Monday.


Spyder said...

My sympathies to your family.

Nuke said...

Same here, be well travel safe, and my thoughts will be with your family this weekend.

N }:-

Sassywho said...

thank you for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

Oh hell, the truth will set you free, right? Just tell them, but I bet they already know.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. When I was 12, my mother told me that the mad I called dad..was in fact not my dad. My "father" was a man who I knew as he was a friend of the family since my parents were children.

Over the years, I had to keep that secret and all the psychological nonsense that goes with that. He died before we ever had the opportunity to talk, as I discovered later...he did know about me.

You expressed perfectly how I felt. The feeling of not belonging..of wanting to attend the funeral, yet not thinking that it was acceptable. That was many years ago now..and I still struggle with wanting to know who I really am, and perhaps, who I could have been.


I'm taking in all the happenings in Kansas City and saving you all the trouble . . . I'll let you know whether to soak it up or squeeze it out!!