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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

MY DILEMMA

When I went to my nephew’s wedding two weekends ago I had
the chance to spend some time with my aunts from both sides of
my family: Aunt Dot, my Dad’s sister, and my Aunt Emily, my
Uncle Ed’s wife and Mom’s sister-in-law.


I was seated next to my cousin Winnie, Emily’s daughter, and the
subject of our grandfather Edward F. White, Sr. came up. I heard
a few things I hadn’t known. Not only had he been unfaithful to his
wife Aggie, he’d done it under their own roof, and that at some
point my Mom and Emily had gone looking for him and found out
that not only had he remarried, he’d named one of his new family
Edward, the same name as his eldest son, my uncle. I don’t know
if they confronted him or not. I do know that as far as I know, my
mother had no contact with her father for most of her life from her
childhood to her death.


That hurt. I think it had always bothered her not only that he’d
left the family in the first place, but also that he’d never been
around for things a father should have been or made an effort to
know his grandchildren. Not only that, but none of the rest of his
family ever contacted her either.


That’s the operative term: “as far as I know.” Mom might have
heard from her father at some point, or maybe Uncle Ed had, and
they both would never have said anything. They might have
wanted more of a relationship or not, but even if they had, their
loyalty and love for their mother would be stronger.

I've thought about all this over the years but it's sort of become
more frequent since that wedding. Blood is thicker than water,
they say. How could Edward F. White Sr. do what he had and then
cut off all contact?



I’ve always suspected he or perhaps another White relative might
have been keeping tabs on Mom and Uncle Ed. There were times
when the phone rang and I answered it, and while whoever it was
didn’t speak, they didn’t hang up immediately, either. I’d ask who
it was and after they didn’t answer, I would hang up. I’ve thought
about it and I’m fairly certain the phone calls stopped shortly after
Mom died.



So here’s my dilemma: I want to know about my grandfather. Did
he ever tell his new family that they had a half-brother and sister?
Did he try to see Mom or Uncle Ed at any time? Did he somehow
follow news of their lives? How much of story did the rest of his
family and my grandmother’s family know? And what was his
version of why he and Aggie’s marriage ended?



Let’s be clear here. I saw the effects on Aggie and on my Mom.
My love and loyalty is with them and my Uncle. But every story
has two sides and I’d like to hear his side of it, at least what the
surviving members of his second family might have been told.



There’s also a more logical reason to try to find out more about
him. Both Mom and Uncle Ed died of cancer. Is there a history
of cancer in the White family? My grandfather’s family’s medical
history could be important to myself, my sister and my brother.


Another dilemma: if any of his other children are still alive,
they’d be in their seventies. Should I contact them? Do I have
the right to surely disrupt their lives if they had never known
of their father’s first marriage?


I don’t know. I am still debating the question with myself.


Do I really want to know everything?

4 comments:

GreenmanTim said...

Your last question sums your dilemma up rather well. We who mine the memories and archives of earlier generations may find that the tours we take through these other lives reveal things too personal or painful to treat with historical objectivity. Sometimes you make a decision to pursue, and on other occasions to keep the past buried. A great deal depends on you.

To give by two examples from my own family:

The honeymoon pictures taken of my grandmother that I found in the attic were tame by modern standards but there she was, standing proudly on the beach without a stitch on, and I decided - not out of any prudishness, mind - that these pictures were meant for her and my grandfather and not for later descendants to oggle.

Writing about an outrageous, endearing, exasperating, depressed alcoholic Great Uncle forced me to treat material and memories sensitively and I think I was able to achieve that.

It goes back a few further generations in our case, but my Gr-gr-great grandfather had 4 wives and abandoned his second family from which we descend. The children of his 1st and 3 marriages have written a family history which surmises about the cause of his divorce frommy Gr-gr-great grandmother and seems to have about half the story, albeit half that we did not previously know. The "truth" may lie somewhere in between.

The relationships that matter now, though, are with the living, for you cannot offend the dead. If you wish to contact your grandfather's other family, a polite query would not be remiss.

Ken Spangler said...

Bill,

Strangely, this brings to mind something almost identical that I could have written about. There are some things that I heard about my father, after his death, that were shocking to me. I quickly dismissed any notion of ever publishing the information. I know the pain and hurt it would bring to not only my mother but also my siblings. We all looked up to our father and, just like many others, he made a few mistakes in his life. Perhaps they could have been handled differently but we can't judge why he made the decisions he made. We can only realize that he had his reasons and go from there.
For me, as I said, the answer was never in question. I still remember vividly the way I felt when I heard what was said. There is no way I would ever put my family through the same pain I felt that day. Not even the grandchildren.

Jasia said...

What you want to hear is that your mother and grandmother mattered to your grandfather, perhaps that he had some regrets about his departure from their lives. What you don't want to hear is that he really didn't give a darn about them and had no regrets. Ask yourself if you could forgive him if you heard what you don't want to hear. It sounds to me like you are looking for a reason to forgive him or at least to rationalize his earlier behavior with the wisdom of his later regrets. As long as you don't know the truth you can allow for some measure of doubt about his actions and intentions but if you hear what you don't want to hear you'll no longer be able to be open minded about him. Are you ready for that? If the answer is yes, you know what step to take next.

Bill West said...

It's not that so much Jasia as it is what else might come out about what he may or may not have told his new children about all this or
if they never knew that had half-
siblings. There's the issue of just how much my granduncles and grandaunts knew about their former
brother in law's infidelity and did they learn about it before or after Aggie caught him? There's
questions for both sides of the
family that might be difficult
for some of the older people to
consider.

The people on our side of the
family who would have been most effected aren't here. All four of them are dead:Aggie,my grandfather,my mom and my uncle.
And forgiveness from me is not what
I had in mind. I just want to hear the whole story and meet my half uncles or aunts or their children.

But is doing that going to cause more pain than what I want is worth? I could have tried finding
my grandfather years ago. I mentioned it to my mother and her
reaction made me decide not to try it back then. I don't want to
cause anyone pain just to satisfy my curiosity.

And yet, there's a whole bunch of people out there related to me who I only know as names on a screen or piece of paper.