Carol sat drinking a cup of coffee, watching the sun’s golden rays stretch their fingers across the sky. At sixty years old, sleep was often hard to come by. Fingering the pages of her grandfather’s scrapbook, she hoped that boredom would lead to fatigue, but what she found was anything but somniferous.
Running her fingers across the photos, she tried to brush off what looked like tiny hairs, but were actually fine creases. Suddenly her fingers sensed the indentation of something under a photo. Carefully prying the photo back, she guessed that the picture she’d just uncovered hadn’t seen the light of day since the early 1900’s. Going over to a drawer, she pulled out a magnifying glass to search the faces. It couldn’t be.
Her thoughts went back to the sweltering day in 1964 when she’d ridden with her mother, headed for her aunt’s home.
“There’s a very special guest over at Aunt Jerry’s house today.”
“Who?” Carol had asked with all the disinterest and ennui a fifteen year old could produce.
“Well, that depends on whom you believe, Aunt Jerry or my father.” The enticing tones of gossip taunted her ears and she leaned forward, unconsciously, to lap up any crumbs of it that might fall. “It’s my Uncle Harry.”
“Grandfather’s or grandmother’s brother?”
“Neither. That’s the thing,” she said, rolling her window down to catch a breeze. “Daddy swore on his deathbed that he never had a son, but the fact remains that he paid his mother to raise him.”
“So, what do you think?” Unbelievable. In her dull Midwestern Christian family, intrigue was non-existent. Or so she thought. The truth had set them free from such things, but, to Sharon’s teenage mind, it had felt more like deprivation.
“Aunt Jerry believes what Daddy said: he was the son of a woman who lived at the boarding house daddy lived in when he went to St. Louis to attend medical school. Daddy said he took her baby as a favor to her.”
Children often picture their grandparents in black and white tones, but this day her grandfather was coming through in vivid color.
“What do you say?” she said, trying to sound nonchalant.
“Well, Aunt Jerry thinks Harry can’t be one of us because he’s bald..and Daddy had a lot of hair….” Her mother continued in a conspiratorial whisper, “but once, after Daddy died, I went back to his hometown to work on our genealogy and started asking questions of everyone I could find who knew Daddy or Harry. Everybody there said Harry was ‘Bart Martin’s boy.’”
“So you think grandfather lied?”
“Well, it was the Depression. I bet mother would have really resented money that could have gone to feed her three girls going to support this boy. I think that if your grandfather had admitted it to her that she would have made life very miserable for him.”
As Sharon climbed out of the car, her entire body tingled with the bizarre tale. Suddenly, she couldn’t wait to meet “Uncle Harry.” She shook hands with the nondescript bald man who was, at that time, probably about sixty years old. She’d noticed an uncharacteristic coldness coming from her Aunt. Her body language said, “Don’t get too close. You don’t belong.”
Thinking back to that day, she recalled feeling frustrated: the talk had made much about nothing. Vacations taken. Health. The conversation became a dance, quickly landing, then jumping and turning, never standing still for closer examination.
Over the years, she’d often thought of Harry. Did he know in his heart whose he was? If so, what did the many years of being denied do to him? Did he yearn to know something about his mother? Was there someone who could have told him? Should have told him? Sharon had long ago dreamed of having the bodies exhumed and their DNA tested, but she didn’t know where Harry was buried….and there was no one left alive to even care.
Staring at the secret photo, she looked into the face of her grandfather. His signature ears were sticking out, the ones that her own brother had inherited. The woman was not familiar to her, but the light hair didn’t belong to her black haired grandmother. Perhaps a sister? A friend? Next, she moved her magnifying glass over to closely examine the child on her lap: a boy, about one year old, with blond ringlets….and it was then that she saw them: ears that stuck out.
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