Monday, February 11, 2013

The Other Aunt in the Story

NOTE:  Names have been changed for obvious reasons.

We moved to the mountains when I was nine.  We often had relatives coming to visit us, sometimes without notice.  One day someone knocked on the door.  I ran to the door and opened it.  A woman stood there and said, "You must be Nancy Carolyn."  (I was called both names by my father's family.)  Then she surprised me by saying, "I'm your Aunt Rhoda."  In truth I did have an Aunt Rhoda on my mother's side of the family.  But this woman clearly was not her.  So I looked at her and said, "No, you're not."  I slammed the door and ran to find my mother.  I told her some crazy woman was at the door and said she was my Aunt Rhoda, but she definitely was not Aunt Rhoda.  My mother said to me, "I'll explain this later.  Just don't ask any questions."  And she sent me off to the neighbors to play.

The woman who knocked on the door was my father's sister, the sister of the aunt I never knew.  She was the one who had told lies at the hearing.  She could be called the aunt I never knew about.

In my nine years of attending family reunions, birthday parties, and other gatherings, I never once had heard any mention of this Aunt Rhoda.  When I was younger and asked the middle names of all my aunts and uncles, and their birth orders in the families, neither my mother nor my father had ever mentioned his sister Rhoda.  As I wrote down their names, as children are wont to do, no Rhoda was ever listed except the one who married my mother's brother.

It seems that my paternal grandfather was so angered by the lies told by his daughter that he forbade her ever coming back to his home and announced to everyone that she was dead to him and that her name should never again be mentioned in his presence.  It still seems impossible that neither my older brother nor I knew about this aunt.  Perhaps it is because we were always outside playing with cousins when we visited our grandparents and never hanging around listening to the adults.  Or perhaps, respecting my grandfather's demand, no one was talking about this aunt at all.  I do know that a couple of my father's siblings kept in touch with her over those years and she continued to live in the neighboring county.  She petitioned those two siblings to approach their father on her behalf so that she could come home.  She had so many nieces and nephews that she had never met.  And she had missed seeing her younger siblings grow up.  But my grandfather refused to relent.

At some point, one of my uncles felt a call to the ministry.  He went to my grandfather and said that he could not stand in front of a congregation with this family divide unresolved.  That forgiveness was essential and he asked my grandfather once again to allow Aunt Rhoda to come home.  My grandfather said that she could come.  And so, when I was almost ten, my other Aunt Rhoda came into my life.

Should my parents have handled the situation better?  Probably.  Did it traumatize me?  Not really.  At that age I suppose I didn't think it all that strange.  And I wasn't given much information other than the fact that this aunt and done something really bad but was sorry and everyone forgave her.

The church cemetery where my aunt, grandparents, and several other relatives are buried.

So Aunt Rhoda began to attend family gatherings.  I never saw my grandfather talk to her and often saw him walk out of the house when Aunt Rhoda walked inside.  I played with Aunt Rhoda's children and no one ever mentioned the whole thing.  Aunt Rhoda and her husband are dead, but her children and grandchildren still attend the annual family reunions.  The child of my young aunt who had taken her own life did not seem bothered at all by Aunt Rhoda's presence at the gatherings.

In recent years I have talked with my remaining aunt about it.  She was the eight-year-old sister playing outside when my young aunt took her own life.  She doesn't remember much about anything that happened but she does remember being told that she should forget about her sister Rhoda because she would never see them again.  She also said that the boy who had fathered my young aunt's child was related to Rhoda's husband.

So that's far more than you cared to know.  Strange as it seems to me now, I accepted the whole thing when I was a child.  I suppose I didn't think there was anything different about it at all.


Folkways Note Book said...

It was good that the family minister spoke out for peace in the family. -- barbara

KGMom said...

I had a doctor, with whom I worked when I was a staff person at the state medical society, tell me that every family has skeletons in the closet. This doctor, a very wise psychiatrist, then said--and sometimes we can't help but rattle them.
I loved that observation--every family does have its skeletons. And we are affected by them in varying ways.
I think you have turned your awareness into first class stories. Hmmm--a novel in your future?

Barbara Rogers said...

I really appreciated your telling about your family story, and it is very interesting! There are still unresolved relationship problems in my family, and yet I remember when I was much younger wondering why people carried all that baggage around. Couldn't they just sit down and talk it out?

The Bug said...

I was going to say that I've never been good at keeping quiet about family secrets because I don't see the point. But as I was typing that sentence I remembered two HUMONGOUS things in my family that will never be talked about. I guess the difference is that the parties involved worked through the issues long ago & there's no family rift because of them - and no need for younger generations to know about them!

Busy Bee Suz said...

Wow. What a family story you have. I find it very I always like family stories. Even if they are not 'perfect'. {what family is perfect??}
It is amazing to me when a family can shun one member or vice versa. still happens today. Not in my family though; we are perfect. :) LOL
Thank you for sharing!

Cicero Sings said...

The hidden things! Yet it is only until the hidden things are exposed that true healing can come.

Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

Families have stories, some are more intriguing than others...yours certainly is a tale with lots of twists and turns. I am glad your grandfather allowed Rhoda to be a part of the family again, and I am glad he saw his daughter who killed herself as the wronged party.

KB said...

What a story. I have this impression that there were far more secrets in families years ago than now. But, perhaps I'm wrong - maybe there still are secrets like this one.

I'm glad that there was some kind of reconciliation... but I do wonder how that aunt lived with herself.

Thanks for sharing this intriguing story.

Wayfarin' Stranger said...

I read this and went away to think about it. The question that keeps popping up is, did Rhoda explain her actions and apologize to her father? It sounds like she may not have. The precursor to forgiveness is repentance. It reads like your grandfather's love for his son who went into the ministry was the driver, not forgiveness of Rhoda's actions.

Anonymous said...

Your aunt's story is so sad! What a horrible, horrible hearing that had to have been for her to sit through.

It's amazing what we simply accept as children, isn't it.
Some things that seemed 'normal' at the time...! On a lighter note, my mother's uncle used to put on one of my grandmother's dresses when he'd come to visit because, he said, his suit was too darned hot. He'd sit out on the front porch in that dress--and nothing else. I never gave it a second thought.

Rudee said...

This is such an interesting family tale. I've enjoyed reading about this very much.