I recently wrote about being one of a set of twins. My twin died in utero and even tho we never shared life in the outside world, I've always felt as if a part of me is missing. There are even 'syndromes' about such a thing: Vanishing Twin and Lost Twin. I had no idea either existed until I typed in "lost twin" a few years back in a Google search, wondering if there was any one out there who shared the same lost feeling I have at the core of me. Shocking to me, there are probably millions.
After writing about this I had several comments and emails about it. It brought to mind one of those 'family secret' stories passed down thru the generations that I thought I would share because I think in itself it's quite unusual but very interesting. Interesting to me because it seems destined that whole sets of twins don't seem to survive in my family. So...I thought I would share this with you. I have a feeling I might've touched on it somewhere in the past but with almost 1000 posts in my archives on this blog and several hundred on my 'first' blog...well, the thought of digging thru those is so daunting I'll just leave it alone and start from scratch. And it was so long ago I might've written about it most of you wouldn't remember it anyway.
My paternal grandmother gave stillbirth to a set of twins, back around 1920. As to whether they were boys, girls, or one of each I don't have a clue. But as the story has been passed down to me by my mother, my grandmother was recovering in the hospital afterwards and that is where this story begins. My grandmother died when I was 3 years old so I don't remember her. I don't know what type of person she was emotionally to try to gauge just how this might've affected her. My oldest brother is 6 years older than me and was 9 when she died...he's told me she was one of the best grandmothers in the world. I do know she was also a Christian woman, so I'm sure she must've felt the assurance in her heart that someday she would be reunited with her two 'lost' babies. But I imagine the reality of losing them at that moment in time must've been tragic.
Grandma had a roommate, a French-Canadian Catholic woman who'd just given birth to her 12th or 13th child. As my grandmother lay there in her bed she couldn't help overhearing the conversation the woman had with her husband when he came to visit. They both spoke about how they had no idea how they were going to feed and clothe yet another little one. They were already under tremendous strain trying to provide for the others already there. As Grandma listened a seed sprouted in her heart and when my grandfather came to visit her later in the day she told him of the other woman's dilemma. "Why don't we ask if we can adopt the baby girl?" I believe they'd already lost my uncle, a toddler who'd died from spinal meningitis. My grandfather agreed, and they approached the other couple with their idea.
I don't know how all the details were ironed out, but the little girl was adopted by my grandparents and christened with the name Claire. In those days adoption was kept very quiet in families for the most part. And even tho Claire was olive-skinned and had dark hair and stood out in photos amongst all the fair Swedes and English family members, she grew up not having a clue she was adopted. My father, who was their natural born son, came along a few years later. He never knew Claire was anything but his natural sister.
When my grandfather died when I was 10 my dad and I went to his house to sort thru Grandpa's belongings. My dad found a strong box stashed away filled with all kinds of papers and tucked in among them were Claire's adoption papers and Birth Certificate. To say my dad was stunned is an understatement. But my brothers and I were told the news. I guess my parents figured with Claire living in New England and us living here in the NW, especially in the 50s and 60s when air travel was a luxury and not an every day occurrence for so many like it is today, they figured the odds of us seeing Aunt Claire and spilling the beans was pretty remote. Even so, we were sworn to secrecy. When I finally did meet her, in 1968 when I was 14, I wonder what she must've thought of me, peering at her so intently most of the time. But her unknown history -- to her, anyway -- and knowing I had such an important secret stowed away deep inside made her quite mysterious and special to me.
Years later, when one of Claire's sons joined the military and was shipped overseas to Europe, she was going to take a trip to visit him. When she applied for a Visa, tho, she needed a copy of her birth certificate, which she didn't have but my father did...when he'd found it in Grandpa's strong box he'd never sent it to her. So dad mailed it off...and a few days later he received a rather hysterical, frantic phone call from his sister. What did this MEAN, she was adopted?! No WAY was she adopted! Grandpa and Grandma were HER parents! When dad had found out her history he'd had no idea how to tell her...emotional issues were never his strong point. Instead of preparing her for it, he'd decided to let the Birth Certificate tell her the news.
It was this incident, in knowing this secret for so long....and other important life secrets that belong to other family members that have had devastating affects when they've also been revealed...that have made me be honest with our children. Sometimes probably even bluntly honest. But skeletons in closets usually don't portend any good news. Being forewarned is forearmed...I've felt that way in every aspect of raising children. My children grew up knowing all about whatever's been hidden away in generational memory vaults. And as to my history and Dear Hubby's history...they know all about our faults and foibles, too.
I guess in some ways too much knowledge can be a bad thing. But there is also safety in knowledge. Comfort in knowledge. Security in knowledge. And there is love in knowledge.