It’s All Relative

It’s 11:00, do you know where your relatives are?

My mom was an only child. So was my dad. That doesn’t make for a lot of relatives, does it? I grew up with no aunts, uncles or cousins. My family consisted of mom, dad, two brothers, a grandmother and grandfather on my father’s side whom we saw once or twice a year… maybe… and me. No huge family reunions for our family, family weddings, baby showers, or graduation parties. Nope.

Growing up I remember family dinners once a year at my grandparents. They were stressful occasions even at my very young age. I always sat next to my mom, across from my brothers and father. My dad would stare at me and wiggle his ears when he thought no one was looking, which made me wiggle and giggle in my seat. “Mrs. Vanderbilt would be disappointed to see you giggling at the dinner table young lady”, my grandfather would admonish. “Who the heck is Mrs. Vanderbilt?” I would wonder to myself.

It turns out Mrs. Vanderbilt was the etiquette queen of the century. My grandparents followed her every word. Children were to be seen and not heard. We were not to play loudly in the house, speak only when spoken to, and obey every command. Oh, don’t forget to leave the room walking backwards so as not to turn your back on the rest of the guests.

My brothers got away with murder at these dinners. My oldest brother was the apple of their eyes. You see… my grandparents believed each family should only consist of one child. So, when the first grandchild was born they were ecstatic it was a boy to carry on the Hathaway name. They called him ‘Button’… as in ‘cute as a’. Every holiday dinner ended with Junket milk pudding as it was his favorite.

A second child came into this world a few years later. Uh oh, accidents happen they surmised, plus it was another boy so it was guaranteed the Hathaway name would continue, yippie! This brother wasn’t as favored as the first, however he looked so much like their own golden haired son they had to set their crazy feelings aside and allow him into their hearts. This is the brother who, out of boredom shot peas under the table at me with the use of his spoon.

Then the unthinkable happened… a third child came along… me! In their eyes my mother was a whore (of course their beloved son had nothing at all to do with it), and I was a good for nothing girl. Oh my! My grandparents were not pleased with my mother or me and therefore were seldom spoken to at these dinners. At the age of four I could feel the glare radiating from my grandfather’s end of the table. I am certain my father felt it also and tried to lighten the air with his wiggly ears. I was his princess and he was rescuing me from the nasty villain.

As time went on I learned it was really my grandfather who had ‘issues’. My grandmother loved us all but was not allowed to show affection or would incur her husband’s wrath. I wish I had known that before she passed away. As an adult looking back I see it so clearly. Sitting in her kitchen at the tiny enamel table in the corner (where the tiny dishes of Junket were cooling for dessert) I remember her slipping me a sideward glance and smiling.

There was no love loss between my mom and her father-in-law. My dad passed away when I was seven years old and these unbearable dinners came to an end. If I remember correctly we did go one more time, but it was so awkward and uncomfortable they were scrapped altogether.

While sifting through my mom’s papers recently after her death I ran across my grandmother’s obituary and a bunch of letters from strange people I had never heard of. I had to re-read the obituary a few times before it struck me what I was reading. Not one, but two aged newspaper clippings boiled my grandmother’s life down to two paragraphs. Both clippings clearly stated she left behind four grandchildren. Four???? Unless my old age is fooling me, the last time I counted there were only ever three of us, my two brothers and myself… three.

My parents were married on the Belmar Beach June 5, 1946, my mom’s 21st birthday. A minister (wink, wink) preformed the service. I don’t know how my dad did it, but a marriage license was never applied for, blood tests never taken, and a marriage certificate never issued. My mom was an ostrich with her head in the sand. When did she find all this out? When she applied for social security benefits after his death, after 15 years of marriage… THAT’S when she found out! Imagine her shock!

I always had the feeling there was a half sibling running around this planet somewhere. My dad was married when he met my mom. Then again, so was she. She divorced her first husband because she felt “the good lord did not intend her to be beaten up every Friday night by an alcoholic “. Apparently my dad never went through with his divorce. Now I am on the hunt for a half sibling. I calculate they should be in their mid to late sixties.

Also found in her secret paper hide out were deeds, receipts, and death certificates for her father’s side of the family. What a shock to discover mom’s father had two brothers! Every time a door would slam by itself mom would say, “Uncle Joe has come for a visit”… meaning her Uncle Joe was stopping by to crash on the sofa on his way through town. She told me she never really saw him, just heard him arrive and leave. That is the most she ever said about her uncles.

Come to find out through reading letters from someone named Marie, Joe was a Police Lieutenant in New York City and was married… to Marie. I have no clue if they had children. I continued to read more letters and stumbled upon David, mom’s other Uncle. I never heard of him. He had a son, Edward who has already passed away.

So the hunt begins. This is more than just learning about my ancestry. There are people out their sharing my DNA and I intend to find them.

Do you know all of your relatives? Are their any secrets and/or stories you don’t have all the facts of? Now’s the time to track them down. Happy hunting

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