I picked up the newspaper this morning and read my sister’s obituary. Seems that no one thought I deserved to know. Maybe I didn’t. I was not listed as a survivor. And seemingly she was an immaculate conception as our father was not listed. Seems she only had a mother, maternal grandparents, and a husband, all gone; and two daughters who survived her.
It’s a long story. And not a happy one. I had a chance to change all that. But then again, so did she.
Many years ago, during the depression, a handsome young Irish man was in love with a lovely Irish girl. Both sets of parents approved. They were all fresh off the boat from the West of Ireland – no better match. So they dated. And they dated. And they dated. And they dated. Then one day, out of the blue, in somewhat of a hurry, the handsome young man married – someone else. His father was very upset and told him he would never have a day’s happiness or luck for what he had done and how he had hurt the lovely girl he loved. And the handsome young man, William, never did have a moment of happiness in the marriage but some months later – less than nine, I suspect, he had a daughter. William took to the drink, as we Irish tend to do, and was not a very nice person from all accounts that I have heard. The marriage did not last, and he was not allowed to see his daughter. He did see her once, when she was a passenger on his bus, but he did not dare to speak to her and he figured she did not know who he was. She did though, I was to learn some sixty odd years later. That is why she took the bus. Curiosity.
William was torn between two countries, he had lost the love of his life, and while by the 1940s he was old enough not to have to go to war, he did. He was a Staff Sergeant in the USMC. He joined to go to war – romantically tragic, actually – like Clark Gable after Carol Lombard died. When the higher ups tried to use Clark Gable for PR types of purposes, he had the clout to avoid it and go do what he wanted – which was attempt to kill himself and fortunately he failed. But William did not have that kind of clout. So instead of Europe, William was sent with his movie star looks to New York City. To be a recruiter… primarily of Lady Marines. All his war pictures are in nightclubs around New York City, listening to the Big Bands, chatting with the band leaders – all of whom he knew, and usually with the girl singer on his lap.
Near the end of the war, William met and married a Lady Marine. When she discovered she was pregnant, she ran home to Missouri to her mother and started divorce proceedings. In what was a landmark case for the time, William got custody of his child, still unborn, and the mother was forced to move to Rhode Island, where William now was. He raised the baby with the help of his sister and a sister-in-law. One day, the mother came to visit. The sister-in-law was babysitting and in need of a pack of cigarettes. She left the baby with his mother. For just a few minutes… and William never again saw his son. Seems William’s father was right about him having no happiness.
Many, many years later, William met a beautiful, blue eyed, blond girl from Ireland. She was about his daughter’s age. The daughter he had not seen in so very many years. They married. But the bad luck was to continue to follow William. The priests got involved. They convinced the lovely blond that her immortal soul was at risk. They convinced her right back home to Ireland and her parents which is where… I arrived. William was not about to lose another child so he boarded a plane and he wooed and won back his young bride and their second child arrived, in Providence, RI. But the curse his father seems to have placed on him all those many years ago, long before his daughters were born and even before his wife was born, still seemed to rule the day and William died before I started school.
When I was old enough to understand – sort of – my mother told me all about my father having been married before and that I had an older sister and brother. She told me because she warned some catty old bitch would accidentally, on purpose spill the beans where I could hear it, just to get at her. I was told to be very indifferent about it and be sure and let them know that I already knew all about my sister and brother. Well, that was fine for out in the world, but at home, I started to haunt my mother about seeing my sister and brother. She went to my uncle who was sort of the family patriarch since my father’s death. My brother was no where to be found and my sister wanted nothing to do with us. Period. End of discussion. It was believable. Divorce was still a shocking thing, especially in an Irish Catholic family. And as my mother pointed out to me, my sister was an adult, already married by the time I was born. If she wanted to see us she could have. She was no longer under her mother’s roof. When I was about twelve an aunt died. Her estate was divided between me and all of my siblings. My sister informed the lawyer she wanted her share divided between my younger sister and me. I wish my mother had been on the ball about that. My mother said my sister’s husband was doing so well, she did not need this small inheritance. Years later I was to discover my sister was hoping my mother would contact her, just to say thank you or something. Just to open up a door. You see, she had gone to my uncle as well. She wanted him to arrange an introduction. He told her that we wanted nothing to do with her. My uncle walked a fine line. The first wife was the one the church recognized. So in certain circles, it was her and her daughter who were at all functions. But here was the young widow, living just a block away with two little girls. So in other circles, we were the family at functions. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I discovered just how many times our paths had crossed and we did not even know it. As a matter of fact, for a two year period we worked in the same company, in the same building. I had sat in her office and talked to her, not knowing that I was talking to my older sister.
Fast forward to five years ago. A file crossed my desk. It was a mortgage refinance. I went over all the documents and realized this was my eldest niece. My two nieces were in my age group. I checked which attorney was going to handle the closing, gave him a condensed version and told him that I just wanted to see her and would leave a document out of the package so I would have an excuse to walk into the closing with it and get to see her. He wanted none of it. He insisted that I should handle the closing and tell her who I was. I told him that I just couldn’t, just do it my way. Seeing her would be enough. As luck would have it, the mortgage company made several errors, documents had to be redone and resent. Meanwhile, my niece was just sitting in the waiting room. And waiting. And waiting. It was a busy day and there was no clerk I could send out to make excuses as we stalled for the mortgage company so I finally bit the bullet and went out myself. And I did something I would never do, I sat down beside her and just started talking. You know how it is when you just hit it off right away with someone? It was like that. Suddenly, my mouth started working before my brain could stop it and I told her who I was. She literally jumped up and started screaming like she had won the lottery. She was on the phone to her mother and sister. She told me how much my sister had always wanted to meet me.
So I met my sister. She never got to meet our younger sister who lives down South. Or our brother, who I found when I was about twenty. It was tough though. I did not have a lot in common with a woman who was my mother’s age – her children were my contemporaries. And as excited as her oldest daughter had been to meet me, that’s how unhappy her youngest daughter was. If I called my sister, she was either so chatty that I couldn’t get her off the phone or she was very short and acted like I was a stranger. I quickly realized her youngest daughter did not approve – and she lived at home with her mother. She was in the camp that believed her grandmother was the one true wife and my father had been a cad. So I left it to my sister to call me.
I hadn’t heard from my sister for a while. And for some reason, she was on my mind a lot the last couple of weeks. I decided I was just going to hop in my car and go visit her. But I kept putting it off. Don’t put anything off. Ever. I picked up the newspaper this morning and read my sister’s obituary.