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51 Birch Street


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"A warm and honest portrait of a marriage at its most mysterious, and ordinary."


Barbara McMahon (age 60)

As children, my sibblings and I all heard the stories of how my parents met and my oldest sister’s early arrival, 7 months after their marriage. Of course she was premature, an early delivery. My parents were as different as night and day. My father had recently joinned the Navy in 1944 and was a poor farmer’s son from Illinois. My mother’s father was a doctor and she had been brought up with maids and private schools and most of the better things in life. Needless to say their marriage was a rocky one and as children we often witnessed the fighting and heard all the things we never should have heard. For years we heard about my mother’s true love, Jessie, the one that got away, and how she met and fell in love with my father on the rebound. My fater died in 1977 and it wasn’t until my mother’s death in 1986 that we accidently discovered just what the truths were about their marriage. Upon my mother’s death, I took her phone/address book and began making the calls to let her out of town friends know that she had passed on. When I came to Jessie’s number I dialed it and a woman answered. I explained who I was and why I was calling and when I mentioned my mother’s name, this woman began screaming at me and told me her husband was dead and told me all about the affair he had had with my mother and about the pregnancy that resulted from it. From what she was saying it appeared that my oldest sister was not my dad’s child. It also explained a lot of what we had heard over the years and the anger that my mother always seemed to show towards my father. While putting up my mother’s things from her home that she left, we found Jessie’s pictures behind our baby pictures and school pictures that were placed on her dresser and around the house. My mother had lived in the past and never got over her lost love. My sister did go on to find out information about her biological father and last year was able to speak with Jessie’s wife and learn a lot of information about health history and family. She didn’t pursue it any futher though, out of respect to Jessie’s wife who told her that their children never knew anything of their father’s affair. 
Last year, after the death of my father’s sister, her daughter sent us a box full of letter’s that my father had written to his mother from the day he went in the Navy. It brought her through my father’s meeting my mother and their marriage and the birth’s of my oldest sister and I. And just one letter at the end about the birth of my youngest sister and then the letters stopped. During this 5 year period the decline of my father’s confidence in himself and his beginning battle with alcohol was clearly evident. He was never able to live up to the standards that my mother’s parents expected of him. Her parents moved them into a home he couldn’t afford. He was a nursemate while in the Navy and being 17 when he joined, had no real skills to take out into the working world after his discharge and this made it difficult for him to findng a good job. Being brought up hearing about what a loser our father was, and being able to share in his life during those early years, put a totally differnet spin on who our father really was. If only we had been able to view these letter’s earlier while he was alive, perhaps out relationship with him could have been so much different. He never did seem to know that he was not my sister’s father. At least not during those first 5 years. Our childhood was not the best but we all grew into responsible adults and hard working individuals. In sharing about the history of my dad and my sister’s biological father, we hve been able to forgive and let go of a lot of pain that we suffered growing up. As adults we can understand better the turmoil of their relationship, now that we can understand the history of it. May they rest in peace, knowing that the truth is out and we love them even more, knowing that in the end they were the same as we were, in making mistakes, hiding some truths from their children, and learning and growing from the pain that comes with every generation. As sibblings, we have grown closer as adults, as a result of sharing in the knowledge of who our parents really were. Today we focus on the good times we had as a family and let go of the memories that were not so good. As a parent I have become more honest in my relationship with my own children as I don’t want to leave any secrets left untold, when it is my turn to go.


After reading your story, I wander if I should share the dissappointments and hurts in my marriage to my children. I would not argue with my husband because you can’t reason with a drunk. So my children were shocked when I filed for divorce after the death of my oldest son. My husband seemedto resent him and me after his days in service and events thereof.

By: Penny Gracely, on Jan 22, 2007

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