Those secrets have to go somewhere, don’t they?

When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.   

— Frank McCourt


“Why are you so secretive about everything?”

My husband asks me this question all the time.

He does it when someone asks  “So, what’s new?”

He does it when I answer, “Oh, nothing …. ”

He wonders why I lock it all up and throw away the combination. Why I write anonymously. Why everything is in code.

My husband doesn’t wear a wedding band. He wears a decoder ring. For me.

So, why am I so secretive?

Conditioning. Culture. I’m Irish?

I wasn’t always so reserved with information. But a few blurt -and-regret incidents shut me up.

You learn through conditioned responses what’s acceptable to share with family and what needs to stay in the vault.

The way my husband and I react to new experiences in our lives tells the tale of our vastly different childhoods.

This past Sunday we tried something new.

Later that evening I heard my husband on the phone. He was giving his long-distance family a recap of the day.

This is so different from the way I operate.

Here is all anyone needs to know to understand my family dynamic: I had a grandmother who died before I was born. She died young. End of story.

Not until I was filling out adoption paperwork and had to complete several physical exams did I pry a bit to learn that my grandmother had colon cancer. That she was in her 40s. That she had been continuously pregnant for all of her fertile years. I don’t know if one thing has anything to do with the others. I don’t know if she could sing. I don’t know her favorite perfume. I don’t ask.

My father, who was the first-born of the brood, was just old enough to order a Tom Collins when this happened. I understood this was tragic. Not that he could legally drink. But that his mother was dead. My grandfather had a household full of children who needed a mother. This was not the era of  Mr. Mom. Apparently you picked yourself up and moved on. You did not dwell.

Dad never spoke of his mother’s illness or her last days. I once thought the information was withheld because I was young. Later I learned no one knew anything because it was understood that you did not ask. You waited to be told. If nothing was told, you accepted that. They were not told.

This approach has carried on for decades. Things happen in the family. Maybe you hear about them. Most likely you do not. People have married into and divorced out of the family without comment or announcement. People have life-threatening medical conditions and don’t tell their closest relatives. They die, allowing their survivors to uncover their deep secrets, begging questions that never will be answered.

Recently I learned someone in the family had a Facebook account. I asked this person to be my friend on Facebook.

“No, I’m not friending any family. I don’t want you to read what I put on Facebook.”

I’m not surprised.


* I wrote this post in May 2009. It’s still true. I’m reposting it today as part of Edenland’s Saturday writing prompt, Fresh Horses Brigade, which asks, why do I blog?

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19 thoughts on “Those secrets have to go somewhere, don’t they?

  1. What an interesting and insightful post. There were few secrets in my family, but a lot of loudness, drinking, fighting, and chaos. Consequently, I’ve never had an effective “editor” at that trap door of my brain that keeps in remarks considered a little too truthful. Interesting how we’re all wired so differently, isn’t it. This was really thought-provoking, as all good writing should be.

  2. Jayne: I learned the hard way to hire a good, strong editor at the trap door. Thank goodness for blogging or else I’d have exploded by now.

  3. My family is super secretive about medical stuff too. My dad didn’t tell me he was diabetic for years. I was an adult who needed to know that for medical history. He feels free to tell them about my medical stuff though.

    • Grande: How interesting that YOUR medical information is an open folder. I don’t suppose I’m any better. I share things on a need-to-know basis.

  4. GEEZ maybe we’re related? my family on Dads’ side is TOTALLY like that. My cousin and I have managed to put 2 and 2 together in spots, but it’s like you’re trying to pry into State Secrets.
    I loved the way you wrote this post. At first I was thinking “What has this got to do with Fresh Horses?” and then I got it. (late night)

    • Toni: Oh, the hours I’ve spent with my brother and cousins trying to piece together the puzzle of our family. Sure, we have the whole genealogy thing on paper, but the TRUTH, boy, that’s tough to come by.

  5. I’m half Irish (never been there yet, but hopefully one day) and we have a bit of what you describe in our family too. Not to the same extent, but it is there. It definitely affects my privacy filter on my blog, for sure.

    • Sharon: I’m really only 25 percent Irish but it’s the ethnicity that’s dominated our family. I’d love to go to Ireland one day, too.

    • Katie: In real life we are not supposed to talk about my father. Not at all. If not for this site, where would I able to work it through? Therapy, I suppose. This is more affordable.

  6. My family is the same way. I always am surprised at families who share stuff – surprised and envious. So I try very hard to share with the husband and the girl. Because it makes me feel a lot more like the family I want to have.

  7. I loved this post so much that I got lost in it. I thought about eleven different things until I got to the end and realised you were linking it up to Fresh Horses – thank you.

    There are SO MANY secrets in my family. They seep out into my blog. Family members are not happy. I keep doing it anyway.


    • Edenland: Yeah, it’s a bit of a trick post, isn’t it? I suppose at my funeral they can prop up my laptop with my blog on the screen and a note: Scroll down for details.

  8. For a couple of weeks my comments weren’t sticking to posts… some sort of bug with WordPress widgets, and I was trying like mad to comment on your Fresh Horses posts. This was one of them. Problem sorted now and I’d still like to comment – because your words were remarkable! I think I said something like this: I had never thought of blogging in terms of a place for secrets. But your story had me thinking all about it. You had me gripped deep in your story. Your history and your journey are fascinating.

    • Deb: Thanks for letting me know about the WordPress glitch. I had to install the captcha because last summer someone/thing got into my site, changed the password, and made a mess of things. It sucks living in a gated community. Thank you most of all for your persistence. That means a lot to me, that you came back and tried again.

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