Birthdays and Holes

Valorie and Daddy                                                           My daddy and me…1953.

Ninety-three is a ripe old age, but he didn’t make it. He died in 2003 at age seventy-nine, but I think he would say he lived life his way and as well as he could. Can one wish for more?

My father would be celebrating ninety-three years of life today. I miss him. He was many things, but always “daddy” to me. It seems that people either loved him or hated him. It also seems that he felt the same about most people. Does that make him any different than most of us?

I really want to tell his story, but it is like Swiss cheese, or a bucket full of holes, or a cake that I didn’t remember to burst the air out of before baking (this was his favorite kind of cake, heavy, and he taught me to drop the pans flat on the counter so the air bubbles would rise and burst!)…his story all falls to pieces, or just doesn’t fit together in the first place. As it turns out, those holes existed in his heart, and he died with them.

It would be his story to tell, but for the most part, he never did. Yes, we heard some stories…good, bad, and ugly…from his childhood on through his life, but it seems he kept some things secret and it actually has created some holes in my heart now! Those places in my heart are not so much about what he told or didn’t tell, what he did or didn’t do, but about the pain he held inside and how much freer he might have been. If he had shared more, how much would he have been judged? I doubt more than he was judged by some anyway. I know that what I have learned has only made me understand him better. It confirms my feeling that secrets only hurt, sooner or later.

When Harold Watson Smith was born on April 4, 1924 (or so says his birth certificate, though that is another story), he began a life in the hills of West Virginia, outside Charleston. He was the 10th child I have been able to document, with two more brothers to come along after him. He said there were more. I began work on a family tree in 2002 and he was very clear that he didn’t want me to search his line. Being so much like him, he had to have known that to say those words was like throwing a bone for a dog. I would be off on the search. Yes, being stubborn is genetic.

I lived across the country and would continue to call and talk and ask questions. He began to open up, bit by bit, and told me some things. One big item being that he never knew who his father was and that had left a “huge hole in his heart”. I will always remember him telling me that. At any rate, he finally agreed to tell me all he knew when we could sit down together, face to face, and talk. Unfortunately, not too long thereafter, he had a massive heart attack and died. I did get to his bedside before he passed, but was certainly not going to talk genealogy then. He was not able to say much at that point anyway.

So began my journey into his history. I was going to fill that gap that existed for him. I was on a mission, indeed. My mom’s line would have to wait, as I knew those folks already and had some sources for searching. Daddy’s story needed to be discovered. After years of research, and two trips to West Virginia with my sister and brother, I can say I have learned more. And yes, I have found some darkness. It exists in all families, by the way. Now what I wonder is if it is right for me to tell his story. I have shared my suspicions with many. I have had some confirmations and been left with more holes in other places. Personally, as mentioned, I find the information revealing and interesting. But, is it my story to tell? I am ruminating on that. It is part of my heritage, but he didn’t want some things told. He just didn’t tell me what those things were.

So, today, I will say Happy Birthday, Daddy! I love you, I always did, and I miss you.

More of this story to come…sometime…perhaps.

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How do you feel about secrets?

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Several things have brought the subject of secrets to my mind lately.

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I am a very good keeper of secrets. I have friends who know that if they tell me something is confidential, it is! We all need someone to whom we can say things out loud. My husband and I each share this situation with our closest friends and so we don’t ask. If we do ask, we understand if there is no answer given. This kind of secret seems pretty good to me.

My dad had some secrets. I am sure of this, but he never told me. He only told me not to look into the family history because I would find things I did not want to know. Since I have always been curious…and stubborn…I kept pressing. He told me bits and pieces along the way, but ultimately said he would tell me everything he knew when we could sit down face-to-face. We lived about 1500 miles apart at the time. Well, as you might imagine, he died shortly after this statement. So the curiosity in me continues, in spite of lengthy and tedious searching. I so wanted to fulfill the dream he did share with me of finding out who his father was. It was not the man listed in my baby book.

I loved my daddy beyond words. He was as stubborn, at least, as I am and would do anything for me. I always felt his love and support (well, except for that time he did not speak to me for almost a year!). But I digress. I wanted to know more, especially with the intimation of secrets existing, even beyond what he told me about the “hole in his heart” caused by not knowing his father.

What I found in my searching, along with the help of my brother and sister, makes for another story. However, it brings me to the subject here…secrets. He obviously held some things inside and untold. In this day and age, I am not surprised by much of anything. When doing family history, most all the people I know that are searching want to find more than names and dates. They want those stories that tell about the life and times of those they are looking for. Granted, this was my dad, but I already knew his life had not been that easy. Growing up in the depression in an area that would have been considered depressed in any era was not something he loved. But the secret…that thing that he was holding onto so closely…was not doing him any good either. I would reckon that it even made him angry and reactive to things he might have dealt with in better ways if he had ever let that secret out. This is an example of a secret that is not good.

There are things in my life that I wanted to hide for years. Now that I have been freed of those secrets, at least for the most part, I feel exactly that…more free. Maybe it is age that makes me less concerned about the reactions of others. Maybe it is simply that “the truth will set you free”.

Our secrets are actually part of who we are. Sometimes, we just enjoy what we have not shared, perhaps because it is ours and no one needs to know…it would make no difference. It is a nugget of our life and, though it may have molded us in some way, it is not for sharing. The alternative is that we may be hiding behind our own secrets.

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There is blog that I follow…along with thousands of other people. It is called Post Secrets. Initially curious about the posts, I now wonder about why people do this. The blog states it is about the art. I wonder. Are we all hoping to let go of our secrets? Does it help to anonymously tell them? Are these even true? Just an interesting blog in line with the subject today.

So, I ask you…how do you feel about secrets? I would love to hear what you think!

(images on this blog are borrowed from the web and not mine)