Family Secrets


 Before I begin, do you really know who you are? How much of your family history has either been concealed or altered? Do you really know who your parents are for example? Mother or father never did something naughty that was kept from you? (This is a tentative notice. A more exhaustive account will follow in the weeks to come.) But anyway, yes, I guess most people live in a family of masks. How many of us live in a house with strangers familiar by name, face, voice, shared customs and rituals?

  So, here we go. My parents were first generation American-born. Both of my grandparents were immigrants. On my father's side, Italian descent. My mother, Polish. As for the story, I was told that my mother's mother was an "orphan from Poland". For many years it was taken at face value with no further questions arising. It seems this story was a convenient ploy to hide something. What? Jewish ancestry. The way I look at it, keeping secrets from the public is one thing, but to hide it amongst family?

  Given the time and circumstance of many years ago, was there need to invent such a story? From what I've read of European history, Jews have been persecuted and the word used was pogroms, open hostility and often extermination. The word "orphan", as a label, burns bridges. No questions to ask with no personal history to explain. Do we keep such information from the immediate family to "protect" the secret? The less that know the less that can slip? As time goes on, those who guard the secret die, with the members of the next generation oblivious and the secret, indeed, gets buried and the collective family's identity is re-born and manufactured to fit the social status within the community. All better now.

  Why is this important? By the time I was twelve my mind was firm: I was not a catholic. (Back then didn't know of the Jewish question.) But still, without realizing it, maybe it was the Jewish blood, kept me looking for something other than what I long considered pagan ideology: it was not my cup of tea. Gut instinct, for the lack of a better phrase, at that age, without either the appropriate language skills of reference material, I held quiet protest dispensed by resolve and posture: as time went on ever degree of open defiance to resist conform to a way of life that I could not submit.

  Finally, the year was 1996, the year my one uncle died. It was then I found out about the Jewish question. After all these years.

  Why is this important? Stay tuned for the update.


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Updated: 02-17-2002