"Family faces are magic mirrors. Looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present and future." — T.S. Eliot
While with my sisters in Portland, OR, and Salt Lake City, UT, this summer, we exchanged family facts. Like runners in a relay, straining hard, yet with smoothness and precision, handing off the baton, bits and pieces of truth. With both of our parents now deceased and the three of us getting older, the frenetic pace of our story swapping felt like a race against time.
During our chats, I was reminded of facts that admittedly are difficult to accept. My mother's real Italian name – the one she was christened with in 1921 in Punxsutawney, PA, was GALORGIA. When they entered school, my mother and her five siblings all had their Italian first names, multi-syllabic and riddled with vowels, suddenly changed by their teachers, Catholic nuns.
Instead of renaming little Galorgia Galo, Gia or just plain G, they named her Lillian. And Lillian she was for the remaining 80 years of her life.
There are other truths I would have never guessed, like the real cause of my pathologist uncle's recent death.
"It's so sad about how he lived out his final days," my older sister casually remarked.
"How?" I asked.
"He died of Pick's disease."
"It's a type of dementia that affects the frontal lobe of the brain," she explained. "He was brilliant. His medical research papers are still searchable on the web. What a loss," her voice trailed off.
I was amazed that my meteorologist brother-in-law learned to play the piano at age three, wrote his first piece of music at age 10, graduated from high school and went onto college at age 16.
"Where were you sent away to after Dad's first heart attack?" I asked.
I'll never forget that fateful summer night in 1960, when my father came home from work not looking like himself. His normally rosy cheeks were ashen. His handsome grin and sparkling eyes were wiped away by a suffocating blockage of arteries, leaving him sullen and weak.
That evening, sometime after he disappeared upstairs to rest, screaming ambulance sirens with pulsating bubble lights suddenly illuminated our picture window. My dad was whisked away into the night, not to be seen for several days. It was nip and tuck.
I was eight and in the days following his hospital dismissal and I found myself situated between my godparents in the front seat of their spanking new Dodge Dart. As we motored down the highway, my security of home quickly vanished in the rear view mirror. They were taking me far away from my family to their suburban home outside Pittsburgh, where I would stay for three long hot summer weeks.
I had reasoned all six of us probably were parcelled out to relatives so that my father could recuperate in quiet. Weren't they?
"Sent away?" my sister replied. "I wasn't sent away and neither were the others."
Why was I the only one suddenly cut off from everything familiar, crying myself to sleep every night? I will never know.
Then, my sister revealed like a trial lawyer delivering a conviction, "Your godfather was physically abusive toward your godmother."
Uncle Charlie? No. I couldn't believe it. However, my sister is the oldest. Her memory is long and reliable.
This new reality ran through me like a shock wave reeling from a tremor.
Those two were like Gods to me. I looked up to them in every way. They spoiled me, doted over me whenever they could.
"So, is that why she was so pensive around him and had black eyes caked with makeup?"
"Yes," my sister said. "Yes."
2012 © Copyright Paula Damon.
A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Bosco Damon is a national award-winning columnist. Her writing has won first-place in competitions of the National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women. In the 2009, 2010 and 2011 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contests, her columns have earned eight first-place awards. To contact Paula, email boscodamon.paula@gmail, follow her blog at email@example.com and find her on FaceBook.