family history

If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.

- Thich Nhat Hanh

I grew up in a beautiful, outwardly happy and seemingly perfect family.

After my parents died, I uncovered family history that helped me begin to understand the forces that had shaped my life.

When we were cleaning out my parents’ house, I found two boxes of letters and news clippings revealing the truth about my paternal and maternal grandparents. As I read the contents of these boxes, I began to understand the forces that shaped my parents and how these forces had shaped my own life.

I was 50 years old when I finally discovered this.


The first box contained a newspaper clipping about my Dad’s father. It began: “On October 6, 1927, our town’s much loved minor league baseball hero was shot and killed by John Lawrence, our mayor and bank president.”

My Grandfather had learned months before that his wife had a brief affair with John Lawrence, and when he confronted him, John retaliated by calling a note due that my Great Grandfather owed on his farm.

The story continued to explain that my Grandfather and his two brothers were walking down the main street and ran into John outside the bank. One of the brothers was angry and confronted John Lawrence about calling their Dad’s loan due. John ran back into the bank and came out with a gun, which onlookers say he first pointed at the brother who confronted him, but then he turned and shot my Grandfather in the chest. My Grandfather died on the street.

My Dad was nearby and went running to his father, throwing himself across his father’s chest, sobbing as he watched him die. My Dad was eleven years old.

The details came out during the trial and were then reported in the news. My Grandmother had to leave their small town and move to the city to find work. She took Dad’s sister with her and had to send my Dad and his brother to live with relatives in their town while she got settled.


The second box revealed the real story about my Mom’s father. It contained a batch of letters that told my Grandmother’s heartbreaking story.

The story began with a letter from my Grandfather, who was a traveling salesman for the American Oil Company, dated June 19, 1919. He began “Dear Sugar Bunches” and went on to tell her to send his cooler clothes, as the weather was changing. He briefly asked about their 3 little girls, the oldest, age 4, my mother, age 2, and their 6-month old baby, but he mostly talked about himself and the big deals he was going to close for the American Oil Company.

Two months later, on August 19th, my Grandmother wrote to the American Oil Company asking if they knew where her husband was. A month later, on September 20th, the President replied that they did not know his whereabouts and had wired him on August 15th to sever his connection with their company. They had been advised by their customers of sales he made which he had never remitted to the company. He had swindled them.

On October 20th, a letter from the landlady of a boarding house in Rochester NY returned a letter from my Grandmother, telling her it had been lying around for months because “Mr. and Mrs. Brown” and their niece had left 2 months ago for Oklahoma. A subsequent letter from another boarding house landlady described this Mrs. Brown as having been in vaudeville and said they had showed their marriage license when they registered.

The trail of letters goes on through February 23rd, 1920, each one sadder than the next. The last one is from the Rochester Police telling my Grandmother she should go to her city’s Chief of Police to obtain a warrant for her husband, charging him with abandonment.

My grandfather was a handsome, pathological liar and a bigamist who abandoned his family when my mother was 2 years old. He was never found.


At last my inner werewolf has been put to rest. I no longer have those attacks of unworthiness and self-hatred.
I love looking at myself in the mirror. In fact, I think I like myself even more than my cat likes me.
~ Kat Tansey

My decision to tell secrets my parents held so close for their entire lives has not been an easy one. I loved and adored both my parents. They were intelligent, hardworking, beautiful and loving people. When they retired and moved back to Texas, their neighbors put together a huge scrapbook with pictures and stories about how much my parents meant to everyone in the neighborhood. Everyone loved them.

I wish I had known earlier what had happened to them. I think it might have changed things for me. But it was not the custom in those times to share shameful stories, and I understand this. Perhaps in some small way, my sharing now the stories of what happened in their lives shows us how amazing they really were. They were resilient, hardworking people who found each other and shared a life filled with love, humor, and adventure. They were two of the bravest, most wonderful people I have ever known, and I will love them forever.


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