Life is (continues to be) a mystery

I shared yesterday a bit about the clean up and organization of photos over this past weekend. The Keeper of the Archives (Alison) spent a good portion of yesterday scanning and creating a master file of all the unassigned, really old, random odds and ends pictures. I mentioned my idea to her that perhaps, since she was keeping the pictures from this point on, that I would also entrust her with my memory box.

Her reply. “You should pull that out now.”

We’ve looked through this before, and as you might remember, I had it out very recently to remove a few things headed for charitable donations. I’ve also talked about, in less recent posts, that I have discovered many of the keepsakes I know I once had are missing and presumed victims of the ‘toss stuff associated with my dad/me’ syndrome attached to my mother in her final years of revenge and disorientation.

Out came the box.  We realized quickly that there wasn’t going to be room for the photo box as well. After snagging a larger sized container that would accommodate everything, my archivist, being the organizational wonder that she is, set me to grouping items resulting in a series of four files: elementary school, junior high school, high school, and adult life.

Tucked up in the midst of these yellowing papers and fading pictures was a smallish envelope that I hadn’t seen when I was in the box just weeks ago. I recognized the envelope but couldn’t remember what was inside. We found the original mortgage papers to my childhood home, purchased in 1959 for $13,000. Monthly payments for my parents: $75.00. My parents marriage certificate was there. A few items from each of their memorial services in 1995. They passed within months of each other.

I found an ID card issued to my mother within a few years of her death. Alison, who was just two-years-old when her grandparents died, remarked on just what a tiny person she was. Her height was listed at 5’2″ and that’s likely close to correct. Her weight listed at 92 lbs, which also doesn’t surprise me as she rarely ate and when she did it was meager. It’s not that she couldn’t afford food. It simply is that she preferred to drink the few calories she consumed, either in adult supplement form or, in her true preference: alcohol.

We also found copies of my parents death certificates. Like everything else in that envelope, I had forgotten that I had these. My dad, passed in June 1995, just 1 month prior to his 75th birthday. Listed was a group of related clinical findings as the cause of death, but all clearly related to sudden cardiac arrest. It seemed impossible that it has been almost 21 years.

My mother’s certificate listed February 1995 and her age of death as 68, her birth year listed as 1926. I have memories of ongoing conflict regarding the correct year, with 1924 being a strong contender as well. My sister was the informant on the document. I wonder if she simply chose between the two options, not knowing for sure either. I glanced over some of the information. The cause of death was clear, with secondary findings being one’s that were suspected but never confirmed.

Something caught my eye just before I was ready to fold up the document and allow Alison to put in in the file. My mom’s mother was listed by name as is common. On this paper, she was listed using what I understood to be her maiden name, lets just use Reynolds here. Reynolds being the name I was accustomed to my own mother using as her maiden name as well. At that moment I didn’t begin to make a connection. Have you?

Grandma alternately used Reynolds, as well as what I believed to be a married name, how about Marshall, depending on what story she was telling. I was always under the impression that Reynolds was her first husbands name, and Marshall was a 2nd husband, marriage brief and mysterious and never really talked about. I looked over at the box listing my mother’s fathers name. It clearly said Joe H****s.

But where was Reynolds? I was looking at a name, not Reynolds and not Marshall, that I had never seen or heard before. My maternal grandfather was listed simply as Joe H****s. I had long believed that my grandmother, when she used Reynolds, was using her first husband’s name.

Then seeing all this conflicting information sparked two memories I had an uncle Wesley, my grandmothers brother, with the last name, Reynolds. They had a younger sister as well, again same last name, Reynolds. Those three siblings all owned the same family name Reynolds and that is what my grandmother used as well. No H****s anywhere.

My own mother, in using Reynolds as her maiden name was apparently, as I had imagined, not naming her father, but using her own mother’s maiden name.

Are you still with me here?

I flipped back to the marriage certificate we had found belonging to mom and dad, hoping that maybe the name she listed there would be a clue. She listed R*** M** Ray. That last name was the name of her first husband. She was divorced when she married my dad.

So, my maternal grandfather is someone who I have never heard of, which of course brings to mind lots of questions, the first being – was my grandmother married when she had my mom, or not. If she was married, where did this Joe H guy end up. Why did my grandma not give my mom his last name. Had she actually given my mom his name, H****s, but my mom (like so many other aspects of her lift) chose to or simply lost track of who and what she was portraying to others about herself.

I have a strong urge to try to look into this, yet with all the confusion and multiple stories that floated through my childhood, I suspect that I would only get so far, then reach a dead end still wondering.

Have you encountered any mysteries like this in your families past? What would you do if this was your story?



4 thoughts on “Life is (continues to be) a mystery”

  1. If I were in your shoes, I would do my best to untangle the mess. Not sure if I can put it into words, but it would clarify my roots.. and I like knowing my roots/ skeletons and all….(and again this is just me) but I would not care what sort of baggage and skeletons were lurking in those previous generations lives. (and believe me, there are a couple of very disturbing ones in my father’s family tree for sure). They made their choices and had to live with the consequences… I don’t have to answer for them. I love digging into family history, last couple of times we were together with my dad’s sister I was asking about these very things. She seems willing to tell her favorite nephew, now that the older generation is gone. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree DM, the skeletons are not an issue, it’s really more about knowing who and where I come from so I can give that information to my kids. My daughter has already been doing some digging so I think we might be on our way with this adventure 🙂 Thanks for your input.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I know of two similarish if less intriguing stories in my mom’s family (though inevitably I’ll get the details wrong). The first is well known: my maternal grandmother’s grandmother was married to a ne’er-do-well who ended up leaving her high and dry with a whole brood of very young children, and another man stepped in and raised the kids as if they were his – I think the kids were adults before they found out (this doesn’t seem so shocking now, but I guess it was in 1880 or whatever – or maybe she never divorced husband #1 and/or never married husband #2, I’m not sure). The second is still a family secret: in my maternal grandparents’ wedding picture, my grandma is wearing a yellow dress. I figured that there wasn’t much money for anything fancy, so they just went with nice clothes they had, or maybe that white dresses weren’t a thing yet, but apparently they were, and she just didn’t, ah, feel entitled to wear white, as it seems she was probably pregnant. It should be easy to get that confirmed but my mom doesn’t know for sure, it would break my grandma’s heart if I asked her, and the tentative attempt I made to ask my aunt (who would have been the child in question) was gently but firmly shot down. If it’s true, it makes me so sad that my grandma felt – still feels! – ashamed of something so normal.

    But man. You’ve talked about your mom before, but these details are so evocative. I’d like to read a novel about her, maybe, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to be her daughter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know most every family has those closeted secrets, and the older those involved, the harder I think it is for admissions of infidelity or whatever the case may be. While this latest revelation isn’t horribly shocking from the ‘well huh, maybe my mom was illegitimate’ category, I have that real issue of so many varied accounts of her familial early life, plus the distortion of alcohol and mental illness that the possibilities are endless. Writing about my family and what I know/don’t know seems so unbelievably far-fetched, it could make for a novel couldn’t it. The writing as a daughter is just depressing, and puzzling, and worthy of a Nancy Drew type title, because Nancy could solve anything while also making everyone feel better and happy 🙂


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