Thoughtful Thursday: Surprise

February 17, 2011

Thoughtful ThursdaySince the downturn in my mother’s health, I’ve received several insights from my father. The confirmation of my parents’ infertility occurred several months ago. Another one I’ll talk about next week. A third was the biggest surprise of my life.

Before my grandfather died a couple of years ago, I had received many remarks about how unusual it was to be in my 30s and have four living grandparents (particularly since my maternal grandparents were quite old when they had my mother, who is the youngest of many many kids, and since my parents were not young when they had me).

My mother is estranged from certain parts of her family. I hadn’t seen my maternal grandparents since I was a toddler, but they were out there somewhere.

Apparently not! At least, not my maternal grandfather.

Recently, discussing my mother’s reaction to her health situation, my father happened to mention something about her reaction to the death of her father.


Before I was born.


I did not misunderstand the situation all these years, and I did not make up a grandfather. My mother absolutely led me to believe that he was alive. I used to draw him birthday cards when I was a kid. I distinctly remember seeing photos of me with him, but I guess that must have been some other old man.

My mother has done some very weird things over the years, but 40 years of pretending that someone was alive takes the cake. I knew that she liked to keep secrets, and I knew that she lives in denial of truths she doesn’t want to accept, but I never, ever imagined that she could do something like this.

She doesn’t deal well with confrontation, especially in her current state, so I’m not going to bring it up. I wonder, though, if my grandmother is alive, or if she’s been gone this whole time too. I also wonder what other surprises are out there that I never could have imagined.

Have you ever been truly surprised?

11 Responses to “Thoughtful Thursday: Surprise”

  1. figgymommy Says:

    Nothing quite as extreme as that, but my family is *really* big on ‘oh, I thought you knew!’s. ‘why are you looking at cars?’ ‘oh! I thought you knew your brother got in a could’ve been fatal accident and totaled moms!’ ‘oh, I thought you knew he ran away from home for a week’ ‘, I thought you knew he broke both his wrists snowboarding.’ etc. (that last one told to me about 5 years after it happened.)

  2. celia Says:

    Yes. When I was 17 I found out I had a whole other enormous section of family in The South. My Grandpa( never spoken of- it was like he didn’t exist) and Grandma had a nasty divorce in the 40’s when nice Catholic families did not do such things, after a shotgun wedding. The idea that my Grandma had been enticed into the dirty dirty outside of wedlock boggled my tiny mind. Anyhow, I found out he had remarried three times and I had manymany relatives named Joe Bob, and Billy Bob. We are all from New York and New Jersey, it was intensely odd.

    I was estranged from them and loyal to my yankee family. After Grandma and Grandpa died I mellowed because I was not betraying my Grandma. So now I am facebook friends with his third wife. I decided that it was not fair for me to decide for Peter who he would and would not know( in this instance) and so I plan on hauling him down there once he is older.

  3. a Says:

    No – my family is pretty open. There were many shocking things that went on in my parents’ generation, but by the time I knew about them, the shock value had diminished and they became anecdotes. Like how Aunt Lorraine would go to the mental hospital every time school let out for summer. Or those cousins my mom lived across the street from but couldn’t alk to because of a divorce. Or maybe because they were half Mexican. I can’t remember which prejudice was in play there. There was always something going on, so therefore, nothing is surprising.

    Mysterious grandparents…how odd. I’d be tracking down your grandmother for sure.

  4. loribeth Says:

    Nothing quite that dramatic, but yes, a few surprises. I think my sister & I were in high school when my mother casually mentioned something about the baby my aunt (my dad’s sister) gave up for adoption. I think both our jaws hit the table. She just assumed we knew — our aunt (my dad’s youngest sister, then in her early 20s & unmarried) had come to visit us for awhile when she was pregnant (this was late 1960s) — which I did remember — but I was only about 9 at the time & it totally escaped me that Aunty was a little heavier than usual.

    So I have another cousin out there somewhere, who would be in his early 40s. My aunt got married to someone else in 1970 & had three more boys, all in their 30s now. I have no idea if they know they have a half-brother & I don’t feel it’s my place to tell them.

    Another mild shocker was learning, in recent years, that my grandmother’s oldest brother had a fondness for “funny cigarettes” & spent some time in prison. This was in the 1920s!!

  5. loribeth Says:

    Oh, and also, I only learned in my 20s that my father’s half-brother was never actually married to his wife, with whom he had six kids — AND he had a previous wife & family! — a British war bride that he brought over to Canada after the war. They had three kids. I have no idea whether the kids from the second relationship know about the first set. The first wife stayed in the same city after they split & kept our family name. She passed away within weeks of my uncle, her ex, last year. One of my aunts recently made contact with her kids. They were so happy she reached out to them. They remember being out at my grandparents’ farm when they were kids, & playing with my dad.

  6. Tara (TIMO) Says:

    My Poppy (Dad’s dad) died in 1980. We recently found out that for ~25 of those 30 years my Grandma had a boyfriend. A long-term, went on vacations and outings, boyfriend. Never once did she even hint at having someone in her life. And we would have encouraged it and welcomed him with open arms. We only found out because he passed away and a friend of a friend mentioned it to my Dad.

    People always comment because my twins have all four of their great-grandmothers still alive (100, 89, 87, 84). We’ve been extremely close to losing 2 of the 4 but they’re all doing well right now. It’s always a blessing when we get to visit them.

  7. Elana Kahn Says:

    Actually, yes. But I cannot go into details as I have been sworn to secrecy. I’ll just say this…when it happened I felt as though I had been transplanted into my favorite soap opera. Luckily, since I had seen what this kinds of surprise could do to people on the soaps, I reacted in the “proper” way. 🙂

  8. strongblonde Says:

    1. i am totally surprised by this. i think it takes a lot of effort to keep up a secret for that long. especially one that big!
    2. i was totally surprised when my good friend a broke up with his wife of 11 years (d–she’s the one who “broke up” with me while i was writing my dissertation). all these years i didn’t like her and i knew that they’d end up divorced. BUT she left him. i am totally shocked by this. i was further shocked to learn that she had an affair with her 10th grade boyfriend from germany. he ended up moving to the US, they are now married (less than 1 year after the divorce), moving into a house together, and i suspect will attempt to have a child soon. i just find all of it shocking.
    3. most of all i am shocked by finding out a secret about my sister (which i cannot reveal). i was looking at her cell phone while she was in surgery (totally innocent. just was thinking of getting that same phone, so i was exploring the functions) and came across some very “interesting” text messages. i waited for things to come out organically, but ultimately admitted to knowing for a long time before she told me. no one in my family knows. it’s our secret. and i’m still shocked.

  9. WiseBursche Says:

    It must have been a shock really.

    I have been surprised, yes.

    In the shock category, I recently came to know from my aunt that my maternal grandmother who visibly has four living children (all daughters) experienced about 11-12 pregnancies. Besides these daughters, she carried to full term three more babies (two boys and a girl) who died within a few days of birth. Rest were first trimester miscarriages. I never knew the ‘figure’ correctly before this.

    And an oldie…

    Plus, my local guardian’s assessment of me which was very rosy (not), which I discovered from a mail she sent to her DH and forgot to delete (we used to share the account provided by the ISP).

    – WiseGuy

  10. Cat Says:

    I don’t have anything like that, but my mother does live in her own little world.

    About two months after I turned 18 my parents woke me up one morning to say that since I was over 18 and wasn’t currently going to school, I owed them rent. Back rent, too, starting at my birthday, at $50/week. If I couldn’t pay then I’d have to move out, my grandparents already knew and said I could live with them if I wanted. That summer my only job paid $44/week before taxes (10 hrs/wk). So I called my grandma and had only 5 minutes to pack before my grandpa showed up. I had never heard Grandma so pissed off before or since.

    Several years later I was surprised to learn that my grandpa had been suffering from bone cancer for a year and no one knew except his doctor and his sister. I’m grateful that ultimately we had some time to say our goodbye’s, but I wish he’d told us sooner so we could have tried to make his last year less painful.

  11. This is one of the reasons why I have been procrastinating with this month’s TT (the other one is the one about the songs) – I just cannot think of anything, which I guess is a good thing (or it means my life is boring…).

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