A Family Broken

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I didn't have any new guests coming in that night and the nightly treat of hot cocoa and cookies wasn't until seven. So I had some time on my hands and I thought it would be best to spend it on work. However, after I spent half an hour redoing my work because my eyes kept darting over to where the box and journal sat, I decided it was best to instead focus on mapping out the trees and figuring out a plan of action with the ornaments. Surely then, once I got my last responsibility to my aunt out of the way, I could focus on my real job.

Clearing my desk and tucking my laptop back into its bag, I dumped out the box and began sorting through the bits and pieces of Gina's history. I started a timeline, following her journey from small town girl to big city starlet. She left on April 3, 1963 as dated by her Greyhound tickets. Then according to a playbill from November 23, 1963, she had her first gig as an ensemble singer in a small musical. Then a poster proclaimed her a warm up act for a concert on September 8, 1966. I continued to find all the little moments and performances during her stay in LA when I suddenly realized another important date that seemed to be missing.

June 21, 1965.

It was hard not to remember that date. My grandmother took me out to see my grandfather's grave in Arlington every year on that date. A date that I noted was somewhere between gigs for my great aunt, which seemed hard to pull off considering she needed to be at my grandfather's funeral.

A heavy weight began to form in my stomach as I saw the pieces sliding together. I cast my eyes over to the letters I left inside the box. I pushed aside the bundle of unopened envelopes and withdrew the few that had come from my grandmother.

The first I pulled out had very few words, but it left me utterly incapable of breathing for a good ten minutes after reading it.

March 10, 1995


Jack is dead. He and Emma were in a car accident. It was quick and painless. Madelyn is in my care.

-- Norma

My grandmother grew up in an age where a lot could be determined about your character by your penmanship. She prided herself in her light, curvy lettering and graceful strokes. This letter, however, was scrawled with rough jolts of a pen pushed hard into the paper. Dots of moisture, now dry, warped the paper and smeared the ink. I wondered if it was from my grandmother or my great aunt's tears. I imagined it was a mixture of both.

Once I regained myself, I pulled out the next letter. That one I didn't spend much time on. I'd already gotten the gist of it in the journal. My grandmother warned off Georgina, telling her never to write Jack a letter again or she'd involve the police. Whatever that meant. Even if it seemed like an empty threat to me, it had stopped Gina from writing so I suppose my grandmother's threat was real enough to her.

Then there was the last letter, clearly much older than the others. I pulled it out of the yellowed envelope and carefully unfolded the aged paper.

July 28, 1967


Do you even remember who I am? I knew you for about a year before you ran off without a word other than a childish note announcing your independence and your supposed right to do as you please. As if a girl of sixteen years could understand anything of what the trials of being a woman, an adult, are.

I hope you enjoyed your life of glamor in Los Angeles. I hope you made all kinds of friends that were only around, hoping you'd make it big, so they could take advantage of your fortune. I hope you felt the love of a man who really only loved your body. I'm sure you have so many sweet, naive memories you can share now that your parents have spent what little money they have to track you down.

They're still contemplating how best to reach you. Should they write? Should they call? What if you run? Perhaps it's best to take the next bus out and surprise you on your doorstep. But, oh what a surprise it would be little Georgina. You see, your brother, their son, my husband, won't be there. Not because he didn't love you. I'd say perhaps he ended up loving you too much. I never judged him for answering his country's call and doing his duty by serving in the army. However, he might not have been so eager in the field, so determined to end the fighting as soon as possible if he wasn't so afraid that you were out there and that you might be in danger. How could he know what had become of you when you gave not a single clue to where you had gone into hiding? He succumbed to his worst fears and the only way he knew to protect you was to go to war.

He's dead. He died on June 21, 1965. We'd only been married for a year and he never even knew I was pregnant with his child. The letter arrived four days after he had gone cold. Where were you the day the soldiers came to my door and told me he was gone? Were you laughing in a club? Performing at a bar? Getting cozy with someone who promised you the world so long as you spent the night with him?

Where were you when your mother collapsed on the floor in tears and your father didn't speak to anyone for a month? Where were you when they brought his body home and buried him amongst heroes? Where were you when my son, his son, Jack was born into a world where he would never know his father?

Your parents still want to see you. I don't know why. But I won't stop them Georgina. That's their decision to make, just like it is my decision to never see you again. You are dead to me and you will be as absent from Jack's life as his father will be.

Don't ever contact me. Don't ever seek me out. And don't ever hope for forgiveness.

-- Norma

Oh Aunt Georgina, I thought, what did you do? I sighed, my heart heavy as I read over the letter again. I understood where both of them were coming from. My great aunt was young and naive. She just wanted to do what she thought was right for her, she couldn't have known how that would hurt those around her. As for my grandmother, of course she hated Gina. My grandfather's family needed her there to help them survive this tragic loss and she was no where. For all my great grandparents knew, both of their children were lost forever. The only hope that probably got them through it all was the birth of my father.

His birth and my birth.

I thought to Jordan's words, to Tim's memories, to everyone's testimony of my aunt. They all knew that to my great aunt, the greatest gift she was given was that picture of her holding me. Perhaps I marked a new hope for her. A second chance at connecting with family.

I had to know what she was thinking and how she even got to see me that day, but I wasn't going to find those answers with the pieces of memories sitting before me. I instead looked to the journal. I had been using it to pry hints of the past out of it, but now I knew the truth. I knew why my great aunt was wiped from my family tree. It was a painful truth made more painful by the fact I could never fix it. I could never mend the break made between my aunt and my grandmother. However, I could at least hear out the rest of Gina's story. I don't know if there is a heaven, but if there is, I wanted her to see that I'd found her and that I knew her. And I was going to start by knowing how she knew me.

I got up from my chair and pulled the new sheets from atop my dresser. I wrapped my mattress with care and spread out the covers. I looked over the bed I'd made. Perhaps it was Gina's, but now it was mine and it was time I accepted the past in order to embrace the future she had hoped for.

I slipped beneath the cover and settled into the pillows. Once cozy, I began to read where I left off. And that's where I stayed, the hours drifting away until it was time for me to continue my aunt's tradition of hot chocolate and cookies.


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