Dr. John Bradshaw has written many books about families and relationships but the best of those books was about family secrets. Family secrets can destroy you. It does not matter why they have been kept; they will eventually come back to smack you in the face.

Take, for instance, the story of a young mother whose child dies of a snake bite in 1940's Savannah, Ga. The woman (we will call her Ellen) puts her child down for a morning nap in the wooden slatted playpen that is sitting in the center of the kitchen floor in the housing project she and her newly discharged serviceman husband live in. The child is not very old; maybe 6 weeks. She pulls back the skirt under the sink in the kitchen to get the Spic and Span to clean the linoleum floor and sees a large black water moccasin. The snake curls up and seems ready to strike and the woman runs out the door to ask her next door neighbor for help. Even though they return quickly, the snake has crawled to the playpen and bitten the baby. The baby dies; the woman becomes so despondent that she has to be hospitalized. The husband calls the woman’s mother and she arrives by bus the next night; also bringing the woman’s youngest sister. They stay for the burial of the child and wait for the woman gets out of the hospital. The mother admonishes the younger child to never mention what has happened. The secrets begin but they are neither the first nor the last in this family.
Across town a grandfather takes a trip in his motorboat to an island between Savannah and Beaufort. Once he arrives, he is welcomed by several of the Gullah people who work for him at his oyster factory on the island. He checks out the process and the oysters and asks that a bushel of oysters be placed in his boat for a family oyster roast. Then he walks into the tiny little village where most of his workers live. He stops at the house of one of his best pickers and knocks on the blue door. A young Gullah girl opens the door with a three year old child in her arms. The child, who is white, holds her arms out and the grandfather takes her. He tells the young girl that he will bring her back the next day or that her father will do so. He returns to the dock near his Savannah home and he and the little girl go up to the house to prepare for a good old fashioned Low Country oyster roast. The grandfather is glad that his son can spend time with his daughter without having to deal with his former daughter-in-law. His son has had difficulty with the women in his life and having a real family seems like something that will never happen for him.
What do these two stories have in common? A lot, really, but it will be over 40 years before the story starts to come out and the secrets start to leak. When the Pandora’s Box that holds the secrets is first opened, there are more questions than answers to be found. Those who know the answers are not willing to tell what they know. They are Southern; family secrets are sacred and family lies are told over and over again.
When there is a lie in a family it takes on a life of its own. All of those who know will usually agree to keep the secret rather than being ostracized from the family circle. Years can pass and, unless proof on paper can be found and presented, no one will own up to knowing the details. They have made a promise to never reveal the secret and they keep it. The person who is most affected by the promise is not the person involved in the telling or the keeping of the secret.
Through the years that follow, it is common for the people who are keeping the secret to forget that they are lying. The lie becomes the truth to the teller and to all who keep the secret. In the case of the first child, who died at 6 months by being bitten by a snake, the two stories become separate. The mother has the child and puts her down for a nap. The mother sees a snake in the kitchen and the snake is killed. The secret, that the child is dead, is never spoken to anyone. It never happened.
In the case of the child who lives on a small sea island off the Georgia/South Carolina coast, her existence becomes a mystery. The child merely disappears into the fog that often drifts over the island early in the fall mornings. After years have passed, no one even remembers the little white face that often appears among the little Gullah children playing in the sand on the strand. It almost becomes a legend that such a child existed in the Oyster Man’s family. Only the family that took care of her remembers her existence and they, too, have been sworn to secrecy. The child’s mother goes back to her teenage life in South Carolina. No one there knows she was married and had a child at 14. She lives a carefree life dating G.I.s who are soon going off to fight in the war. By the time she becomes ill with leukemia in her 70’s she has lived a long life without her child and almost forgotten she as even lived.
The husband in both stories is the same man. He has two different children but loses one before it can even learn to talk. He has remarried but still sees his ex. That is kept a secret, too. His decision, after months of therapy for his current wife, is to bring his child with his first wife into his current home in hopes that having a child to love will bring his wife out of her terrible depression. At first, he brings the child only a few days per week and leaves her at his father’s the rest of the time. One day his wife has stopped calling her Jeanne and started to call her Dianne. This was the name of the other child. His wife seems much better. Weeks, months, years pass and his wife seems to be cured. She wants to move away from Savannah and back to the town where she and he first met; her hometown. He consults her mother and father and they urge him to bring his family back. They arrange for the couple and their child to move into the house next door which is owned by the woman’s grandfather (who also happens to live on the other side of the house). They believe that the woman will be alright and will have a normal life as long as no one ever knows that this is not the same child that was born in that same town. No one is ever told about the death of the first child. The lie becomes the truth and the child; we will now call her Dianne, grows up in the small Southern town and knows nothing about what happened until her parents die when she is 22 years old. It takes her more than 30 more years to unravel the story’s twists and turns.

Author's Bio: 

PD Rivers is a freelance writer and owner of a small press on the East Coast. She has been responsible for editing, proofing, ghosting or publishing many self-help books and has intimate experience with the subject of family lies and what they might do to a person from whom they have been concealed when the subject is finally revealed.