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White Doves Will Fly Above The Lie


By: P. M. Merlot

Doves will fly

“White doves will fly from her wedding cake.” Those were words from a young mother’s dream of her daughter’s wedding day. My cousin’s words. An idea I could not imagine, but I could imagine being there on her wedding day. We were close. Though my third cousin, she was more like a first. Joanna married and I am not there to see the white doves. None of us from New Jersey are there to see the flutter of white wings. We haven’t seen Joanna since she was four.

My great-great grandfather could never have imagined that four generations later a descendent would marry a Palm Beach billionaire. A self-made man from New Jersey, and as her great grandfather he too left New Jersey. It would have been a different end if the secret were kept. They would be living middle class lives like the rest of us. They would all still be here. But, one truth, one lie, one secret can unwittingly change the future of generations.

In a way, I am relieved that I am not at the wedding. I am aware of class distinctions especially the habits of the nouveau riche. Women will be flanked in designer gowns, designer shoes, and even some will wear haute couture. They will wear it because they no longer have to look at price tags or purchase with coupons on sale days. Raised from the ranks of middle class ways, to new ways, to ways I cannot afford. My off the rack attire from Macy’s, on a good sale day, would look like I was outfitted at Walmart.

Joanna should know about her great-great grandfather. She should know about his time spent in misery at a sanitarium in Germany. She should know about his diary, scribed in old German, and his vision of a better life. She should know he fled, the Industrial Revolution in Europe, to live here in a “little Germany.” This was his haven to open his custom tailor shop and continue his handcraft. She should know how he taught his sons and passed his shop on to my Grandfather. She should know how those teachings got her great-grandfather a lead men’s clothing designer’s job with Hart, Schoffner, and Marx. She should know that was how her family started in Chicago.

Maybe, she does know this story. But, there is another story. One that was never to be told. Four generations ago, a truth became a lie. A truth became a secret. A secret that everyone from a small town knows except the one who it is about. Truths are withheld to protect. Some truths don’t set you free. They damage, destroy, can’t change the past, but they do change the future. Without asking, an entire town is expected to remain hushed. Eventually, the secret is taken to the grave. That’s the pact the four brothers made about Jack. But, someone else let it out. Jack disappeared, blending into the streets of Chicago, where only he knew his secret.

Eventually, Jack returned to his hometown for visits with his bride Marie. Brothers reunited, secret recoiled, quieted once again. Jack became Uncle Jack to my mother. He would return with his family in summers, sip Blackberry wine made by my grandfather, and was welcome by his other brothers. As his financial success was evident, made possible by his leaving, local family resentment grew. Jack’s secret was unleashed by an in-law to the next generation. While my grandfather denied it, my mother’s family confirmed its truth. Yet, it didn’t matter to my mother. Just like her father, she never spoke of it.

Jack became Great Uncle Jack to me. He was a jolly man who loved his spirits. That he shared with his brothers, but his appearance set him apart from the rest. As short as they were tall, as small-boned was they were large, as round headed as theirs was elongated, Uncle Jack’s DNA revealed itself to me. Lacking the carnal knowledge of an adult, I often wondered why he was so different. But, I never openly questioned it. He was my Uncle Jack and like my mother I loved him.

Many summers later, Uncle Jack brought his granddaughter Carol to meet her New Jersey family. She was seventeen and entrusted to drive his new Buick to New Jersey. Chicago life made Uncle Jack different. Carol, too. Bonds began for the next generation. From her uncles, she learned their favorite German song that united them, “Du, du liegst mir im Herzen.”Carol and my mother would be as close as the two brothers. The two of them would sing the German song, passed on to them, whenever we were in the car. When I was old enough, I became part of that bond and song singing. “You, you are in my heart” sung in German.

Cousins, you never knew when you were young; always seem to appear in their older years. One day, Irv, an elder cousin, appeared at our front door with our family tree. That day, the secret came out for the third time, years after Jack died. Irv simply blurted his findings to us, “I found something out about Jack. Your great-grandfather adopted him. His father was Jacob Oberst.” Just like that, I finally knew why he appeared so different. Ivv had a photo to prove it. Uncle Jack, named Jacob after his birth father, was plucked right out of him. There was no doubting or denying it.

My mother seemed to forget the revelation made in her childhood. When it was disclosed she acted surprised. I wished Irv hadn’t told me. We weren’t joined by a paternal surname anymore. It felt different. Half cousins. Genetically, the bloodlines are remote. Given the 3.125 % of genetic overlap for second cousins, I figured our bloodlines at best were 0.5%. It wasn’t the same feeling anymore. It was always about my great-grandfather, his sons, the legacy of the paternal side. I didn’t know anything about my great-grandmother. No one ever spoke of her. Now, only joined through her, we had nothing of her to share with Carol.

Then, we told Carol. My mother is big on truth. I suppose she believed it wouldn’t matter. For all appearances, it seemed not to matter to Carol. But, Carol’s husband was quick in response, “All this and you are not even related.” Unlike him, our response was not quick enough. We should have told Carol we were still bonded through my great grandmother. She gave birth to Jack, son to her, Uncle Jack to us, Grand Pa to Carol. There was a history we shared, just not the one I thought. Though, we remained silent. Not quick enough. Instead, we acquiesced to his conclusion. Conversation was redirected and we never spoke of it again. Years went by and we thought the secret was once more recoiled. Quieted again.

When my grandfather died, Carol drove six hours in her cream-colored convertible Cadillac. She drove herself with her two toddlers. By then, Joanna was four. A son, two. She attended her Uncle Bill’s funeral and stayed days afterwards with us. The day she left, she sobbed. We didn’t understand why the tears flowed. This was different. We didn’t know this was her final goodbye. She knew. She would be the one to withhold the secret from her own children. With her, it would be safeguarded.

I imagine Joanna’s wedding. White doves, released by the bride and groom, from their wedding cake, and hear the delight at the reception of those now in their lives. Symbolizing purity and devotion, all set their eyes on them. Wings spread, doves face each other, flutter upwards, and appear unified. It is a moment and they fly away. Only Carol knows they are not doves, but white homing pigeons. White doves will fly above the lie. She may come to understand that it is the illusion of the truth that is all that matters. She will accept the illusion, as something required. Perhaps, she will realize that acceptance of our family illusion, as something required, by all that came before her. Something required by her. Something required by all.

Perhaps, she will find her way back to us. Just as the homing pigeons return to where they belong, she will return to us. She, too, will fly above the lie. Above it all, she will hear the final stanza of that German song, sung by the brothers, sung by us, “Ja, ja, ja, ja, daß uns die Liebe vereint.” Yes, yes, yes, yes, that we were united by love.





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