Reflection on W

WEDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the A to Z Challenge, an exercise in self-flagellation we bloggers inflict upon ourselves to teach us discipline as writers and to build audience. During the month of April, I’ll be posting 26 times, once for every letter in the alphabet. Looking on the bright side, we can each be thankful this is an English language exercise and not Khmer, the language of Cambodia, which sets the world record with a 74-character alphabet! After some misgivings, I’ve decided to proceed with my initial idea of blogging about the special people in my life whose names begin with the appropriate letter. There will be difficulties, like having more than one special person whose names begin with the same letter, forcing me to choose. And then there are those letters — O, Q and X among them — where no name springs readily to mind. What will I do then? We’ll have to wait and see!

The photo of this gravestone was found online by my sister when she was doing some genealogical research. I've blotted out young William O's adoptive surname out of privacy concerns for that family.

W is for William

It’s hard enough to write about a family member you never knew. It becomes that much harder to write about a family member who, for the first 56 years of your life, you never knew existed.

As we draw nearer to the end of the A-to-Z Challenge, I can now explain my decision on an essay that came before. I referred to my father as Otis instead of William because I knew another William would be taking center stage once I arrived at W.

Enter that other William, my half-brother.

In announcing my theme for the Challenge, I said that I wanted to write about the special people in my life, and wrong though it may be, I’ve devoted more thought over the past three years toWilliam than almost any other person. I’ve written about him before, but there’s a good chance you missed it since that essay appeared on my other blog site.

Allow me to expend a few more words here, telling you what little I know.

Three years ago, I received a text message from my sister. She had been doing genealogical research and stumbled across a photograph of a gravestone with our father’s name on it. It was located at a cemetery near our father’s boyhood home, but we knew Daddy was buried in a different cemetery some 30 miles away. Quite naturally, we wondered who this other William O. Redus could be. We also wondered about the additional name etched into the stone under our father’s name. I’ve removed that name from the image above out of privacy concerns for that other family.

My sister started researching, and eventually records came to light that showed our father had been married before he met our mother. He and his first wife got divorced, apparently, and young William Otis Jr. must have then been adopted by his mother’s second husband, hence that other name on his tombstone.

Unfortunately, my half-brother died at the tender age of 3 after a botched tonsillectomy. I hadn’t even been born yet.

The trouble was that my sister and I knew none of this. Our parents had gone to great pains to conceal it from us, though the story was later confirmed by some elderly aunts and uncles.

I’ve agonized a great deal over why my parents went to such elaborate lengths to cover up the past, and since they both died long before my sister and I found out, their reasons for doing so went to the grave with them.

But what about William?

Although learning of his existence caused me a great deal of angst, I also feel sad for that little boy with half my genetic makeup, who died before ever really getting a chance to live. I find myself wishing he still walked this earth. How different would we be? Would I have attempted to contact him if he still lived? Would I detect a resemblance? Would we treat each other like brothers?

Of course I’ll never know the answers to those questions, but here’s another: Would I be better off if I’d never found out William Jr. existed? That had been my father’s wish, apparently, but why?

How are you supposed to feel when you discover in your 50s that you had a brother or a sister that you never knew existed? Anyone? Anyone?

The thing is, once you see something, it’s impossible to un-see it, and so despite my father’s wishes, William Otis Jr. is now a part of William Glenn’s consciousness, and I can’t stop wondering about what might have been.

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15 Comments

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  1. So sad to hear of William’s short life. I can’t imagine the emotions that you and your sister feel. Maybe it was the generation of your father’s time that forced him to keep his secret. It must be frustrating to have unanswered questions but you have such a wonderful family of your own. Cherish every moment with them and thank you for sharing your life story.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am both a first and second child because I have an older half-sibling. I only met my half-sister when she was 10 and I was 6. My grandparents raised her for the first 10 years of her life. Then she came to live with me and my parents. I didn’t know she was my half-sister then. As we grew older, we looked less and less alike and the thought germinated in me that perhaps she wasn’t my sister after all. After many years and via a convoluted way of deciphering the truth, I discovered that we share the same mother but different fathers. We’re estranged now sadly. So, this post of yours struck a personal chord with me. I think that question of what might’ve been will linger for a long while…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My mother was divorced and carried a great deal of shame about that for all her life. Perhaps that may be at the root of the secrecy?
    (I wish there were more letters in our alphabet – I really look forward to reading these posts and have so enjoyed “meeting” your special people. Thank you for sharing them!)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. i always knew i had a sister who died a few years before I was born,. It’s sad no matter what, i always think of her and wonder if she would have been my best friend. i have a living sister, but i guess you always day dream abt what it would have been like. Sucks.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Every family has mysteries. Wondering what might have been can be so difficult.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m glad that you write about your family, because it helps me to see mine in a new light. What your own family thinks about being your subjects, I don’t know. Maybe they can take some comfort in the words of author Rita Mae Brown: “Writers will happen in the best of families.”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow – what a story! I have no idea how I would react if I learned of a brother or sister I didn’t know about at this point in my life, other than knowing that I’d be shocked. I’ll be interested to see what name you come up with for X.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I loved how you put it – once you see it, you can’t un-see it. Yet we do have to live with it…

    Like

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