Growing up my mother often shared her wish that she had an older sister.
She was the third child of James and Grace, with two older brothers, and she longed for someone to play with. It was 13years later before her mother borne another child (a girl).
Too often she would talk with her mother, bringing up the topic of wanting a sister; and Grams would rush out of the room in tears, leaving my mother curious, confused and alone to finish the dishes, setting the table or making dinner.
She made the mistake of approaching her father about Mother’s strange behaviour, one evening when he and her two brothers came in from the fields; but his silence and blank expression was mistaken as disapproval and she never spoke to him again about it.
It wasn’t until 1984, a year my grandfather died and his younger sister (my great-aunt Lenore) purchased a privately printed copy of genealogy research collected in 1927-1966, that I possibly found out the answer.
One phonecall to the cemetery office confirmed it: my mother had a older sister, “Lenore” (named after the same great-aunt) but she died young .. very young.
Her death certificate listed her as only three months and 13 days old; and that she had from “Acute Enterocolitis, caused from Rickets, caused from Malnutrition.”
Enterocolitis? (I cant’d even pronounce that!).
Her remains were buried with her paternal grandparents, James Walker ATKINSON and Eva Clarke (WILSON), but her name was not inscribed upon the stone.
I pondered for weeks over this information. My worry was not whether or not to tell my mother … but as to “How?”
I was visiting with her one day (I was still a bachelor), and the topic of my sister came up. She was pregnant and alone at the time, and the baby was not due for a couple more months.
I then changed the topic to Mum’s two sisters, asking her how they were as I had not seen or heard from either of them for a while. Mum’s answers were typical:
“They are fine, Dear. Busy taking care of their kids,” etc.
This was it. I told her that I had made a discovery in my genealogy research.
Her interest was piqued. “Are we descended from royalty?” she joked with a wide smile.
“No,” I answered. “You had an older sister.”
“That isn’t funny, Hon,” she said with a trace of bitterness.
“I am NOT being funny, Mum.” I defended. “You HAD an older sister.”
Mum took a sip of her coffee and was lost for a moment in thought.
I continued. I told her that Lenore Elizabeth was born June 24th 1936, so she would have been after Uncle Bill, but before Uncle Jim.
Then I told her the bad news. She took it well … sort of … er, not really.
“Oh, no!” she cried, “My poor mother! I kept nagging her that I wanted an older sister!”
“Technically, you DID have one. You just didn’t know it. It’s not your fault, Mum. They didn’t tell you.” I added, “She wasn’t around by the time you came into the picture.”
“But, why did they keep her a secret?”
“I’m not too sure, but ‘malnutrition’ is probably one reason. The public stigma and shame of losing a child that young.” I said. “Another could be her dying on Grandad’s birthday. As a parent, I would find that a little too personal.”
“Definitely, a birthday present he wouldn’t want to remember,” she whispered, choking back tears. “Do you know where she is?”
“Buried? Yes, I found her with your grandparents, J.W. and Eva.”
“That big Irish stone?” she asked, gesturing with her right hand over her head to signify the massive size of the granite memorial.
“But, her name isn’t on that thing!” my mother snapped. “Anywhere!”
“No, it’s not,” I confessed, “But the nice lady I spoke to at the cemetery office did confirm that Lenore IS there.”
“We’ll have to go visit when the nice weather comes!” she said, drying her eyes.
“Yes, Mum,” I agreed, as I left the table to get her another cup of coffee and to pour myself another of tea. “We will do just that.”