Somebody Else’s Secret

Wrapping the presents, making travel plans, anticipating the gatherings that take place at the holiday season, family members often know the secrets that sit around the tree, along with the gifts. It’s sometimes fun to picture what it would be like to unwrap some of those secrets as you exchange presents. If you contemplate a revelation, make sure that the secret is yours, and yours alone to tell. Read this story about Ruby, a woman whose aunt didn’t follow that simple rule.

Ruby was born in a Displaced Persons Camp after the end of World War II. Her mother was an Auschwitz survivor, and her father did slave labor in Poland. Husband and wife were miraculously reunited in Poland at the end of the war. In the joy of surviving and finding each other, they conceived Ruby.

But what happened next was not so good. Ruby’s parents had been affected by their experiences, and the love they shared before the war did not reignite. As the months drew on, they decided to divorce. They would go to America, the father to his Boston relatives, and the mother, baby in arms, to her Brooklyn family. As part of the divorce, the father gave up his parental rights.

Four years later, Ruby’s mom found a wonderful man, a watchmaker by trade. He adored Ruby and insisted on adopting her and changing her name to his when he married her mother. The couple decided to keep the truth about Ruby’s birth a secret. Her new father wanted to treat Ruby as family, no questions asked. Her mother agreed because she was more than ready to forget her sad past. While they made their pact of secrecy, they did not deny the existence of Ruby’s birth father. His photograph hung on the apartment wall. He was known as Manny from Boston, but only this trio knew his role in the family.

When Ruby’s parents had two more children—sons—the family was complete. Ruby’s brothers had no idea about her origins. The middle child, Ruby’s first brother was a little jealous of his sister and her closeness to their mother. Their intimacy may have been the product of the other secrets her mother shared with Ruby, tales of the years in Auschwitz. Her mother did not mince words about those terrible years, and Ruby came to see her mother as a heroine who survived the brutality with her kindness and forgiveness intact.

Then Ruby’s father died. The family was bereft. They came home from the cemetery and began to sit Shiva, torn ribbons on their clothing, and low chairs to sit on. The mirrors were covered. The murmurs of love and remembrance filled the room.

When Ruby’s aunt, her father’s sister, arrived, she was in a state. As she marched into the room, she pointed her finger at Ruby and shouted, “Ruby, get up from the chair and take off your ribbon. You can’t sit Shiva. You aren’t my brother’s daughter. You were adopted!” The room fell silent as Ruby’s mother went to calm her sister-in-law and change the subject.

There may have been quiet, but there was no peace. Ruby’s jealous brother, the one who had always resented their closeness, was white with rage. He stormed out of the house. He could not forgive his mother for keeping this secret from him. The youngest brother shrugged this off. He didn’t care. He loved Ruby. She was his true sister.

But the older brother left that family emotionally, never to return, even though his mother explained their decision as best she could. His relations with them deteriorated. He rarely visits his elderly mother and barely talks to his siblings. Ruby feels that her brother had divorced them all.

Ruby’s mother is hurt by her son’s behavior, but she forgives him—she is cognizant of the pain her secret caused him. Ruby and her mother are not in a forgiving mood about the woman who did such damage to their family.

I’m with them on this. Husband and father, the watchmaker wanted the secret to be kept, during his life and after his death. Ruby’s aunt may not have considered the harm she would do to her brother’s family, but the secret was not hers to tell.

Keep Ruby in mind if you have the urge to spill somebody else’s beans.