I present Part 3 of this year’s Christmas Story. I hope you are enjoying it!
Abby could feel the tension in the room. She glanced at her mom, who was sitting stiffly on the striped blue chair. Her back was straight and her mouth was tight as she waited for her mother to reveal the details surrounding the brother she never knew she had.
Grandma gave a shaky sigh and then continued, “I am not proud of this part of my life. The first twenty-five years of my life were…well, let me just start at the beginning.”
Janet tried to think of what she knew about her mother’s life prior to her birth. Come to think of it, she didn’t know very much.
“I had a wonderful childhood with parents who loved me. And my neighbor, Harriet, was always my best friend. But when I was around fifteen, I started hanging around with a new friend. Patty was not the kind of girl any parent would want their daughter to hang out with and my parents were not very happy. I am not really sure what drew me to Patty. I guess it was because she was popular and fun and, at that point in my life, that was all that really mattered to me. Anyway, Patty and I struck up a friendship and she was the one who introduced me to her cousin, Felix.”
Ahhh, the mysterious Felix mentioned in the letter. What did that letter say? That he was “out of the picture”… Abby remembered.
Grandma Belinda continued while the other women sat quietly listening, “Felix was bad news from the beginning. But I was young and dumb and he was so handsome and charming,” she smiled wryly, remembering this young man.
“Felix was one of those guys that could charm the mittens off of someone freezing in the wintertime. He could talk anyone into anything. But, underneath all of that charm and charisma, unbeknownst to me was a darker, uglier Felix. But I am getting ahead of myself.”
“At any rate, Felix was an older boy. He worked at the local garage, pumping gas, and he took a liking to me. I was so enamored. I couldn’t believe this older, handsome boy would ever choose me. I was a plain and rather boring sort of girl. I had wondered who would ever choose one such as I and, lo and behold, this boy did! You can see how I was so easily infatuated and then deceived…” her voice faded, remembering.
Abby, considering her grandmother’s large brown eyes and curly white hair, couldn’t imagine anyone thinking her plain. She tried to recall photos from yesteryear but she hadn’t opened the “photo” box in the attic yet and couldn’t remember ever seeing any on display.
“Soon Felix and I became an ‘item’, as they used to say in those days and much to my parents’ dismay. I know they didn’t know what to do. A few months after we started dating, tragedy struck.”
Janet dug back into her memory, vaguely remembering that she had never met her maternal grandparents because of an accident.
“My parents were walking to church one day and a drunk driver swerved on to the sidewalk, killing them both. He had been out at the local bar all night and was on his way home,” a tear formed in the corner of Grandma’s eye and spilled down on to her cheek as she shared this.
“I will always regret that I was not right with them when they were taken home to the Lord. They were so disappointed in me and that’s how they left this earth—filled with disappointment at their youngest child’s foolish escapades,” she sighed deeply.
“You would think that this event would have put me back on the right path, but it didn’t. Instead, in my desperation and hopelessness, I made some really bad choices. Finding myself without a place to live and ignoring my sister’s plea to come live with her, I moved into an apartment with Patty. There, without the watchful eye of my parents, I found solace and comfort in Felix’s arms and finally gave in to his pressure to…well, you know,” her face grew a bit red at this vague confession.
Abby and Janet exchanged glances as she continued, “Soon I found out I was pregnant. This was when the real trouble began. Felix was always selfish but, after this, he grew mean. He wanted me to get rid of the child but I refused. His abuse soon moved from verbal to physical and I was beat up pretty badly more times than I can count.”
Janet’s caught her breath. All this had happened to her sweet and kind mother. How could she not have known?
Grandma Belinda looked at Janet with clear eyes, as if knowing what she was thinking and said quietly, “it’s okay. You couldn’t have known.”
Janet asked the question that had been gnawing at her since this had first come to light, “Did Dad know?”
Grandma Belinda sighed, “well, not at first. But I did tell him eventually. But I’ll get to that. The uglier Felix became, the more sure I became that I needed to get away from him. But he didn’t want to let me go. So you can see how this went. I had no home, no support. He wanted me but only under two conditions: No marriage and no children. I actually moved in with Felix, believing he would change and eventually want to marry me. Back in those days, this branded me as a very loose woman. I still can’t believe I actually did such a thing but I felt so lost and alone,” she hung her head. She wiped her eyes and blew her nose on the crumpled tissue she was holding tightly in her hand and then continued, “I hung around for awhile, thinking that the baby would soften Felix’s heart, but it actually got worse when Charlie arrived. It was one thing for me to be the recipient of Felix’s abuse but when baby Charlie became a target, I knew it was time to escape.”
Abby’s heart ached, thinking of this young, forlorn woman making a choice to escape a man who was set on hurting her and her child.
“I guess I should mention here that Felix did have good days. The abuse wasn’t constant. And he’d always promise to change. I guess that’s what kept me there for so long.”
She continued on, “by this time my sister, Edna, had moved to Omaha and my brother, Carl, had moved to Canada. The only safe person I could think of nearby was my favorite Aunt Betty. So I ran to her.”
Janet remembered Aunt Betty. She knew that her mom had a very special relationship while she was alive but had never understood why.
“Aunt Betty took me in and was like a lioness in protecting me. She had been so worried about me and gladly supported me in my desire to change my life. I will forever be in her debt. It was Aunt Betty who suggested I give Charlie up for adoption but I just couldn’t do it. However, somewhere inside of me, I knew that Charlie needed some stability in his life and I needed to get a job. Aunt Betty was unable to watch him while I worked due to a chronic illness so, finally, in desperation, I asked Harriet and her new husband, Ned, to consider taking him in. I knew this was a lot to ask, but they gladly welcomed my sweet boy into their new little family. This seemed like the best option— not final, like an adoption, and yet getting him into a stable home while I tried to put the pieces of my life back together.”
“I found a job at the local shoe factory and that is where I met your father, Janet,” she looked at her beloved daughter, “He was everything Felix was not. He wasn’t dashing or charismatic but, instead, very staid and solid. He was handsome enough but in a rugged way, rather than the dark, brooding way Felix was. This was all that drew me to him. And he was a godly man. He insisted on me attending church with him and, soon, I was back in fellowship with the Lord, after all those long years.”
She stopped for a moment in deep reflection.
“I did not tell Marvin about my past. I was so ashamed. All he knew was that my parents had died and that I had had an abusive relationship in my past and that I still feared this man. I didn’t offer much more than that. When I introduced him to Harriet and Ned, I introduced Charlie as their son,” she smiled wryly, “I am actually surprised he never said anything because Charlie was dark with black hair and they are both blonde. He told me later that he never suspected a thing. But that is how men are, isn’t it?” She laughed briefly but it was without mirth.
“Marvin was soon offered a job back east in the family business. He talked it over with me and we decided that this might be the perfect solution. We would get married and move far away from Felix. In the back of my mind always was Charlie. But I knew how much Ned and Harriet loved him and that he was so safe and secure with them. I stopped by one day and explained the situation to them. They offered to keep him for as long as I needed. I had no idea how long that would become.”
“We moved to Ohio and started a new life. Susan and Micheal came along, and then, you, Janet. We were so happy. My life in California became like…well, like a dream. And then, one day, I received a letter from Harriet. I can remember it like it was yesterday,” her eyes grew moist once again.
“In this letter she mentioned that Charlie was going to be six on his next birthday and that they were tired of living in limbo. She also mentioned that Felix was out of the picture. I wasn’t sure what she meant so I called her later that week. She told me that she had heard from a woman at church who knew his aunt that Felix had been killed in a bar fight. It was a sad ending to a sadder life,” she murmured and then went on, “I knew I had to finally tell Marvin about Charlie. And so we sat down one night after the kids were in bed and I told him everything. We talked and prayed and then talked some more. In the end, we decided that, if Ned and Harriet were willing, we’d ask them to adopt Charlie permanently. It just seemed in his best interest.”
She looked up to answer the unspoken question in both of their eyes.
“I know you think I must have been a horrible mother to desert Charlie like that. And I know I was. But it wasn’t that I didn’t love Charlie. I always have. I always will. I only wanted to do what was best for my boy. Ned and Harriet were wonderful God-fearing people and loved Charlie as their own. In the end, we decided to never talk about it again,” she explained further, “That’s how things were in those days. You just didn’t talk about things like you do today.”
The story was an age-old story and nothing new. Both Janet and Abby knew that it happened over and over to innocent, starry-eyed young women who fell prey to handsome, abusive men. They just never dreamed such a thing had happened to their dear mother and grandmother.
She continued, “In the end, we decided it would be a secret between just us four. Even Charlie never knew. Eventually, we lost touch with them, being so far away and all. Harriet sent me a few photos through the years but, eventually, even those stopped.”
She stopped and sat quietly for a few minutes, unsure how to continue. Finally, she said quietly, “And so I just lived my life like Charlie didn’t exist. But, always, in my heart, is an empty Charlie-shaped space. I loved Charlie dearly and it was a great sacrifice to give him up. I still love him,” she said softly and then looked up, “and that’s the story.”
The three of them all just sat quietly, unsure of what to say upon this revelation. The silence remained unbroken until Abby’s Dad came in from the garage and stood in the doorway, “My goodness, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the three of you this quiet in all my days,” he joked.
They turned serious eyes upon him. It was Janet who spoke up, “Mom’s been filling us in on her big secret.”
Tom raised his eyebrows and then wisely returned to the garage but his entrance had broken the silence.
“Thank you, Mom, for telling me that. I truly had no idea,” said Janet, still reeling from this unexpected confession of her mother’s.
Abby realized, maybe for the first time in her life, that her grandmother was an actual person. She had hopes, dreams, fears, and…yes, even sinned—just like everybody else.
It was Janet who suggested they pray. And so they prayed. They prayed for the situation. They prayed for Charlie. They prayed for her grandmother. As they prayed an idea began to form in Abby’s mind. As it grew, she began to grow excited. Yes! She would find Charlie for Grandma. She would find him by Christmas. She smiled broadly to herself as her mother continued to pray.