Delicate things go in the closet by Beth

14 Feb

Hello All. When I think about delicate things, I think about things that are hard to talk about. I also think of washing delicates and flowers. I think that things that are hard to talk about are the most interesting out of those, so I’ll go with that.

My parents have raised me to be able to talk to them about most things. One time (in my youth) I came home from a night out and was having a “psychedelic pot freak-out” (my term). I felt able to tell them – during an ad break of ‘ER’ – and my Mum was so down to earth about it. She ended up climbing into bed with me and gave me a cuddle. She never lectured me about it, just showed concern. I’m very lucky to have that kind of relationship with them.

The closet thing we have had to a skeleton in the closet in my family was the discovery my Dad made at his Mum’s funeral in 1995. His Dad had died in 1988, and Dad’s cousin said to my Dad dramatically at Granny’s funeral that Grandad had “done time and your mother had to live with the shame!”. This came as news to my Dad and his brother, and begin a long slow process of them discovering a truth about their parents that had been kept from the boys (they were 6 and 2 years old at the time) by their whole town. Grandad Taylor went to gaol in Wellington for a year, charged with having stolen money from the local council he worked at as a clerk. He had used the money to buy rare books. He had always been a bit of a fish out of water in the small country town they lived in – a bit of an intellectual in place full of God-fearing farmer folk. My Dad remembers Granny and Grandad’s relationship as being a bit prickly, and this goes a long way to explain that. During his gaol term, Granny had contracted tuberculosis and passed it onto my Uncle. It was an incredibly difficult time for all of them. The thing is, that Dad hadn’t really registered that his Father had been away. What with the upheaval of his Mother and brother’s illness, it was probably pretty strange time. Dad has a few memories that have helped him piece it all together: a new girl at his primary school once taunted him: “at least my Daddy’s not a gaol-bird” to which Dad thought “ha, what do you know?!”; and he remembers his Mum getting a shock on day at seeing his Dad having climbed in the window. He must have gotten out of gaol unexpectedly and didn’t have a key. He also recalls a definite frostiness in his Mum’s attitude to his Dad’s book collection.

In the Information Age it is pretty much impossible to imagine such a thing happening today. Over 10,000 people in their small town knew, and kept the secret. The children of the town were all sworn to secrecy, so that my Dad and my Uncle didn’t have to live with the shame as my Granny and Grandad did. Grandad never went back to his old job, but the town’s people made sure he was always employed. He was the bowling greenkeeper for a time. My Granny had half of her lung removed, but her and my Uncle recovered well.

Was it a gentler time back then? Or is it in fact harsher to make a secret out of something that had nothing to do with the boys? Would it have been better for everyone to have been honest about it? When my Uncle was a rockstar, he got busted on drug charges while they were on tour. He remembers my Grandad saying to him in hushed tones “the bastards have got you now”. My Uncle thought – ‘what would you know, Dad’. It turns out he knew a whole lot.



8 Responses to “Delicate things go in the closet by Beth”

  1. Tabitha February 14, 2012 at 6:05 am #

    Great little piece of storytelling, Beth! At first I thought Granny was unfair on her husband for bearing such a grudge, but on second thoughts, having your husband steal money for rare books, leaving you with the children and TB… that would be extremely annoying.

    I also like the image of you sitting with your family watching ER, in the grips of a pot freak-out. For some reason that image comes to me all too easily.

    • Justyna February 14, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

      And a half lung. Don’t forget she came out of it with a half lung. And a town that knew all her troubled business. The cousin at the funeral was right. O the shame!

      Awesome post.

  2. Beth February 15, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    I loved my Grandad. He was my favourite grandparent. It must have been such a gift for him to have a close member of his family who he didn’t have to feel he had let down terribly. We have photos of the day he went to gaol. Very sad expressions on his and Granny’s faces. She got the rough end of the stick, but he paid for it all the rest of his life too. Complex.

    • Tabitha February 15, 2012 at 10:46 am #

      But bearing such a grudge ruined your Granny’s life too, though. I’m not sure I would have been able to behave any differently – to forgive and move on – but it’s awful to think of something which is actually so insignificant in the greater scheme of things having such an impact on two people’s lives forever.

      Other people’s problems always seem so much easier to solve than our own, eh? There might be a lesson for me in here somewhere…

      • Beth February 15, 2012 at 10:58 am #

        True. They did have a lot of happy times I’m sure. Who knows, maybe his books got her goat long before this all happened. They were married for about 50 years before he died. My argument is that maybe the deception to the kids was toxic. More toxic than the truth would have been. But we will never know.

  3. Karen February 19, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

    I loved this story Beth!

  4. Suzysiu April 29, 2012 at 7:30 am #

    What a great story. I can see why they wanted to keep the shame from children, amazing that the whole town valued that as well. But I’m not sure about keeping the secret from adult children… Though maybe by then it was too hard to tell the truth.


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    […] in the day in small town NZ, it seems that the cleverest gift to give a young man setting off to the big city for university […]

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