Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Family Secret . . .

Doesn't every family have one?

I think they do.  After all these years I've lived on this planet observing what goes on in people's lives, I have come to the conclusion that every family has at least one deep and dark secret, lurking back a generation or two, that they would just assume keep buried.  I firmly believe there is no such thing as a family that hasn't been touched by scandal or the brush of shame over the years, or who doesn't have something in its past that its members would just as soon . . . forget.  I've heard too many tales of family scandals told by friends over the years, revealed late at night over too many drinks and packs of cigarettes, when the teller's guard was down, and their cards fluttered to the table, one by one.

My family secret is a strange and sad tale of squandered fortune, deceit, madness, frustration, shame, squalor, concealment, shocked discovery, and enraged denial.  It is a story that took place over many decades, and was for many decades more buried under a cloak of deafening silence that was only broken after the persons involved were all dead.  And the details of the secret were discovered only by sheer accident.  For it was intended that the story would never be known beyond the immediate circle who populated its sorry tale.  In the end, though, it didn't work out that way, because someone kept—and then forgot to destroy—the evidence.

I only learned of my family's secret when I was in my mid twenties.  But when I finally heard the story, and read the letters and documents that irrefutably corroborated it, all the pieces fell in place, and what had been a mystery to me for so much of my life finally made sense to me.  "Ah, so that's what happened!"  I remember saying to myself.  "Now I understand . . . "

It's really quite a story.

It begins with a piece that I wrote several years ago, titled the Old Millhillian Rugby Football Club, about my grandfather Darling.  As I wrote in that essay, my grandfather had attended Mill Hill, a (then) all-boys English public school in London, in 1903-1904, before being sent off at the age of fourteen to Massachusetts to live with relatives and attend the Mount Herman School for Boys, where his uncle was on the staff, having married the daughter of the school's founder, Dwight Moody.

The impetus for sending my grandfather to live in America was ostensibly that his father had recently been killed in a gruesome accident when riding in a hansom cab in London, when his head was supposedly knocked off by a lamppost while he was leaning out of the carriage's window.  My grandfather's mother was apparently so devastated by the loss of her husband that she became incapable of continuing to raise my grandfather and his sister, and so my grandfather was shipped off to Massachusetts and my great aunt, only a year or two older than her brother, was sent to Paris, never to return.

And that's where the story supposedly ended.

But it didn't, Dear Reader.  No, that is only the story's beginning.  There's quite a bit more to it, which I look forward to sharing with you in my next installment in this sad and shocking tale.

Do come back for it, won't you please?

Photographs by Boy Fenwick


  1. Oh my goodness Reggie, yes. You are so right though; every family has a history of something large or small that cannot be kept secret forever.

    Art by Karena

  2. Hello Reggie,

    I can't wait to now everything of your family secret.


  3. OMG! I can't wait! You write so well and it will be such fun to read along.


  4. Reggie-
    I just want more. Everyone does have a story and I have a feeling that you just may want to save yours for a book. I love the way you write and I could illustrate every scene. You have a way of making me see it marvelously come to life.

  5. What an interesting story. We all all on tenterhooks waiting for future installments.

    I wonder if Dwight Moody will make a reappearance. He is quite an interesting character. In addition to Mt. Hermon, he also founded Northfield girl's school (now merged with Mt. Hermon), the Moody Institute in Chicago, and he teamed up on religious revivals with Ira Sankey. I am planning a post on him one of these days.
    --Road to Parnassus

  6. MD always said that Great-grandfather Darling had his head knocked off leaning out that hansom cab window to look at a pretty girl.

    1. Immoral old, married goat that he was...I suspect that was a bit of sugar frosting on MD's part to distract us from the gruesomeness of the accident. I'm not convinced his head was really knocked off, I suspect--more likely--his neck was badly broken, but not enoug to actually sever his head from it!

  7. Of course we'll be back! "Ostensibly" eh? can't wait to hear more

  8. By the way have finally looked up Saint Gottlesex ! love to know its derivation

  9. we are waiting with baited breath for the next exciting instalment - as you know, THEY do not understand delayed gratification !



  10. Okay, I'm hooked, you tease! I'll be back for the next installment!

  11. Looking forward to your next installment!! As a Southerner, I was raised on secrets, lies and full blown denial!! Shortly before my mother died three years ago, she shook her head, rolled her eyes and said, "Please, just wait until I'm gone before you write a book!"

  12. What?! You're going to leave us there?
    Can't wait for the next installment. Better than fiction any day.

  13. Hello Reggie:
    You really are a tease! Of course we shall return. Neither wild horses nor hansom cabs could keep us away from the next thrilling instalment.

    We are sure that you are right about family secrets. We wonder whether your post will inspire other 'show and tell' confessions from your readers? How exciting that would be....

  14. Wow. I'm hooked. I'm sure you're right about family secrets, here in the South it's pretty much required. You're amazing, can't wait for the next installation. N.G.

  15. Reggie, I'll definitely be back for the next installment.

  16. Reggie, this is a real cliff-hanger! Hope you don't keep us waiting too long for the rest of the story.

    Very well told too. You have a talent for building suspense.

  17. Am loving this post...waiting patiently for part two.

  18. I'm on tenter hooks- There were stories of which I was only vaguely aware-Some such as a messy divorce in 1918, My Great-great grandmother drowning like Ophelia when she slipped near a canal and her skirts dragged her to a watery grave-and several others-Can't wait to hear more of your "serial" - Rather like "the Perils of Pauline"

  19. Fantastic! Can't wait for Part Two.

  20. Oh my. I stumbled onto your blog this evening while Googling photos of Slim Keith (as is my habit after a long day at the office), and I was instantly engaged by your charming writing. And now this: a genuine cliffhanger!

    I suppose I have no choice but to visit again and often, despite my daily vows to spend less time on the Internet. You, Reggie, are an enabler.

  21. Your visuals are perfect, and you know how to tease us all. Can't wait for the next installment ...

  22. I am on the edge of my seat. The story is gripping. The writing
    divine. And who knew you could make a key hole so exciting.

  23. GAH! A cliff-hanger of a post. Can't wait. Is it up now. Checking...

  24. I shall lurch from each cliff-hanging installment to the next...

  25. Reggie, it's been 4 days. Don't leave us hanging. :::::gasping for the rest::::::

  26. Reggie!
    How much longer do we have to wait?!??!?!?! We are DYING out here!
    Amy Beth in Baton Rouge

  27. It's time for the next installment Reggie, darling!

  28. The Darlington House Mysteries, Chapter I.

  29. We are all on tenterhooks Reggie.Please, please next installment. Also miss your responses to our comments

  30. Jeepers, what a crowd! The natives are restless....tick, tock, tick, tock.....

    If that post doesn't appear by tomorrow I see mutiny on the bounty!!!

  31. Sounds like a awful accident.

  32. Argh! Where is more!!!!???? Want. Is it on your site already? Enquiring minds want to know.

    Btw my British husband's family has an Earl, a descendent drummed out of the "Guards" likely because someone married down. But that story is buried along with those who knew.

  33. I found the rest or up to part 3. Thanks for sharing your life and photographs. My folks had a circa 1750/1790/1848/1946 farmhouse near Philadelphia with many additions. We used sticks to prop windows up and I believe the ceramic window stops you posted elsewhere are just that. Many a time winds blew out the sticks in summer thunderstorms, having the lower sash fall with an alarming crash. A single writer lives there now and kindly permits me to wander.


Please do comment! I welcome and encourage them, and enjoy the dialogue.

Related Posts with Thumbnails