Updated: July 26, 2012 6:08AM
Today, Gloria opens up the vault and lets some of her family secrets fall out.
When she was 18, her older sister Zelda married Jack. “He was a quiet, gentle Caspar Milquetoast kind of guy who loved to paint. She was abrasive, controlling, cruel, domineering and combative. She was used to getting what she wanted.”
Gloria says they were married for 10 years before Jack left her. They were separated for several months. Then one day, Jack came over to Gloria’s house and suggested they go on a picnic.
“He opened up to me for the very first time. He told me that he’d never been in love with Zelda, and she hadn’t been in love with him. She wanted to get married to escape from our dysfunctional family, and he was handy. So when he proposed while they were making love, she readily accepted.”
Jack told Gloria that they hadn’t been engaged for very long before Zelda’s “dark side” started to reveal itself, and he wanted out. He told her he’d changed his mind about the wedding. She exploded.
“She insisted that he go through with the wedding or she’d charge him with rape. It would be her word against his. He couldn’t afford a lawyer. He was frightened. He felt trapped. So he married her. But he told me he had decided that as soon as their youngest child was through with his schooling, he’d divorce her. And he did.”
There’s a family secret that Gloria didn’t find out about until she was 14. This one’s a doozy. Her father was also her uncle, and her mother was also her aunt. When her parents got married, they had to travel to Rhode Island to do it legally because that’s the only state that allows uncles to marry their nieces, if they’re both Orthodox Jews. (It’s still true.)
Gloria’s parents were born in a small town in Lithuania. Her mother’s brothers came to America and urged her mother to follow.
“She had a chance to go with her boyfriend to South Africa but declined because she’d heard that lions and tigers were roaming the streets there. So she decided on the safer destination — America.
“She arrived when she was 18, and for the next four years never met a man who was interested in her except for her uncle, a divorced father of two and 12 years her senior. He pursued her for four years because he needed a wife and she wasn’t unattractive. She had no skills except for household chores — cooking, cleaning and sewing, and she was illiterate in English.”
Gloria’s mother sewed in a men’s tailor shop, earning only enough to pay for her room, board and carfare. “It was a miserable existence. She stuck it out for four years until, when she was 22, she finally gave in and agreed to marry her uncle, even though she hated him. She was desperate, so she traveled with him to Providence, R.I., and married him.
“Why my mother waited until I was 14 to tell me about it, I don’t know. It was probably because of the stigma of illegitimate births in the 20th century. In 49 states, my late sisters and I are bastards.”
Is your family keeping secrets? Send your tale to firstname.lastname@example.org.