They say everyone who looks into their family history will find a secret sooner or later. My sister sat down with my grandfather shortly before he died and asked him about his life and relatives and anything he might be able to share about our family history. She had one of those old-fashioned click on click off tape recorders, so when you listen to the tape you can hear all the times she turned it on and off. She says she turned it off a few times when he started rambling too much or when she wanted to give him a break because he was getting tired. She also kept turning it off when he would start talking about Lucinda. His sister Lucinda. She knew he didn’t have a sister Lucinda. He had an older brother Bart but no sisters.
He grew up on a farm in Nebraska and went into the military at age 18. He never went back to Nebraska to live. After his service he settled down in Iowa and opened up a feed store in a little town and married the daughter of the town doctor. By all accounts, he’d had a remarkably easy going life, raising three boys and a daughter with his loving wife. He told stories about his brother being kicked by a horse and his crazy uncles who were the town hooligans when they were teenagers back in the 1920s.
I kept hearing more and more clicks as the tape progressed. I asked my sister what had happened. He kept talking more and more about Lucinda, she said. Aren’t you curious? I asked. There’s no Lucinda, she replied. How do you know for sure? I asked. Our parents would have told us, she said, getting irritated. Somebody would have told us about Lucinda. You don’t know that for sure, I said. You are SO ANNOYING, she said. Stop listening to the tape if it bothers you so much. Why can’t I be curious? I asked. Go ask him yourself! she said. Fine, I said, I will.
The next day I went to the nursing home where he was living and after kissing him hello, sat down next to his hospital bed, holding onto his nearest hand.
Poppa, tell me about Lucinda, I said.
His eyes filled with tears and one ran down his cheek. He brushed it away with his free hand. Oh Lucinda, he said. She had the most beautiful brown hair. She was a year and a half younger than me and just the light of our eyes. She was so sweet and simple.
His voice shook as he talked. She was just so innocent, he said. Even though she saw animals together she was innocent and pure. We didn’t expect what happened. We didn’t think that….
What, Poppa, I said.
A boy from church was starting to court her, even though she was but 15. He’d come over and they’d sit on the front porch together. We never saw them anywhere else. We didn’t.
He stopped again.
The boy stopped coming over. She grew sickly. She kept mostly to her room up under the eaves. Until one day I heard crying coming from the barn. I went in and…
It’s okay Poppa, I said.
He was crying in full earnest then.
I went in and there she was, lying in one corner, bloody with something wrapped in some rags next to her.
It was a baby. And it had died during the birth. She was lying there and I didn’t know what to do so I got my parents. They buried the baby behind the barn and brought Lucinda into the house. There were some harsh words spoken. Then the next day Lucinda was gone. My brother and I were told that we weren’t to ever speak of her. It’s like she never existed. I never felt the same way about the farm after that. I left as soon as I could.
I am so sorry Poppa, I said.
He looked at the empty doorway. He smiled.
Lucinda, he said.