What would make someone keep a secret from their closest loved ones for as many decades as possible? Turns out some insanely unusual events in a person's past had major consequences for the rest of the family in the present day. Content has been edited for clarity.
"My grandma didn't drive. I thought she couldn't, but it was just never discussed. One day, when I was maybe seven or eight, I had been trying to get someone, anyone to drive me to the store for candy. We were visiting my aunt and uncle, and my grandma lived with them. They had Bit-O-Honey at the local store, which I could no longer get at home. But no one would take me to the store. Finally I said I'd just ask grandma, and my cousin chimes in with, 'Grandma can't drive.'
'Oh you bet your sweet patootie I can drive. They just don't let me!' Grandma had overheard and she was high-key upset over this. But that's all that was said about it, and my aunt finally took me to the store, so I forgot about it. Years later, when I had just gotten my license, I asked my mom what was up with Grandma not driving. She explained that during prohibition, grandma boot-legged drinks for moonshiners. She was very successful at it. She was so successful at it that when the moonshiners were finally busted, even though the revenuers never caught my grandma, her license was suspended by the state 'to never be reissued.' Later in life, she was told she could petition for it back, but it came with an admission of guilt or some such. She told them to go get lost. She had a way about her. That's for darn sure.
My grandma had some truly bizarre methods for taking care of various issues. Can't get rid of cats around your house? Rub their butts raw with a piece of corncob and then splash turpentine on it! Please don't actually do this, animal cruelty laws have come a very long way since my grandma would regularly practice this. Can't get rid of ducks who are eating in your garden? You get a piece of salt pork a few inches long, and you tie some fishing line to it. Dangle it out there to the ducks, but give yourself five feet of line per duck. That first one will eat it, and it'll go through their system in minutes. By the time the hour is up, you'll have six ducks on a string, and you can lead those creatures to someone else's garden. But my favorite memory was her sitting on a rocker on the front porch, wrapped in a shawl, chewing snuff and spitting off the edge to the flower bed. She wrapped paper plates in saran wrap to reuse them. I'm not sure of the tradeoff there. She could peel an apple with a paring knife in under ten seconds, with the peel in one long piece. She wouldn't go to the storm cellar until it was an honest to goodness Tornado Warning, and if it was reported as anything under an F3, she wouldn't even do that. She was fearless, and she expected the same from every adult, but she was usually disappointed. She swatted wasps with her open palm, and for anyone who had been afraid of the wasp, she would pick it up and flick it at them. She really was one of a kind.
She didn't have a lot of rules, but she enforced them with vigor. No singing at the dinner table. For the first warning, she would pop her teeth out and sit them on her napkin. The threat was that if you kept singing, you could get your own pair of these. Shirts must be worn at the dinner table. This gravy is hot, and it would be a darn shame if you suffered terrible burns when she dumped it on your idiot self. And whatever you do, never pick your nose. She would roll up a newspaper and thwack you with it the fist time, but the second time she would just backhand you. I never had that happen to me, but I didn't think my cousin would ever stop bleeding. All of her most violent punishments were reserved for 'adults'. She figured that adulthood started at around age fifteen. Kids would get spankings. She would have you go pick your own switch, and then she would beat you with it. But whatever you did, you didn't want to refuse. She would skip the switch and haul out the razor strop. This was a long, thick piece of leather used to sharpen straight razors. Trust me, you wanted the switch. The strop was brutal."
"Okay everyone, buckle up. My wife's great aunt was one of her family's only survivors of the Holocaust back in World War 2. It was only this great aunt, her brother, and her sister, one of which grew up to be my wife's grandparent. Those siblings were pretty young at that time, so they didn't really remember much of these experiences. Well, the great aunt ended up writing a book about her experience fleeing the country to escape the Nazis. In it, she detailed the death of several family members during a march through a blizzard. It was some real dramatic stuff. In reality, it turned out many years after her death later on, my wife's dad got a letter from one of the dead relatives. It turned out the great aunt didn't like the two family members who had 'died' in her book. They had just parted ways at some point during the actual escape. She wrote them out of the family in her book and took that secret to her grave. Fortunately, their last name is very unique in the world, because of how many of them didn't survive the Holocaust. So, once the 'dead' relatives started searching the U.S., their name popped up right away. This happened about three years ago, I think. Seriously, Hungarian grudges are absolutely legendary."
"Unfortunately my grandma recently passed away, even though she had lived to a very old age. She was famous throughout our small town for her amazing cooking and catering abilities. Specifically, her turkey dinners were revered. Her gravy in particular was beloved by so many townsfolk. Several years ago, she had a near-death heart attack, and this traumatic experience convinced her to share some of her secret recipes with me, all except for her special gravy recipe. When she finally died this past Spring, I was going through her pantry. Guess what I found? This massive bucket of KFC gravy mixture. My grandma had been using literal KFC gravy mixture as a base for her beloved gravy. It was a huge personal scandal for me. I really miss my grandma, but she left behind a lot of items for me and the rest of the family to enjoy. I still have all of her houseplants, and I use a lot of her recipes for baking still. She also gave me her extensive collection of wool for knitting. I have no idea how old that gravy base bucket was, but it was like five massive gallons. My grandma's best friend used to work at KFC, so I think there had to have been some sort of under the counter deals going on behind all of our backs!"
"My mom was cheating on my dad with my now stepfather. My parents divorced when I was really young, about one year old, so I don't remember anything about that. When I would ask as a curious kid why they split up, both of them said that they just fell out of love. I already had a feeling that this was not true, because through my grandma I knew the divorce was in 1996, but my mom and stepfather started dating in 1995. On my eighteenth birthday, my stepfather confessed to me in private that they had an affair all that time ago, and he still feels awful, because he feels like he broke up that family. I told him that all is fine, because everyone is happy now, and I already kind of figured it out. Some years later, my stepmother told me that my mom actually kicked out my dad without telling him why. She just 'needed a break' after having me. My dad later found out through the landlord that my stepfather had moved into the house my dad rented with his wife, where his newborn daughter was living with a stranger. To this day, I don't know how my dad managed to overcome his feelings without starting a huge fight. I never talked with my parents about it. But I have always been so curious about what all of the real feelings beneath the surface actually were."
"My mother had a child when she was a teenager, and she had given him up for adoption to a family. After this, she went to college, got her degree, married my father, and gave birth to my four siblings and myself. Around thirty years after giving her child up for adoption, I remember her getting a phone call and immediately locking herself in her room. I was about twelve at the time. I remember feeling scared because I could hear my mom crying, but she didn’t want to see anybody or talk about why she was crying. On an evening later that week, my parents sat each of us down and told us about my mom’s past. They explained that my half-brother had reached out to my mom, wanting to meet her and get to know her. My dad had known ever since he and mom were dating in college, and I believe my oldest sister had been told previously. But the rest of my siblings and myself and all of the in-laws on my dad's side didn’t know about this part of her past. We were fairly religious and conservative as far as families go, so it was really shocking at first.
My mom then flew out to the state where my half brother lived with her sisters and met him. Both my mom and my half brother were both very nervous about the whole thing, but by the end of their trip and meeting each other, they actually got to rebuild a relationship. After a bit of time, we (my siblings and I) got to meet him too. Fast forward to now. He has since moved to our same state and we see him much more frequently. He’s in all of our family pictures, we see him occasionally for holidays and birthdays, and we all see him as part of our family. We’re a very close-knit and extroverted family, while he is much more shy. So at times he can be a bit more distant than we would like, but we give him his space. I know my mom stays in close touch with him, and we love it when he’s able to make it for family dinners and whatnot. Back then, I was the youngest and (up until then) the only boy in my family, so I loved learning that I had an older brother. Now that I’m an adult, I sometimes get his old clothes because were roughly the same size. He’s got good taste too, so I really lucked out! I love that this family secret was spilled and that we were able to welcome my brother into our family and have him in our lives."
"My uncle served in Vietnam. While over there, his troop found a baby that had been orphaned or abandoned, but they weren't sure. My uncle was shipping back to Australia soon and wanted to adopt him, but my aunt said no. They had only been married about four months when he was drafted, so while I don't agree with my aunt's actions and generally don't like her as a person, I can understand why she said no. My uncle's troop found a family to raise the baby, and that's the story the whole family knows. The secret is that my uncle and some other guys from his troop stayed in contact with the family and the kid, sending them money every month to help raise him and then to help him go to university. They eventually helped him and his adoptive family move to Australia in the last nineties. My aunt and the rest of my family had no idea all this time. It only came out when my aunt and uncle divorced in 2017, and she had a forensic accountant go through their bank records. She worked at a bank for like forty years and always noticed the money missing, but his reasons were always somehow justified with another excuse. Since we all know now, my uncle has introduced some of us to the guy and his family. They're all really lovely people.
To be clear, my aunt is a bad person, so let me explain why I think so. It isn't the fact that she said no to adopting this kid that made me dislike her. My aunt has a serious prejudice against all sorts of people. She is the kind of person who will tell a random stranger to, 'go hack to your own country,' much to the rest of the family's horror. She told the rest of my family that if this baby had been white, she would have said yes to adopting him. Needless to say, I have tried to cut my problematic aunt out of my life as best I can. There's no need to spend any more time around this awful woman than I already have!"
"My dad fathered a child in high school. His side of the family knew, and so did my mom. We found out years after he died that we have a half-sister. Here is how we found out. After my dad first got into this mess, the girl decided to cut him out entirely. She moved across the state and gave birth to my half-sister. She met a guy, got married, and he raised her kid like she was his own. They had no other children. She didn't reveal my dad's identity until after he died. Apparently, she contacted my grandma and mom, but they kept it from the rest of us. Years later, my half-sister had a kid with medical issues and needed to know her family medical history. She contacted mom and grandma, who again don't tell us. Meanwhile, after Dad died, my uncle had prints made of his favorite picture of dad. He gets them framed and gives them to all us kids, as well as my grandma, aunts, and uncles. Mom gave a picture to our half-sister after their secret meeting. Fast forward another few years. My brother and his roommate live in a nearby large city and hit up a bar one night. They picked up some ladies, one of which was my half-sister. Don't worry, she was into the roommate, not my brother. At their house, my half-sister saw that photo of my dad on the mantle. She turned white and asked who's picture that was. The roommate mentioned my brother, and my half-sister requested to talk to him immediately.
My half-sister had lived her entire life across the state, only a few hundred miles away. Her friend was going to school in a large city near our hometown. She was visiting, and they decided to go to bar. They get picked up by my brother and his roommate. That's how the rest of us found out. My brother went to my grandma and asked about her, and Grandma first denied it, then gave in and spilled the beans. What a small world!"
"When my paternal grandfather passed away, the federal government reached out to conduct a state funeral. He had been career soldier and a colonel, so we didn't question it. Then the funeral came, and they went ALL OUT! There was a huge procession, with people showing up who are really big names, like heads of departments, senators, retired senators, and even people from the CIA. It was so nuts, and we were all super confused. It turns out he was a key dude in the OSI during World War 2, and when the OSI splintered into the CIA and Secret Service, he went for the Secret Service route. He wasn't on White House detail, but he instead worked in a covert office that dealt with counterfeit efforts and currency. He went blind when I was a toddler and retired from 'the Army.' For whatever reason, he told no one about all his covert work with the OSI and Secret Service, and the only person who knew (my grandmother) was sworn to secrecy and never actually told anyone. My father grew up thinking his father was just a colonel working on base. Only after his death were we given all sorts of cool stuff like classified publications by him, lectures given by him, and all kinds of things from various things he did and was known for. All I knew him as was a blind old man who was perpetually smoked and drank. He was a crotchety old grump. It turns out that he was basically a secret agent and almost nobody else in the family knew! That doesn't necessarily change my experience with him, just my perspective on this guy."
"After my mom died I found out the real story behind my parent's marriage. She came to my father's country to visit some of her relatives. She met my father, and after just one week, she asked him to marry her so she could stay in the country. My father accepted, because he had no one else, and his parents were pressuring him to get married already. But the highlight of the story is that over some time, the two of them fell in love with each other. Their love only grew over the time, and they were really happy together. My mother spent her last days very ill, and she would accept only my father by her bedside. He swears to this day that she was an angel sent from above to take care of him. I am shocked that they got married just like that, out of the blue, and they actually ended up loving each other so deeply. I can only hope to have as good and loving marriage as they had. Their marriage wasn't officially an arranged marriage, it was more of an agreement. But it still baffles me that two people thought this was a totally sane thing to do together."
"When I was 28, I found out that my dad was not actually my biological father. The news came out via the following: my dad was battling depression and was wasn't doing very well, so I had just flown home to try to take care of him and rescue him from my mom's wrath. My mom had verbally and emotionally abused him during their entire relationship. He loved her so much, and he simply tolerated it.
Well, during a solemn walk with my dad while I tried to help him out, he confided that he's not my biological dad. He then went on to tell me he knew this all along, but my mom lied to him and tried to convince him that he was my biological father. He knew he wasn't, but he wanted to play the role. When I was ten years old, my mom finally confessed this to him, and he was worried that upon hearing the news officially, he would somehow let this affect his relationship with me. So when I was twenty-right years old, during this walk with my dad, while he is pouring out this story to me, he frames it by telling me that his proudest accomplishment in life was raising me and how I turned out.
He also confided that my mom did some very hard substances while pregnant with me, and this broke his heart to witness firsthand. They were both very poor. My dad grew up in a foster home without parents. My mom grew up with six siblings and ill-equipped parents. She dropped out of the ninth grade, whereas all of her other siblings dropped out earlier. Many of them are barely literate. I am now in my mid thirties, and tragically my dad passed away mid-March 2020, right as quarantine was hitting. I was out of the country at the time, but I immediately flew thirty hours back home and made it in time for his funeral. I do everything in his honor going forward now.
I could go on and on with countless examples about how amazing he was. After graduating from the orphanage at age 18, he moved up to Atlanta by himself and taught himself woodworking. He was incredible and would build fine-furniture pieces for renowned interior decorators, and his items would be in magazines all the time. He was a starving artist, since we always struggled to get by. Yet I felt like a spoiled kid on my street, as I had life easier than everyone else. The other kids on my street lived in trailer homes and had very chaotic households. It was also very clear that both of my parents loved me immensely, and I felt very well-provided for and supported. I was very lucky to have him in my life. I still think about him daily, and I'm trying to improve emotionally.
For my entire upbringing, he worked every single day in his shop, for long hours – didn’t even take a day off for Christmas or his birthday. As a kid, I witnessed his work ethic and it forever left an impression on me. Importantly, he didn’t appear as if he was working for someone else. He was working for himself. He found what he loved – woodworking – and he completely immersed himself into and dedicated his life to making perfectly crafted items because he wanted to. He had passion, a pursuit of perfection, and an unlimited tank of dedication to fuel it. He didn’t just make items. He didn’t just work. He made masterpieces. When I was eighteen and left home to go to college, I aspired to be like my dad. He set the example. I was trying to make something of myself, and to really give it my all just like he did. His work ethic was ingrained in me. I would get four or five hours of sleep many nights every week. For years. It was hard, but I always thought about how much harder my dad worked. I would recall memories of him working in his shop late at night: I’d hear the saws spinning; The compressor running; memories of huge sawdust piles under his table-saw. He did so much to provide for our family. He always provided. I remember being a kid, hanging out with him in his shop, admiring his dedication to the craft and strive for perfection. So, when I was eighteen and starting college, I was trying to make him proud, and I was also trying to do everything I could so that I’d have the opportunity to do anything I want in this world. Not just for myself, but on behalf of my dad. A part of me felt that whatever opportunity I gained, whatever success I had, it was in hopes that he too would somehow benefit. That he could vicariously get what he deserved. He deserved the world, and I’ve just been trying to channel his hard work and do my part. Anything I’ve accomplished, it’s because of my dad.
Not only did my dad work relentlessly hard, but he masterfully found creative solutions to everything. He truly dedicated his life to solving problems and designing furniture for others. There is no physical item he could not figure out. His ability to do so was way beyond anything I’ve ever witnessed. None of my colleagues at MIT, Harvard, Brown, or whatever fancy place I've worked at could remotely come close to having my dad’s unique ability to creatively make things work. Whatever the problem, my dad could find a solution. His perseverance was unmatched. He handled so much adversity over the years, especially the past ten years when he was in so much pain. He was the strongest person I’ve ever met. Hands down. In recent years, he experienced and recovered from Stevens-Johnsons syndrome, a rare, horrific, and deadly skin disorder that covers the entire body. He was resilient beyond belief, and he endured so many personal obstacles that were thrown his way. His strength wasn’t just in his ability to endure, but in his bravery. I have many stories from my childhood where he stepped us to save the day in crises. He was fearless. Not only was he courageous in his character, but he was also physically strong as an ox. It was uncanny. In his 60s, he could often lift more than I could in my 30s, despite my being really into weightlifting, but I’ll spare you the fun, humbling details. Once I became an adult, he was strong enough to admit to me tough moments in his life. He was willing to confide in me painful times that he endured. He was willing to call on me for help, and to tell me when he felt he wasn’t strong enough. We all feel this way at times. He was vulnerable to cry. He showed me that one’s willingness to show vulnerability is in fact a product of strength and bravery."