Continued from The Secret continued:

After she finished the story and her dessert, it was my turn to talk. “But mother, why on earth didn’t you tell Joan the truth?”

“Well, I tried. God, I tried. But . . . you know . . . things were different then. Women didn’t just have babies out of wedlock. It simply wasn’t done. I had to invent a story for the three of us.”

“Ya . . . ,” I said, “but at some point, you could surely have taken her aside and explained things.”

“You’d think so . . .  but when she was small and we lived with my parents;” a heavy sigh, “things were difficult. Motheh was in such pain with her arthritis. She demanded quiet and expected Joan to behave like a ‘young lady.’ She really expected way more of such a young child than is realistic. And oh, my faatheh!” she exclaimed in her peculiar mix of accents. “Good God. He was totally smitten by Joan. She could do no wrong. If I told her ‘no,’ he’d wait till my back was turned, wink at her and say ‘yes!’ He adored her, which of course, made things difficult for me. I could not discipline my own child. And she was bright . . .  she knew how to work me against him. She and I were always at odds with each otheh. There was neveh a time when she was little that I could have broached the subject. Besides, between taking care of the house and her and nursing my poor motheh, I was ragged.”

“But later, when we were in Laramie . . . ,” I exclaimed. “Joan was so interested in the family tree. I remember that school project she worked on so hard—it traced the Dillons and the Pauls way back to the 1800s or something. Surely she asked questions about her father’s ancestry?”

“Strangely enough, she seemed mostly focused on my side of the family,” mother replied.

Perhaps she knew there was something lurking and wasn’t ready to uncover it yet. I could relate. When I was four or five years old I asked about my own father. I don’t remember mother’s words, but I remember the electric warning in her voice. I never broached the subject again.

“Yabutt, Joan is no dummy. Surely she’s worked this all out by now!”

“If she has . . . she hasn’t heard it from me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to take her aside when I visit. But . . .  the timing is just neveh right. The household is always in an uproah, she’s always juggling a million different obligations between Jim, the boys, the hoases, work, civic projects. I neveh get a quiet evening like this—with just her and me.”

“Well, I’m quite sure she must know by now. It’s not that hard to track down things like this, especially for a person with her research skills.”

Yry fixed me with a hard stare. “Whatever she knows, she’s learned on her own. She does not need to know that I told you but not her.”

Which of course, begs the question, why tell me? Things had always been difficult between my sister and me and it had been well over ten years since we’d communicated. I spent the next decade wondering why my mother armed me with such a sharp weapon and then told me to keep the sword sheathed.