The word secret has definitions that are a variation on a theme. There are secret paths, secret societies, secret recipes, and in one movie, there was even the secret that was in the sauce. Essentially, though, a secret is something that is kept from knowledge or view.
In the early 1900s, a little girl is left alone and abandoned on an Australian dock, her small suitcase her only companion. That she came in on the ship from England is known but everything else about her is a mystery; one which we uncover in the book The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. The author takes us through three separate time periods simultaneously, each revealing a little more of the story. While there are gardens and fairy tales, there are also some dark secrets.
Kate Morton does family secrets well.
Secrets, we all have them. Some are pretty minor, like who ate the pasta out of the fridge (who me?); others are a little more daunting and life changing. Most people are fascinated by what someone is holding back and the reasons why they do so. Why else would the tabloids be so popular?
Inside our families and groups of friends, there are always secrets and aspects of life that are not shared outside the circle. Even within ourselves, we too each have secrets we keep close. Some call it our shadow side; Billy Joel called it "The Stranger" in his song. It is a part of us we rarely share with others, or if we do, very few, and certainly not all of what’s there.
Sometimes, we’re the keeper of secrets that are not our own.
In the book, The Secret Keeper, also by Kate Morton, another family is revealed as we uncover layers of surreptitious lies over various time periods.
Dorothy, aka Dolly, is a happy go lucky loving mother and wife who never talks about her earlier life or family before marriage, other than to say her family was killed during the war. One day, someone from that unknown past shows up. Her eldest child, Laurel, then 16, sees her mother kill the man. To the police, Laurel has backed up her mother’s version that the man had attacked her, but she knows it wasn’t what she saw. What led to that encounter, or frankly anything about her mother’s life in London, has never been discussed. It is not until 50 years later, when a war time photograph of her mother and a friend elicits a queer reaction from the now frail Dorothy, does Laurel’s curiosity set her off on the journey of discovering answers to her many life-long questions. Who was the man who showed up at the farm and why did her mother stab him? How does this relate to her mother’s life during the war? And just who is this other women, Vivien, and how does she fit into her mother’s story?
How much do we ever really know about our parents before we existed? What secrets have they potentially held back? Could they possibly have had a life before us?
Then I wonder, just what will I say when my friends’ children begin to ask me about their parents?
As my father would say, I think I’ll just make that chapter a mystery…