(A novel by Susan Overturf)
[“I thought how unfortunate that Clifford James Creighton never faced punishment for his crimes.”]
I felt sure I was almost at the end of my quest. When I awoke the next morning, I knew that Hattie would want to know my news. I dressed quickly, ate a doughnut, and headed for Hattie's apartment within an hour of rising. I had phoned her the night before, telling her about the most likely person to have the letter.
Hattie seemed to be waiting for me at the door when I arrived. I told her quickly about my conversation with Liz on thephone and then with Liz's mother-in-law, Liz, later in the day.
"So," I said, "Are you ready to go see this letter?"
"Of course I am. But are you sure Christine will have it? After all, you have already identified six other people, and every single one of them had passed the letter on. Why should Christine be any different?"
I understood Hattie's reticence, but I told her, "I can't explain it, Hattie, but I just feel sure that we're at the end of our journey."
Hattie agreed and we prepared to leave. Hattie doesn't go out often and she had some very specific tasks she had to complete before leaving. But, once she was finished, we were off.
Since I had called Christine Creighton the night before, our visit was all arranged. Christine had told me how to get to her place in Burnaby on Royal Oak Avenue. Hattie and I walked down to Granville, and then rode the Skytrain to Oakridge Mall. From there, we had only a few blocks to walk to reach Christine's house.
The house — at least a hundred years old — was small but neat and tidy. Christine was obviously looking out the window and waiting for us, for she waved to us through the window as we walked up the driveway. She opened the door before we could even ring the doorbell.
"It is so nice to see you!" Christine smiled. "Come in! Come in!"
I let Hattie go in first and she gave Christine a little hug before moving into the living room. I nodded to Christine as I passed by her and followed Hattie. Christine followed immediately behind me.
"Well, it is so great to see you, Hattie. It's been a long time. Do you recall when we saw each other last?"
"No, I don't think I do," Hattie replied.
"We had gone to the PNE with the kids, and we ran into you standing in line to buy some food, I think."
"Yes, I remember that." Hattie paused and then asked, "Do you remember what year that was?"
"No, not for sure. But it was at least 15 years ago!"
Hattie merely nodded her head.
"Thanks so much for seeing us, Christine," I said. "I've been searching for this letter for quite a while."
Christine smiled. "Yes, I am sure. I have to admit that I've felt guilty holding on to this letter, knowing that it was rightfully Hattie's. But the family rumours about this letter are almost everywhere. When Liz gave me the letter for safekeeping, she was adamant that I keep it but not give it to Hattie! That never made any sense to me."
All three of us remained quiet — perhaps it was only a fraction of a second, but it seemed appropriate. It was almost as though we were having some kind of ceremony to nod our appreciation.
"So, Hattie," Christine said to her niece, "are you ready to see this letter?"
"Yes," Hattie said emphatically. No ands, ifs, or buts.
"I'll go get it." Christine stood up and walked out of the room. She quickly returned with the letter in hand and she gave it to Hattie.
Hattie held the letter in her hands and stared at it.
"Hattie, would you like to have some privacy? Christine and I could go out into her back yard while you read it, or you could go to another room."
"Sure," Christine said. "Whatever you would like."
Hattie stared at us both and then said, "No, I think I would like to have both of you here. Christine, you have been the guardian of the letter and I think it's only fair that you are here to find out what is in it. And, Dorthea, you have worked tirelessly to help me find this. So I say we all look at it together."
Christine and I both agreed. "Fine," I said. "Open it when you're ready."
The envelope said: "To Hattie. To be opened and read after my death."
Hattie's hands seem to shake as she unsealed the envelope and pulled out the letter: a single page, written by hand, signed by Matilda, Hattie's aunt as Matilda was an older sister to her mother, Martha. But who was her real mother? Martha, the woman who raised her, or Matilda, the woman who gave her life?
Hattie slowly read the letter out loud to both Christine and me:
Whenever you read this letter, I will be gone. That is the way I want it to be. But after I am gone, it will be time to tell you the truth about your parentage.
You are my child, Hattie. I gave birth to you when I was 15 years old. My father would not let me raise you. As soon as you were born, you were given taken from me and my sister, Martha, and her husband, William, eventually took care of you. They were, for all practical purposes, your parents. They loved you and they cared for you and they were, in all ways, your mother and father.
It was always a little bit hard to visit, but I so loved seeing you, watching you grow, knowing that you were in good hands.
You are no doubt wondering who your father was. It is easy to tell you who your mother is, but not so easy to explain about your father. I was probably about 12 when my father began to come into my room at night and sleep with me. These were difficult nights; thankfully, he did not come often. But he told me that he would kill me and my mother if I ever told her about his visits.
So I didn't tell, and I hoped that perhaps because I was my father's "favorite" that hopefully he was not bothering my sister, Martha. But even though I didn't talk to Martha about it, it was no secret in that family what my father was doing. Lots of people knew, but no one stopped him.
I was afraid to tell you while he was still alive, but even after his death, I found it hard to find the words to tell you. That's why I wrote this letter. I imagine you now, reading this, and I hope with all my heart that you know that I loved you deeply — from the day you were born.
All my love,
Matilda Eliza Creighton
As Hattie's voice trailed off, we sat there in silence.
Then, Christine spoke: "I had always heard this rumour — that my father-in-law was not a nice man and that he had abused both Matilda and Martha. I know why the men in this family never wanted this known. They couldn't stand the possibility that their father wasn't perfect. Personally, I never liked him. When we visited, I found him a bit creepy. I think he flirted with every female in the family -- which is why we became the guardians of the letter. We knew who he really was."
I looked at Hattie, but she remained silent.
"Hattie" I said, "are you ok?"
Hattie looked up from the letter and responded, "Oh, sure, I'm fine, Dorthea. There's nothing in this letter that I hadn't suspected since I was very young. Now I have the proof and I am very glad for that. Aunt Matilda was always very nice to me — giving me many presents — and I knew that I had to be more to her than just a niece."
There was more silence as we all absorbed the information.
"Well," Christine said, "I think we should celebrate. Who wants to have some refreshments?"
Hattie and I agreed and Christine left the room. She had clearly prepared ahead of time because within minutes she returned with several plates with cookies and other sweets on them. She left again and returned with cups and saucers and a pot of tea. We ate and drank and talked and laughed. I felt so good that Hattie had accepted her situation — and I felt glad that I had stuck to it and finally found confirmation for Hattie.
We spent another hour together, just talking about many things. Hattie and I left, promising to return to visit when possible. We got home fairly quickly. I saw Hattie to her door and then told her that I was tired and needed to go home and lie down.
I opened the door to my apartment, tossed my keys on the counter, and sat down in my favorite chair in the living room. I leaned back, closed my eyes, and let my mind drift.
Another mystery solved. I thought how harmful family secrets were. I thought how unfortunate that Clifford James Creighton never faced punishment for his crimes. Even more disturbing: the secrecy among the males of the family, determined to not sully the Creighton name at all costs. Now Hattie knew who her real mother and father were — and that was worth finding out, secrets be damned.
- Refer to Family Tree to keep relationship of characters in mind.
- Return to Table of Contents of Chapters in Secrets.
Disclaimer: Let it be said that these characters are fictional and created from my own imagination. Similarity to persons living or dead is unintentional and coincidental.