That moment when--after thinking for all 37 years of your life that you'll never know who your biological grandfathers were--you realize: "Holy fuck, I just did a DNA test and found out the identities of both of my biological grandfathers."
Yep. That's me this week.
Let me back up a little and explain how both of my grandmothers were promiscuous young women. Or at least one of them wanted us to think she was and the other one was but didn't want us to know.
It's difficult, I know, to think of a grandmother as a sexual person, with desires and needs. And a vagina.
For many years I've trained myself to divorce the chain-smoking, man-hating woman who was my maternal grandmother, from the young woman in high-heeled Mary Janes and a red feather in her hair who worked on a Louisiana riverboat casino and played blackjack until the wee hours of the morning. I've trained myself to separate the white-haired, plump woman who fried bacon every morning for my father, from the laughing-too-loud, flirty twenty-something that Granny had been when she was a waitress in Kansas City, Missouri.
First, the liar. Yep, my maternal grandma wanted us all thinking she was a big-time hoe-bag. So much so that when both of my sisters got pregnant out of wedlock, and in their teens, she lit up a Pall Mall and was like, "Oh that happens all the time."
When my youngest sister got divorced last year, after thirteen years of marriage, I told her, "Dude, go sleep around. Just blame it on our whore gene." There's a mixed bag of theories in genetic research whether or not it's in an individual's DNA to be promiscuous. Still, in a March article of Daily Mail, it was reported that 8% of woman aged 65-74 have had ten or more sexual partners. My grandmothers fit into that category, or were slightly ahead of the curve, so that gives my sister a free pass. Just catch up with Grandma.
This week I confirmed with a DNA analysis of my spit that I hail from a group of people with the surname Tippen. My fourth great-grandparents were named John Wesley Tippen and Elizabeth Castleberry Tippen. I share genes with another living person who also had their DNA tested. This person is the third great-grandchild of the Tippens. The Tippen line carried down to me through my mother, and to her from a man Grandma married because, as she told my mother years later, she was preggo and needed a hubby, STAT. My mother's real father, Grandma said, was already married, was a traveling salesman from Michigan or Minnesota, or one of those "M" states no one ever admits to being from. She never told my mother a name or anything about this guy. Just that the Tippens were not blood relatives.
Grandma was lying. But why the hell would you make up some shit about another man when there was no other man? The only thing I can think of--and this totally fits Grandma's possessive compulsions--is that at some point after Grandma had moved to California and remarried, my mother asked her about her biological father's identity. And Grandma, who couldn't handle any sort of rejection, told my mother a lie so she'd never want to go back to Texas and live with her father. So my mother has lived most of her life thinking there's a mythical father somewhere who may or may not know anything about her. When, really, her biological father died in 1971 and she never got to mourn him properly because she didn't think he was really her dad.
Yep. I know. That is fucked up.
It's the total opposite of what I'd do. If I got divorced and my kids wanted to live with their dad, I'd be all, "Sure. Here's a suitcase. Don't let the door hit you on your way out."
Then I'd bust out my slut gene.
Now let's address Granny. A born-again Christian, she's has never been forthcoming about the details of her sordid past. Instead, she's stuck a short story titled "I-Don't-Remember-Who-Your-Grandfather-Was," which reads, "Your father was adopted by Don when he was seven, so Don's his father." And that's it.
But she can't deny the DNA that has linked me with a living second cousin, a huge branch of people still living in Missouri that have pictures of my father's biological father, who died in 1961, and lament that they never knew my father ever existed. They seem like a happy enough bunch and are curious about me and my sisters and our father. So I didn't really know what tone to take when I called Granny to give her the news. I finally decided on the casual route, saying, "Hey, I think I found a link to my biological grandfather," and gave her the name of the dude.
And without missing a beat she said, "Yeah, that's him. He had red hair so I just called him 'Red.'"
What the fuck?
She's not senile. She hasn't been hit over the head with a blunt object. How the hell do you forget the name of the man who got you preggo and then, poof, remember?
Though, I could completely understand a drunken one-night-stand, which is what I was thinking when Granny suddenly got even more of her memory back and elaborated: "He was an iron worker, much older than me. He worked on a crew building bridges. I didn't know he was married until one of the guys on his crew told his wife we were running around. By then I was pregnant with your father."
This is the big family mystery she's kept for over sixty years? She's never told my father the identity of his father because she fell for a married man? Sure it was 1953. Sure she was young and looking for a good time. But really? Never telling anyone? Or at least, never telling anyone who might need to know family medical history information? Apparently, having her son and three granddaughters write "unknown" on doctor's office information forms, then having the doctor say things like, "This cancer could be hereditary, if only we knew..." was a lot less humiliating than telling her son the name of his father.
What is with that generation and lying? Is this what sex-shaming has done? Created an entire female generation, or two, or three, or thousand, who are so completely terrified of living the truth that they deny it even happened? And we wonder why we have a mental health epidemic in this country; we're afraid to live our own truths because of what our neighbors will say about our bedroom behavior. When will we, as a culture, embrace women's sexuality and promiscuity without labeling them "sluts"? Without running them out of town, pushing them to the fringes because they remind us of our own unfulfilled sexual desires? Instead, let's practice birth control--educating young women about how to effectively use condoms and hormonal injections and little pills that can keep away unplanned pregnancy, and allow them the sexual freedom they deserve.
Let's not be afraid to talk about Grandma's vagina.