The young women read and re-read the piece of paper. She hoped she would find more information on the Birth Certificate but what she found had her feel sick to her stomach.
She thought about who she could ask for confirmation as she scrolled down her cellphone phone book. Her brain was physically beating from overthinking. She thought that she knew everything about her mother and her family. This piece of paper showed her otherwise.
Her whole life, Gail Lukasik worshipped her mother with every fiber of her being. Alvera Frederic was a pretty, sweet woman who was well-known in the community and everybody knew that her daughter was the apple of her eye.
Gail had the best of memories with her mother. They shared everything together. Her mother supported her throughout her life and always stood by her side no matter what she decided. Even though, something made Gail suddenly question their real relationship.
Alvera was an optimist. She had had a rough life and swore that she would never allow her daughter to go through the same. She was always in a good mood no matter how difficult the situation was.
Things were always happy in their household. As Gail grew into a beautiful young woman, he started noticing some changes in her dear mother.
When Gail became a teenager, she started seeing some strange behavior coming from her mother. She didn't want to assume anything, so she let it be. But it was always at the back of her mind.
Every time she would think about her mom, she would remember how much she did for her, and would just leave the suspicion alone. Alvera was known to be a character of sorts and this is perhaps what made her so special. Gail had no idea what she would soon find out about her family history.
Alvera was born in the South of New Orleans, she grew up there as a child and then moved to Ohio as a young woman where she met Harold, Gail's father.
It was love at first sight. The young couple got married and started their lives in wedded bliss. Harold worshipped the ground Alvera walked on. To him, she could never do anything wrong. Perhaps this is why he never noticed her shady behavior.
A Very Different Childhood
Gail was an only child. Although she had a few good friends in school, she wanted to learn about her blood family. Every time she asked her mother, she would evade the question or say that they lived too far away to visit.
When Gail would ask her mother why her grandparents never visited her, her mother would say that they were old and couldn't travel. She would lie to Gail and say that they called for her or sent their love. But this was all a lie, as Gail would soon find out.
Alvera was as honest as she could be with Gail, without giving away too many details. She decided to tell the young girl about her problems growing up. The truth was that her grandparents had given up her mom for foster care. This hurt Alvera so much that she couldn't even reconnect with her true parents as an adult.
This story always made Alvera sad. She knew that she was fortunate that she had a better life growing up than her mom. It still made her depressed to know what her mother had been through.
I Can't Believe It
Gail trusted her mother so she believed her. She gave her the benefit of the doubt. Gaily thought maybe she should just leave the past behind and focus on a better future.
This feeling didn't last long though. As the days went on, Alvera's behavior was more suspicious. This sparked intrigue again in Gail's mind. She had too many unanswered questions. She had to know her truth.
Cake Faced In Bed
“You never know what emergency could happen in the middle of the night, that's why you should always look your best” Gail remembered the famous words of her mother. Alvera was a naturally beautiful woman but she still put on an extra layer of makeup every night before bed.
Alvera had drawn her own conclusions, just like her mother's eyebrows. Maybe she really is that vain, she thought. It actually wasn't bad advice either, she laughed to herself about her mother's quirkiness.
Gail asked her mom to try sleeping with a clean face just once. Her mother was surprised at the suggestion and told her daughter that it was just the way she was. As she was getting older, she was more worried bout her appearance and didn't want to rush her makeup routine if there was a sudden emergency.
Gail still wasn't convinced. Perhaps in time, her mother would divulge the truth. But that didn't stop Gail from doing some investigating of her own.
Her mother also always wore gloves and hats to avoid the sun when she went outside. But why the makeup to bed? Things were strange once she thought about it.
Gail soon pieced together that it was something to do with her skin. But she couldn’t put her finger on what; Alvera never talked to her about it. She would soon find out.
Was it a skin condition that made her like this? Was it genetic and did she have it too? And why were there no photos of her old life in New Orleans?
Gail’s curiosity would soon take her over. She soon started exploring the house and in her mother’s cabinets every time she was home alone, looking around for clues.
Gail’s investigations took her to her mother’s changing room. Her heart skipped a beat when, hiding in one of the boxes, amongst old clothes her mother hadn’t used in years, she found a safe box.
There could be anything in there. Maybe jewels, maybe money… and maybe something that would finally reveal her mother’s secrets. But how would she open it?
Gail needed to find the keys to the safe. However, she didn’t have a clue about where they could be. Suddenly, she heard the house’s door creaking; her parents were back home.
She left the safe back in the box and reminded herself to keep looking for the key the next chance she had. However, she would find out about something else before that happened.
In the meantime, until she had the chance to explore the house again at her will, she also looked up more about her mother online. She just used her mother’s father’s name as a clue – Azemar Frederic.
Gail was close to finding the secret that had been hidden for so many years. Would it be worth revealing to satisfy her own curiosity?
A Birth Certificate
When Gail distilled all the information online, she eventually found something; his birth certificate. Her eyes scoured over the screen reading the information on the document.
She wanted to find more names of people she could search for to get an idea of who to call family and how to contact them. But as she read the birth certificate, she found something that made her jaw drop.
There, beside her grandfather’s name, was the letter “B”. She opened another tab on her browser to clarify what that meant. Her mind raced with questions.
Immediately, she called the birth certificate’s help center to confirm what she had just discovered. The nature of her mom’s secrets was taking an unimaginable turn. Gail had to open that safe.
Moment Of Truth
A few weeks passed before Gail finally found her mom’s key. It was in her purse in her handbag. It made complete sense to keep it there and the guilt Gail felt taking it from her was heavy, but this was no longer just about her mom. This was about Gail too.
It felt like her mom was keeping her from understanding her own identity. After all, knowing where you come from is at the core of knowing who you are.
Inside The Safe
Without hesitation, Gail opened her mom’s safe and peered inside. Inside, she found some money and an envelope.
Gail immediately reached for the envelope. It was exactly what Gail hoped she’d find; her mom’s birth certificate. She pulled the official document out from its cover. Her heart pounded nervously.
More Mysterious Letters
Besides her mom’s name were the letters “col”. Gail’s eyebrows knitted in confusion. What was going on? Gail quickly took a picture of the document on her phone and put everything back as it was, including the keys.
Once again, Gail called the help center and asked them to explain the letter “col” on a birth certificate. Her eyes widened as everything finally clicked.
Gail’s mom always wore light-colored foundations and always kept out of the sun. She kept her birth family hidden from her own family and friends.
When Gail confronted her, she denied everything before finally admitting to her background. She asked Gail to keep her secret until she passed. For 17 years, Gail did exactly that. But why?
When asked about her father, Gail replied that he was a man of his generation who grew up in the ’50s. Like many people at that time, he lacked the open-mindedness and acceptance the world embraces today.
Her mom knew that and feared the repercussions of revealing her true identity to her husband. Gail opened up about her mom’s story after her parents passed and it took the world by storm.
“In the records, my mother's father, Azemar Frederic of New Orleans, and his entire family were designated black. The discovery had left me reeling, confused, and in need of answers. My sense of white identity had been shattered,” she confessed.
But why? Why did her mother go to such lengths to keep her true identity concealed from everyone else, including her own daughter?
The Truth Comes Out
“My mother's tearful plea for secrecy only added to my confusion about my racial identity,” says Gail.
“As did her birth certificate that I obtained from the state of Louisiana, which listed her race as “col” (colored), and a 1940 Louisiana census record, which listed my mother, Alvera Frederic, as Neg/Negro, working in a tea shop in New Orleans. Four years later, she moved north and married my white father.” And that was the crux of the matter.
Enduring The Hardships
“Piecing her life together, I marveled at how she endured the racism of living in the predominantly white suburb of Parma, Ohio, with a racist husband.” That would be Harold, Gail’s father, who never knew about his own wife’s true racial identity.
“My father's racism was a reflection of his upbringing in a close-knit Cleveland ethnic neighborhood,” Gail explains.
“Though he never used the N-word, he was still vocal about his bigotry, referring to African-Americans using other racial slurs, deriding blacks for what he perceived as their lack of ambition and criminality. Unknowingly deriding his wife, my mother.”
However, Alvera never complained or said a peep about it. “My mother reprimanded him with little vigor,” Gail says.
“Was she afraid of bringing too much attention to the race issue? Did his racist remarks beat on her like a hard, cold rain?” Gail wonders.
“Or had she convinced herself that she deserved it for the lie that sat at the heart of their marriage?” But maybe it was deeper than that. There was a real reason why Alvera would have preferred to keep passing as white.
“In escaping the Jim Crow south, coming north, and marrying my white father, she must have thought gaining white privilege was worth the price of losing family ties and her authentic self.”
“The irony was that in gaining white privilege, in passing for white, the onslaught of racism was splayed open to her. Its ugly face could now be shared with her, a “white” woman who would understand and possibly agree.”
A Good Education
However, Alvera always tried to instill in Gail a spirit of opposition to all forms of discrimination.
“As if in self-defense or maybe retaliation for my father's racism, she imbued me with a moral imperative to respect all people regardless of their color. A gifted storyteller, she related stories of New Orleans and the bigotry she witnessed.”
That’s How It Was
“As a child, I listened with rapt attention to the story of the old black woman on Canal Street burdened with packages who didn't move off the sidewalk for a white man.”
“He shoved her aside like so much trash and called her the n-word. “That wasn't right,” my mother told me. “But that's how it was in New Orleans back then.”
In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.