Thursday, January 22, 2015

An Old Letter With Life-Changing News

What if you had a son but didn't know it? And what if someone had tried to tell you about that son more than 50 years ago by mailing you a letter? And what if someone had intercepted that letter and kept it from you, and now you just found it?

That's the situation for a Michigan man named Tony Trapani. Trapani, who's now 81 years old, impregnated a woman in 1953. The woman didn't initially tell him about the child but eventually broke the news to him in a letter that she mailed in 1959, by which time Trapani was married to another woman. That woman, Trapani's wife, apparently saw the letter before he did, opened it, and then hid it in a file cabinet.

The wife died several years ago. Trapani recently found the letter while going through the file cabinet and was stunned to learn he had a son. And just for added poignancy, Trapani and his wife had always wanted children but had been unable to conceive.

Meanwhile, the person identified in the letter as Trapani's son, Samual Childress, who's now 61, grew up thinking that his father wanted nothing to do with him. His mother had told him about the letter she'd mailed and they both mistakenly assumed that Trapani had simply ignored it. Childress and Trapani have now met (they have literally two lifetimes' worth of stories to catch up on), and they're planning a DNA test just to make sure they truly are related.

We've done several stories here at Permanent Record regarding old letters or letters that were really slow in being delivered. This story is sort of a hybrid of those two categories. You can learn more here, and here's a video report from a Michigan TV station:

The big question here, at least for me, is why the wife saved the letter instead of just discarding it. My hunch: She initially thought to herself, "At some point later we'll deal with this, but I'm not ready for it yet." As weeks turned to months, months to years, she found herself painted into a corner — the longer she waited, the harder it became to reveal the truth to her husband. At some point she acknowledged to herself that she was never going to tell him, but she also couldn't bring herself to destroy the letter, which was a symbol of her sin and deceit, much like Poe's tell-tale beating heart. And she hoped her husband would stumble upon the letter after she was gone (as he eventually did), so that he could learn the truth without her having to tell him.

Or at least that's my take.

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