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November 3, 2022 44 mins

When Judy receives a thick envelope from her father—presumably including answers to long kept secrets about his identity and past—he instructs her to burn it before opening. Despite her plaguing curiosity, she follows her father’s wishes. But later in her life, she seeks answers. What was in that envelope? And who was her father, really?

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Family Secrets is a production of I Heart Radio. What
if this letter contained my father's final confession? What if
it was a compendium of his Trustiendas, the word my
Cuban mother had adapted as a more resonant way to
describe secrets. According to her, every person carries at least

(00:22):
one frstenda from a place in the heart, or such
secrets thrill the day and deep in the night. Perhaps
these plastenders were more like dark thoughts that had been
in the cobdwead corners of his mind. Once I knew
about these truss standers, would it make me like Icarus
flying too close to the sun and dropping from the sky.
Would it be like opening Pandora's jar, or, as it

(00:45):
was later mistranslated, her box of woes and releasing them
to the world. Reading about my father's troubles in his
hand might make them my own. I was afraid to
know everything about him, and yet I was too curious
to leave his secrets alone. That's Judy Bolton Fasman, journalist,

(01:06):
essayist and author of the memoir Asylum, a Memoir of
Family Secrets. Imagine receiving a letter from a parent, A
thick envelope that might just explain everything, a letter that
might answer a lifetime's worth of questions, and the persistent
sense that there are mysteries and secrets at the core
of your family's life. And then imagine what happened to Judy.

(01:30):
Before she had a chance to open the letter, she
received an urgent request from her father. Please destroy the letter,
I sent Burnett without reading, and she did. She respected
his wishes and watched his words go up and smoke.

(01:57):
I'm Danny Shapiro, and this is family secrets, the secrets
that are kept from us, the secrets we keep from others,
and the secrets we keep from ourselves. Asylum was the
iconic address of my childhood. Everything revolved around there. It

(02:21):
was a small house. It was a three small, three
bedroom colonial. It sat on the corner of Asylum Avenue
and Ballard Drive, and I want to say that it
sort of sat on the corner of desperation and dreams
as well, my father's desperation, my mother's dreams, and vice versa,
and those two were often in competition and often clashed,
those two aspirations. I also lived across the street from

(02:43):
a magnificent field that belonged to a small Catholic women's college,
and I would watch and this was in the nineties sixties,
and nuns were still in their habits, and I would
watch the nuns mostly in pairs. They were, they were
never alone, kind of almost float across the field. And
of course there's my mother's, you know, total dream of

(03:05):
an American house. And she was so proud of Asylum
Avenue for having a built in vacuum cleaner. I mean,
this is something that she would have never dreamed of
back in Cuba. This is a West Harford, Connecticut. Describe
your father, Harold. Harold was much older than my mother Matile.

(03:25):
He was intimidating, he was strict. He had been in
the navy for five years during the Second World War,
and uh, he sort of treated his kids like little soldiers.
Sometimes he had his very quirky ways about him. He
was also very smart, and I knew that even at
a young age. And I also intoud that he had

(03:47):
done a lot of living, although I don't know if
I would have articulated it that way back then, but
he had done a lot of living before I was born.
How old was he when you were born? He was
forty two, which is not old by today's standards. But
I was born at the end of nineteen sixty and
my mother was twenty five, so there was quite an

(04:08):
age difference. There was even a cultural gap. There was
a generational gap, you know. He was always much older
than all the other fathers when I was growing up.
But I didn't feel that lad. I didn't. You know,
he wasn't tired, he was energetic, but he was very
stern when he went to teach night school. I mean,
it was like a party in our house. You know.
My mother would put on Cuban dance music. We would dance,

(04:30):
we would have a TV dinners, you know, the whole thing.
It was almost like a celebration. And he was very
strict about our bedtimes. He was, you know, he even
at one point would shout to eight year old me,
would bang on the door, Navy shower, don't waste water,
Navy shower. And the navy shower was that you would rinse,
you would turn it off and then you would soap up,

(04:52):
and then you would rinse again. That was the navy shower.
And it was actually terrifying to think my father was
on the other side of the door screaming Navy shower.
He also served in the Navy during World War Two.
He was an officer, and uh, I think that that
gave him some gravitas and it, you know, made him
very American. He had served his country and he was

(05:13):
very proud of that. I should also say he was
also a rabid Yale football fan. I mean, his his
life revolved around Yale football games. He had a very
prodigious memory and he memorized every single fact about Yale football.
He was also in alum Yale football almost defined him

(05:34):
and almost defined my childhood in many ways. And also
his father, Your grandfather was right, yes, which was very
unusual because my grandfather graduated with the class of nineteen
the Sheffield School of Engineering and he was an immigrant
and he my grandfather basically fiddled his way through Yale

(05:54):
in that he had he got a musician's Union card
and he played in a lot of society the orchestras
as a student to earn his tuition. What do you
think your father's obsession with Yale football was about. I
think that it was it came down a bit from
my grandfather. My grandfather wanted nothing more than to leave

(06:15):
behind Ukraine where he was from. Here he came and
he was two years old, so he was very, very yad.
He probably didn't really have a memory of Ukraine, but
he wanted to be an American. Our name was americanized Bolton.
He himself, after graduating from Yale and working as the
city engineer city civil engineer for the town of Behaven,

(06:37):
had a society orchestra with another Yale graduate. But you know,
my grandfather was always on the other side of the door,
looking in, so to speak, like I always picked to
him being on the other side of a glass store
looking in on parties that he would have never been
invited to unless he was actually playing the music for

(06:58):
the parties. My mother, she came from Havana. She immigrated
to the United States in and she came here as
a twenty three year old young woman looking to finish
her schooling because the University of Havannah had closed, and
she came to Brooklyn and nted her room from some

(07:20):
cousins of her father's and had a hard time of it.
She wanted very much to work at the United Nations
as a translator, and that didn't pan out for her,
so she typed forms and she typed invoices at a
watch factory, and the first winter that she was in Brooklyn,
she caught pneumonia because she just you know, she she

(07:41):
came from a tropical climate and was not used to
the bad weather. My mother was also a person who
lived in her fantasies, and living in her fantasy she
missed a lot of what was happening in real life.
And one of the stories that she told was that
when she was a student at the University of Havana,

(08:04):
she was taking a test and she heard gunshots and
this president of the student body had died of the gunshots.
Battista's henchman got him. Well, she was telling this story
to a friend of mine who was doing a project
on immigration. And mind you, I'm over forty years old
when she's telling this story, and suddenly something clicks and

(08:26):
I start as she's as she's talking, I'm googling dates,
and I realized that her dates don't line up, none
of it lines up, And I realized she never attended
the university. If I am, she made that all up.
So do you think that some of your profound desire

(08:48):
to know your parents, particularly your father, but really both
of them. Stems from this feeling that you had as
a kid that it didn't all add up, that they didn't,
you know, actually seemed to be who they were saying
they were in part. In part and also when I

(09:09):
was a kid, I thought they were, you know, the
most glamorous couple in the world. No matter what went
on during the week, no matter what, you know, rouse
they got into. On Saturday night or early Saturday, you know,
early early Saturday night, it all stopped. My mother was
all glammed up to go out. She was beautiful, and
my father was in khaki's in a sport coat, and

(09:31):
off they went to you know, eat dinner with friends,
or to go to a show or whatever they were doing.
But every Saturday night they went out. Every Saturday night,
we had a babysitter. That was a boundary they put.
And they didn't have very many boundaries in that house,
I can tell you. So when you talk about Rowse,
what was the marital tension between them like and and

(09:53):
what did it encompass? You know, what was your sense
as a child of what that was about. It was
mostly about finances, and they were my mother was very,
very disappointed that my father was not the older Yale graduate,
more established, uh kind of guy in his career that
she had hoped he would be. She was looking for status,

(10:13):
she was looking for security. She had grown up very
insecure in Havana, and uh, she was looking to my
father to provide her that security and that financial stability.
And you know, we weren't poor by any means, and
you lived in a nice suburb, but she wanted very
much to keep up. I remember them fighting about bills

(10:34):
that came in from a store one day, and she
looked at me and said, we're going out. She didn't drive,
so we took the asylum Avenue of Us about two
miles blessed, and we went to Lord and Taylor and
she bought the most gorgeous suit at Lord and Taylor.
And I remember her whipping out that green card with
the white lettering, and you know, she was mrsk Harrold

(10:55):
Molton at Lord and Taylor. So in part it was
to to get back at my father, and in part
it was to be the Mrs k Harold Bolton that
she always wanted to be. There was a dangerous quality
to her. She was wiley. She was just a wily survivor.
She actually ended up getting her master's degree without ever

(11:17):
having gone to college. She told the registrar there that
there was absolutely no way to get her transcripts from Havannah.
And you know, in those days, Havannah was really locked up.
I mean, there was the embargo, and nobody was getting
through the embargo. And she basically told them, it's locked
behind the Iron curtain. I can't get those transcripts. We

(11:40):
don't have any sort of diplomatic relations with Cuba, and
you'll just have to take my word for it, and
they let her in. I was very, very attached to her.
There was something very alluring and compelling about her. When
I became a teenager, the dynamic change. But when I
was a little girl, she was sort of the permissive parent.

(12:02):
I don't think they wittingly did this, but they almost
played good cop, bad cop with each other. And she
was always the one that I ran to for comfort,
and in turn, she ran to me for comfort. We
comforted each other, which is not always the healthiest relationship
to have with your eight year old, but that's the
way it was. And I just adored her. And when

(12:24):
she would threaten to leave the family or run away,
or she couldn't take it anymore. I mean, it devastated
me every time. Judy is not alone in her experience
of her good cop bad cop parents. She has two
younger siblings, a brother and a sister. Harold doesn't really

(12:45):
understand little kids in general, let alone his own. Too
young Judy, her dad seems kind of scary. In fact,
she's scared of him. The summer that Judy is nine,
her mother and Matild gathers up her and her siblings
and they go to Miami, Matild's extended family lives. But
to complicate matters, not only does Matild not drive, but

(13:06):
she doesn't fly either. She's terrified of airplanes. So they
take a train. Matild, Judy, and her siblings. As a
train departs, they see Harold recede into the background. Twenty
four hours later, we arrived in Miami. My sister had
motion sickness. My brother, he was very little, so I

(13:26):
don't sure what was happening with him. He was he
was acting out. He missed my father. I knew I
was terribly homesick. I had never met people like my
mother's family. They were so different than the Boltons of Behaven.
They were brashed. They were emotional, and they spoke Spanish,
and I spoke a little bit of Spanish because that's
how I communicated with my maternal grandparents who did live

(13:50):
in Connecticut. But I have to say that first summer
that I went to Miami and that we lived in
Miami for almost three months, that was the first time
I really realized that I was Latin x in some ways.
I realized that my mother came from Cuba, from really
another country. And the thing that I remember most about
that summer was my mother's relatives and a lot of

(14:14):
Cuban ex pats that lived in her cousin's apartment building,
gathering every night to try and catch arrant airwaves from
the television to see Fie Delcaster Talk, and they were
just sent on seeing him. They would fiddle with the channels,
they would fiddle with the rabbit ears for a man

(14:36):
they hated so much, they absolutely had to see him.
And during that period of time, there's no word from
your father, none. Well, I knew that they had had
a fight and that she was going to leave him.
My Bolton grandparents sent us money, which my mother kind
of pocketed, and we stayed sort of in a very
run down shabby hotel across the street from my mother's

(14:59):
cousin called the Royal Hotel. I'll never forget it. I'll
never forget the the owner of the hotel, because I
would go to the front desk almost every day and
asked if I had had a letter from my dad,
and she would say, I don't think he's gonna write you.
You know, I was looking for Basically, my dad was
a very prolific correspondent, even when I was a little kid.

(15:21):
He sent Birthday cards and Valentine's cards in the mail,
which was just an absolute thrill and also reflected that
formality that he had, and he sent the sugariest literally
Valentine's cards. And I was basically missing him and lonely,
and I was looking for a Valentine's card in the
middle of July and I never got it. We'll be

(15:46):
right back. During this long, lonely summer, Judy scrambles up
dimes and tries to reach her father to no avail
via pay phone. Eventually, after about three months, he does

(16:11):
come to make up with her mother and collect them all.
At first, he insists that they're all going to fly
home together, but Judy's mother simply cannot fly, so back
on the train to West Hartford they go. Once she's home,
ever curious about her parents, Judy begins to do what
so many people who into it that there are secrets do,

(16:31):
She Snoops. I always spot of them as glamorous in
some way. And I always wondered about my dad, so
much older, living the life, a full life before he
had me, And in some ways I found evidence of that.
I found a picture that unfortunately no longer exists, of
him in literally a pith helmet and flowing khakis, and

(16:55):
in the back of the picture is written Guatemala two.
And that forever piqued my interest, so much so that
later on I would go on to write my m
F a thesis about that and about him. Sometimes when
we stumble upon something that has meaning, even if we
don't know what that meaning is, somehow like its shimmers,

(17:18):
it takes on this kind of weight to it. There
was something about Guatemala, as if it pertained to your
dad that you had a feeling about. Well, it was
so far away, and it sounded so exotic, and my
parents were very social in those years. My parents had
very loud, raucous joyous parties. Um. They were friends with

(17:41):
a lot of Latin X people in the Hartford area
and there was a lot of um singing. Someone inevitably
brought a guitar to my parents house and my mother sang.
She had a beautiful singing voice, and her song of
choice was usually Juan Panama. And I remember, you know,
watching those parties almost from the top of the stairs,

(18:03):
or at least trying trying to listen in. And I
think that added to the whole romance and the whole
curiosity of who my parents were. And at that time, coincidentally,
I was reading a series about a detective girl who
happened to be named Judy Bolton, which throwed me to
no end to see my name on the cover of
a book. So I think I also took on that

(18:25):
persona and had a little bit of fun with it.
They're becoming Judy Bolton, girl detective. Exactly when Judy is twelve,
a young woman around nineteen years old comes to visit
and so begins the Summer of Anna. Anna just sort

(18:46):
of literally showed up in our lives. Um. There was
really no context for her, but we you know, my
brother and sister and I loved her dearly. We She
was just a lot of fun. And when Anna was around,
my father was so much more relaxed and and happy.
You know, the guy who made us drink skin milk,

(19:08):
let us get SODA's. You know, we could do all
sorts of things. We could have sugary cereals because Anna
like them. So whatever Anna liked, she got from my
father and as a consequence, that spilled down to us
and we could sort of share in her in her bounty.
What was your understanding, if any of why Anna was

(19:30):
visiting you. Anna was staying with a local family, and
she was supposedly an exchange student. But you know, my
mother was very suspicious of her, very jealous of her.
She was the cause of a lot of tension in
our house. She would, you know, tell my father you
love her more than you love your children. You're in

(19:51):
love with her. I mean, she didn't quite know what
role to put her in. Was she some of the
had crush on Could he have been a child of hers?
That he father in ga a model? She just you know,
looking back on it, I realized that she was confused.
But Anna was staying locally with a family in West Harford,
and she was introduced to my family because my father
had spent time in Guatemala and she consequently spent a

(20:15):
lot of time with us. We took her to Behaven,
she met my grandparents, and she also met my father's
best friend and his family, and we frequently went to
their house for the weekends too. Tell me a little
bit about your father's best friend. Felippe and my father
became friends through Philippa's brother, who my father met when

(20:39):
he was studying at the Wharton School after the war.
Philippe was the person that my father visited often in
Latin America or traveled with in Latin America, and they
were very very close. And even though Philippe lived probably
a good two hour derive from West Harford, I placed
him in Westchester. We went to this them, you know,

(21:01):
probably every six weeks. The two families were very close.
The two wives actually got along very well, and my
father and Philippe were always huddled in a corner talking
and we just assumed that, you know, they were just
close traveling companions and close buddies, and we really didn't
think about it, but Philippo had an American mother and

(21:23):
el Salvadoran father, and he grew up mostly in El Salvador,
with boarding school in the United States. My mother had
always wanted me to go to a Jewish school. My
father grew up in a totally assimilated family, even though
my grandfather's father was a rabbi. She used to joke

(21:44):
that when the first time she had her own kitchen,
you know, when she moved out of her parents house
and she was married, she made a poor groast. I
don't know if that's true or not, but that's what
she used to say. They were very, very They did
not observe anything. They barely went to synagogue or to
tell both. And my mother grew up among the Safari
community in Havana, and she grew up very traditionally. She

(22:06):
went to a Jewish school, as most Cuban Jewish kids
did in her generation, and she was a believer and
my father was not. I think that was the strict
dividing line. And when she had finally had enough of
me being in public school, I think the thing that
really threw her for a loop was that they were

(22:26):
teaching a sex education and she just could not abide that.
So she enrolled us in the local yeshiva. I was
there for six, seventh, eighth, and ninth grade, and in
my last year there in ninth grade, there was a
community of Lebovic educators that came to teach us in
the school, and I became very mesmerized by the community.

(22:49):
I loved that there was an embracing community. I loved
that they were so kind to me, and it just
seemed to be an oasis from my family life, where
everything is just so tense and you know, my mother
constantly upset and my father trying to do something about it.
So that was the weird part of my education. I

(23:10):
left the yeshiva as an ultra Orthodox Jew and my
parents were having none of that, and they would not
let me go to a boarding school, a Jewish girls
boarding school in Brooklyn or in Providence, Rhode Island. And
I said, well, I only want to be with girls.
I don't want to be in a classroom with boys.

(23:30):
And I said, well, here are you two choices. Mrs
Porter's School, which I didn't think that I would be
a very good fit for Mount Saint Jose's Academy, the
local Catholic girls school. And you know, I was a teenager,
so I had a bit of obstinate streak to me,
and I said, and I thought I would last there
two weeks, and that they would they would give in
and send me to the school I wanted to go to.
I said, I'll go to Mount Saint Joseph Academy. And

(23:53):
it was definitely a strange situation at first, but I
really ended up liking it. And at that time, the
nuns were younger and they were out of their habits,
and they were very social justice minded, and I just
I loved being around them. I loved the support, I
loved the female energy. And by the end of that year,

(24:14):
I had sort of not only just acclimated, but I
had sort of found my way to a Judaism that
was not as extreme and uh something that I could
feel that I was still very Jewish but not alienating
my family, which was it was very hard. That was
very hard when I was observing Shabbat and wouldn't eat
their food and only ate cold food on their plates.

(24:36):
So it was a hard time and I couldn't sustain it,
and in the end I didn't want to sustain it.
I made friends and I loved it, and I taught
my friends about my religion, and they taught me about
their religion and I never had to go to religion
class uh with with them. I got to sit out

(24:57):
and study hall with the Protestants and it was just,
you know, it all worked out, and the nuns were
very accommodating. We were a uniform at the mount and
there was a patch with a cross inside a crown,
and I did not have to wear that patch. I
did not have to wear that cross. And do you
think judy that you know, sort of the drift towards

(25:19):
ultra orthodox Judaism had to do with, to some degree,
either differentiating yourself from your parents and your family, or
a sense of order. You know that there are rules
and rituals to follow for absolutely everything. Um was that
a source of comfort? I think it was both those things,
but I think above all, it was like a community

(25:41):
that I felt I was embraced by. It was a
sense of belonging. There was no judgment, and I really
liked that. I really and I needed that. I was
sort of a lonely kid, and beginning at that time,
my mother was really having a hard time watching me
grow up. And I was embraced by that community and

(26:02):
I just it was very compelling to me. We'll be
back in a moment with more family secrets. Though Judy's

(26:26):
mother has a hard time watching her grow up, that's
inevitably what she does. She finishes high school, and she
goes off to college, and then she begins to have
panic attacks. These panic attacks begin to govern her life,
as panic attacks often do. First one I had was
when I was nineteen. Um, I had little many ones

(26:48):
looking back on it, but that one seemed to be
the one that I'd like to describe as taking hold
of me. That was the one that divided my life
into her before and after, I was never the same again.
And I remember, as clear as as I remember, you know,
this morning I was visiting a boyfriend uh down in Baltimore.

(27:11):
He was in college there, and I was going back
the next day, going back home for the summer, and
I was very upset about being separated from him because
I would have to deal with my mother, who by
that time was really my jailer. She really didn't let
me do anything. She only let me which is kind
of ironic. She only let me go out with this

(27:32):
boy and be with him all the time, which there
wasn't a lot of safety in that if you think
about it from the perspective of a parent. And I
remember waking up in the middle of the night. He
was sleeping sound late, and I was gasping for air.
I could not breathe, and I was just encircled with
this feeling of absolute dread and fear. And as I said,

(27:55):
it divided my life into it before and after. As
I got older, I realized that my mother was such
a bully because she was so afraid of the world.
Her bullying was really born of fear, and she was
She also had panic attacks. I mean, she didn't call
them a lot, but that's what she had. H And

(28:16):
I remember when I was in such desperate straits and
I just couldn't stop crying, and I couldn't go anywhere,
and I was so anxious. I just all I could
do was crouch in the shower and cry. She said
to me, if you don't stop this, I'm going to
having you admitted to the Institute for Living. I'm going

(28:38):
to commit you. And that, of course was my ultimate fear,
that I was crazy. So she played right into my
ultimate fear. And I will never forget the way she
said that to me. Judy graduates from college and her
panic attacks continue. What plagues her most is the constantticipation

(29:00):
that she's going to have another one, but she presses on.
She moved to New York and gets a job in publishing.
She pursues her fiction m f A at Columbia, where
she works on a thesis that allows her to become
closer with her father. She also meets the man who
will become her husband. They have two children, Anna, named
after Judy's grandmother, and Adam. My father and I had

(29:26):
rediscovered each other after I went to Columbia and I
wrote a thesis called the ninety Day Wonder. The ninety
day Wonder was a deliberate reference to his service in
the Second World War. It was a program for college
graduates who were fast tracked to be officers because there
were such a need for officers we were going to war,

(29:47):
and he was a ninety day Wonder and he literally
was immersed in everything naval for three months and he
came out and ensign. And at the time I thought
the term was so blended because it was ninety day
wonders wonderfully, but after doing some research for the book,
I realized that it was a bajardive term, and that

(30:09):
they were called that by the enlisted men or the sailors,
or whoever they were, whoever were under them, because I mean,
these guys had to salute twenty three year olds and
they had socks older than I was. Twenty three year olds,
so it was a very tense relationship. And I wrote
a thesis I was then a fiction writer, and it

(30:30):
talked about my dad and the Navy, and it also
speculated about my father's time in Guatemala, because by then
I had become very suspicious. Why was your suspicion level
rising and rising? What was that about? And also do
you think that enrolling in an m f A program
and writing fiction, which is sometimes a way of actually

(30:55):
getting at the truths that we don't know, was that
subconsciously an attempt to figure him out? Oh? Yes, I
mean I I wrote a lot about him. I mean
a lot of the stories are in a different form
of matter now because I didn't keep them and I
didn't include them in my basis, But yes I had.
I then learned a thing or two about American history

(31:17):
and about our involvement in Latin America, and I started
putting dates together, and I was just very very suspicious
of what he was doing there. What was a Jewish
guy from New Haven, Connecticut doing traveling throughout Guatemala who
worked at the United Fruit Company for a while, which
is a well known CIA front. I would say, hey, Dad,

(31:38):
you were spy. Martin's like, don't be ridiculous. You always
make things up. And you know, we would joke about it,
and we were becoming friends. We had never really been friends.
You would go out and get beers together. When I
came home for the weekend, he came to visit me
in New York and hung out with me and my
friends in a bar. I mean, we really, we really
liked each other. This friendship between Judy and her father

(32:02):
would soon be challenged by his struggle with Parkinson's disease.
He died in two thousand two. After her father's death,
Judy sets out to continue her relationship with him somehow.
To keep him near, she decides to recite the Cottage,
the Jewish prayer for the dead. According to tradition, a
child recites the Cottage for a parent every day for

(32:24):
eleven months. The prayer is recited in synagogue with a
minion which is a group of ten adults. This isn't
easy to accomplish, but even on vacations, Judy never misses
a day. She always finds a minion, and she always
has cottage for her father. It's also during these eleven
months that Judy's antennae are really quivering. She is yearning

(32:45):
to put together the pieces of her dad's elusive and
mysterious history, and so she consults, as many do when
trying to uncover truths about those who have passed. A medium.
I kept a journal the year I said the Cottish
and thought that it would be a book, and thought
it would be a book that I would eventually write.
But the book was going nowhere. It was just nice

(33:09):
insights and you know, memories that would only be of
interest to my family. And I knew that I had
to do more than that. I knew it had to
have an arc. It had to have scenes and action,
and not just about me going to synagogue every day
and remembering my dad, which of course is lovely, but
it's it's not compelling reading. So I consulted mediums, and

(33:33):
one of them was a man at my synagogue who
had had in your death experience and started seeing spirits
around people, and he was eerily accurate. He didn't not
know anything about me. I had not published anything about
my dad at that point, and when I came to
his house, he said, I'm getting to two initials that

(33:56):
are really important, and A and a kay, which is
of course Anna my grandmother, and Ken my husband. But
I'm also for some reason, it keeps sending me to
the globe and asking me to look up Guatemala, and
you know, maybe you could have put it together, but
I doubt it. There I really didn't have any kind
of Internet presence then, so that deeply impressed me. And

(34:20):
then I went to someone who's just a Charlottean. Both
mediums do have one striking thing in common. They both
hold up four fingers to represent the number of children.
Her father had had, but Judy was just one of three, right,
well maybe not. As she and her siblings got older,

(34:41):
they grew increasingly suspicious about that wonderful summertime visitor they
once had. Anna was another half sister. The medium's suggested
as much, and so Judy sets off on a quest
to find out more. She reaches out to her father's
best friend, Philippe and asks to come visit, maybe he'll
know something. Finifa at that point was was an old man.

(35:04):
When I visited him. I was almost fifty years old,
and he was in his eighties, and he had an
apartment in New York City and he also lived on
a coffee farm or it was. That's what he told me.
In Elsa and I had been telling a friend, I
really need to speak to someone who knew my dad
back in the day, and there's really only one person

(35:24):
that has the answers, and she said, Sweetie, go find him.
And I found him on the internet. I had to
spell his name in a lot of different ways, and
it wasn't that easy to find him, but I did
find him. I did persist, and I his name just
popped up on this obscure list of reunion attendance at
at the school he went to. So I emailed him.

(35:48):
I only had his email address, and he wrote back
almost within minutes and said, it's a miracle I found you,
or you found me and we found each other. I mean,
he was just so so thrilled that I had made
contact with him, and I said that I wanted to
come visit him. I visited him a few times in
New York City and I interviewed him, and I asked

(36:11):
him what my father was doing in Guatemala, what their
relationship was, and what Felipa was actually doing with my
father in Guatemala, because he seemed to have he seemed
to be a big part of my father's life back then,
and he was very hesitant and secretive to answer any
of my questions. But he did finally answer, And what

(36:32):
did he tell you? After maybe an hour and a
half of chit chat and catching up on family, I
said that I had come there to ask him a
question about my dad and him in their relationship, and
I wanted to know if my father had been in
the CIA. And there was a long silence. You know,

(36:53):
it's funny. I don't remember that silence as being necessarily uncomfortable.
I remember it as giving Felipe a few moments of
grace to kind of pull himself together. And then all
he said to me was yes. And I said, what
did you do there? And he said, I can't really
talk about it, And I said, surely it's declassified. Surely,

(37:15):
you know, at that point, I was filling up foyas
and I wasn't getting anywhere. Surely you can tell me
a little bit. And he said, your father and I
believed in the United States and believed in democracy in
Latin America. And your father was a very noble man,
and he was a patriot. And you know, we would

(37:38):
do that dance every time we saw each other. Your
father was a noble man, he was a patriot. Yes,
he were in Guatemala. Yes, we tried to overthrow or
actually they did help overthrow the r vents government. I
asked him about Anna, and he said, I can't tell
all of your father's secrets. He just was not willing
to go that far. One of the things that he
says to you is insert your father into history and

(38:02):
you will have the whole story exactly. He was very enigmatic.
But that's he said that to me a few times.
So Judy does her best to imagine her father in
the context of his history. What had he been doing
and where had he been doing it? What were his secrets.
At a certain point, she contacts Phelippe again. She really

(38:25):
wants to crack him about Anna. She longs for the
truth and is pretty sure Phelipe knows more than he's
told her. But when she reaches out Phelipe is unwilling
to share more. Well, he hangs up on me because
I had called him from the Yale Library where I
was doing research. A reporter friend of mine said, go

(38:45):
and meet your dad's class notes. You'd be so surprised
at how illuminating they are. And in addition to reading
my father's class notes, I also read the class notes
of his cousin who graduated twenty years earlier from Yale
that I'm his namesake, man, I'm named after. And I
don't know what compelled me to to read his class notes.

(39:05):
I just I just thought it would be interesting. And
I was there already, so and I you know, I
had a hotel room for the night, so why not.
And as I was reading his class notes, I'm reading
class notes from the early nineties fifties, and this cousin
of his is talking about going on junkets to Central America,

(39:25):
and it just hits me that he was the one
that was my father's CIA handler and the one that
got him into the CIA, and the one who recruited him.
I mean, who goes on a junket to Latin America?
But that's what he wrote in the class notes. So
I immediately stepped out and I called Felipe and I

(39:48):
said it was his cousin, wasn't it. And he said,
I can't talk to you about that. I said, no,
it was his cousin. I just read it in the
class notes. And he hung up on me. And that
was the last time I talked to him. But after
Philip I died, I spoke to his son, who told
me that the two of them were also in the
Dominican Republic, causing me him there. And my father never

(40:09):
told me that he was in the Dominican Republic. Fast
forward to March, and we all know what happened in March.
By this point, Judy has solved some mysteries about her father,
but so many remain. There is, of course, still the
mystery of Anna. Judy had ordered a DNA test, but

(40:31):
it's been sitting around for years. I can't tell you
how often this happens, and by the time she gets
around to opening the box, it's expired. She has a
sort of research trip planned to go to Guatemala. She
wants to find Anna herself, but a shoulder injury and
a global pandemic thwart these plans, and Judy cancels the trip.

(40:52):
There's this um Spanish word that comes up quite often
in your book, trusty end this. Yes, trust ends. Yes,
it's a very particular word in Spanish that my mother
used to hurl at my father. Yes, it has deep secrets.
They're so deep that they're locked in a storeroom. Yeah.
I mean, it's just such a great word. It's like
the deepest kind of secret. Mhm. Judy is thinking about

(41:18):
trust end us as she continues to reckon with the
mystery of Anna. Who is she and where is she?
And more pressing than these two questions, Judy poses another
impossible question to herself, which is, how can I continue
to search for a woman for whom there's not enough
room in my soul. At this stage in Judy's life

(41:40):
and research and writing about her father's past, she deeply
believes that Anna is her half sister. She's almost certain
of this, and yet to know for sure. To dig
deeper is almost more than she can tolerate. It's the
trust end us at the center of her story. I

(42:00):
think I had some solid grounding and some solid facts
that I uncovered about my dad, and I think this
mixture of the facts and the speculative nonfiction that I had.
Mixing them together yielded for me a very profound, unshakable truth.
I believe. I know my father was in the CIA.

(42:23):
I mean, it's you know, it's more than circumstantial. And
I believe that he father a daughter whose name was
Anna like his mother. Where does this leave you now
in relationship to your history? And you're right towards the
end of the book about you know, your mother is
still living, she's being moved to assisted living, and you

(42:46):
and your siblings empty out se asylum. You know the
weight of all that history, being raised in a house
full of secrets, full of sort of half truths and
made up lives to some degree, made up narratives. You've
built a family for yourself that is loving and solid

(43:10):
and about as far away from the family that you
were raised in as you could possibly get. Right, I
think I found the answers to what I needed, or
the answers to to what I suspected and speculated about.
And I think that I found the truth, And um,
I'm very at peace with that that I found the truth.

(43:48):
Family Secrets is a production of I Heart Radio. Molly's
a Core is the story editor and Dylan Fagan is
the executive producer. If you have a family secret you'd
like to share, please us a voicemail and your story
could appear on an upcoming episode. Our number is one
eight eight Secret zero. That's the number zero. You can

(44:09):
also find me on Instagram at Danny writer. And if
you'd like to know more about the story that inspired
this podcast, check out my memoir Inheritance. For more podcasts.

(44:43):
For my heart Radio, visit the I heart Radio app,
Apple podcast, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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