“Secrets are things that are meant to be kept unknown or unseen by others,” Jane said as she almost floated through the early morning set at the barre.
We were at dance class – something that my cousin, Jane, talked all of us Gilbert girls into about five years ago. She said it would be a “bonding moment.” My sister, Claire, Jane, her sister, Dana, our cousins, Lucy and Terra, my aunt Melinda, my mother, Ginny, my sister-in-law, Lora, her daughter, Megan, and myself all joined a beginner’s ballet class together.
I loved to dance. The beginner’s class for me was beyond my skill level, but I knew the teacher, and she didn’t mind. It was for the family. Ballet is not my thing, but since I was two I took ballet, tap, jazz, and every dance lesson available. In fact, I went to Julliard for dance, and now I am a choreographer in New York.
But the story is not about me. Sorry, I rambled. Here we go.
Five years passed, and now, it is only Jane, Lucy, Megan, and me. The others got interested in other things.
The ballet instructor was out for the day and had asked me to fill in, so I was leading the class, and half-listening as my cousins discussed some sort of family drama. Megan was in her own little world doing some exercises I had asked them to do.
“Well, I understand that, but don’t you think they are going to find out anyway, so why don’t we tell them?” Lucy asked as she rested on the barre.
Jane stopped and gave Lucy a puzzled look. “What in the world are you talking about? We can’t, and you know it. It is a family secret.” It was almost as if she was talking to her in a stage whisper.
I was standing across the room with some of the younger students, and I heard her ‘stage whisper.’ I ducked behind the piano like I was picking something up – I knew what was coming next.
“Sonnye!” There was no denying I didn’t hear her. I stood up and walked over to where Jane was standing.
“You bellowed?” I asked. Megan let out a giggle. Jane bopped her on the back of her head. Lucy tried to hide her own smirk.
Jane grimaced. “Your cousin thinks we should release the family secret.”
“Which family secret? That you wet your bed until you were 10 or that ...” Jane asks for it, I swear. She put her hand over my mouth. “Shh,” she said.
Megan waltzed away to the other side of the room, and once there, burst out into giggles. Lora turned away and started practicing some moves. I knew she was probably laughing silently.
Jane stopped her routine and leaned against the barre. “I am talking about the magazine that is coming to do the story about the bed and breakfast, and our mothers are getting together recipes, and they want to share Great-Grandma Bessie’s Fluffy Apple Omelet and the Fluffy Pumpkin Pancakes recipes.”
My cousin was really bothered. I stepped back. “Class, don’t forget, Madame Jeanette will be back on Thursday. You are dismissed.” We had about 10 more minutes – but it would take everyone that long to change. I could see a crowd of parents and others gathering in the outer hallway.
Jane was still on her soapbox. “Those are our signature dishes … we don’t want people to know what’s in them.”
Lucy shook her head, “Jane, you are such a drama queen. There are a ton of recipes out there for those very dishes … why is it such a big deal?” She picked sat down in a chair against the wall, and took off her ballet slippers, and threw them in her back, and pulled on her tennis shoes.
Megan ran across the room in her tennis shoes, windbreaker pants and was carrying her bag, “Sonnye, Daddy is outside.”
“Tell your father to come in here … Lucas will agree with me.” Jane looked at Megan. I stood behind Jane and shook my head.
“We have to hurry … have to pick up my brother from Karate,” Megan said. I gave her a thumbs-up sign before Jane turned around and looked at me. Megan took that as her chance for freedom. Lucy was about to do the same – sneak out – when Jane turned and caught her.
“Lucy, Sonnye, This is important. Our sales could go down.” Jane threw her hands up in the air and had the saddest look on her face. She opened her bag and found her jogging pants.
While she took a breather, I grabbed my bag, the keys to the room, and hoped we could have a successful getaway. I wasn’t even going to bother to change. Lucy stood by the door. “Jane, I love you. I understand what you are saying, but honey, if our mothers decide to reveal the secret ingredient to both of those recipes, I really don’t think that is going to be a big deal.”
Jane gave Lucy a ‘mean mug’ stare. I stopped. Everyone else had gone. “Jane, I agree with Lucy. If knowing our secret ingredients is going to keep people from coming to the Empire House, well, then our family hasn’t been doing their jobs. Now come on, I have a husband and a child waiting at home for dinner, Lucy has a date and you need to get home to your family. Let our moms worry about this. They’re still capable of making decisions.”
All we could see was Jane leaned over the chair zipping up her bag. Lucy and I looked at each other. There was no emotional outburst.
Jane stood up and proudly walked between the both of us to the door. “You know … Lucy, you have your antique store … Sonnye, you have Broadway and those music videos and movies you do the dance stuff for … What do I have? The Empire House … And I think, Bessie Lee, who you are partially named after, Sonnye, wouldn’t appreciate us sharing a family secret.” She opened the door and left in a huff.
“Well, that’s that then,” Lucy said. We walked out of the studio, and I turned out the lights and locked the door. As we were walking down the stairs to the garage, Lucy said something that resonated in my heart. “You know, those two dishes were Bessie’s signature dishes. She never let anyone watch her make them, well, except you, Claire, your mom, and my mom. I guess family tradition could play a part here?”
We parted ways in the garage and left. As I was driving home, Jane’s words played over in my head, a secret is not meant to be known, and Lucy said family tradition.
Families here in our community have always been close. Loyalty, heritage, and family reunions were taken seriously. We are in one of the ‘villages’ in New Jersey. People still sit out on their stoops, and we have a neighborhood block party pretty regularly.
Would releasomg our family secret recipes really be breaking a family code?
Or was Jane more concerned about what it could do to her livelihood? She was the office manager of the Empire House. My sister was a chef. Lucy’s sister worked there too.
Maybe our moms could share the recipes but make a point of leaving off the secret ingredients – spices that Bessie used.
I could feel the band of a tension headache beginning to form. Why was I even worried about this? Jane does this every time – she finds drama and pulls the rest of us in it.
Had this been a real family secret – something that caused damage – well, that would be different. I pulled my Maxima onto the street my parents’ lived on in error. They lived two blocks from my house.
Was it an error? Or a Freudian slip? Maybe I needed to talk to Mom?
My head began to pound, and hurt from the neck back.
Family secret recipes should stay within the family. Jane is right. But, I am not going to drop in on my parents at 7 pm. and intrude on their ‘Wheel of Fortune’ time. Dad was obsessed with that show. I turned down a side street and headed home.
Using my Bluetooth, I dialed my mom’s number. She picked up on the third ring. “Hey, Momma. Hey, I have a question … are you guys going to give the recipes for the apple omelet and the pumpkin pancakes to the reporter tomorrow? ...” I laughed. “Yes, Jane cornered us. Are you? I know they are our signature dishes, and I get it, but I think, maybe we should take a hard pass on that. I don’t know. I mean, I know Jane’s crazy, but she made a good point and I can’t get it out of my head. Family tradition. How about you share the Italian Brunch Torte, the Corned Beef Hash and Eggs, and the Chai Hazelnut Oatmeal?”
I parked my car in the driveway next to my husband’s truck. The lights were on all over the house. My 10-year-old was sitting on the couch playing his guitar, and my husband was playing the piano. They stopped playing when they saw my headlights. I looked up and noticed they were racing for the door.
“Yes, Mom. I just think it would be better that way. It would keep Jane quiet, and I don’t want Grandma Bessie’s ghost coming to haunt us,” I said, hand on my key in the ignition. “Oh, OK. So you guys had decided to keep it a secret still anyway … you let me go through all of that for nothing? Momma, you are just mean. OK, kisses. Love to Pops. Bye.” I turned off my car just in time to see my husband and son barreling towards my door.
My husband won, because he opened the door, “Hello, love.” Fisher is from England. We met at Julliard. He was a musician. He leaned in and kissed me. Brody pushed his way through, “Mom! We missed you.” My son was up to something, but I let him hug me, and kissed the top of his head. “What do you want?” That was my first question. Brody said, “Pizza from Domino’s.”
Fisher looked at me over the top of Brody’s head. He gave me this ‘Why not?’ look. I nodded, “OK, OK. Go and call.” Brody cheered and ran into the house.
I grabbed my bags and got out of the car. Fisher took my hand, “So, what kind of pot-stirring did Jane do tonight?” See, everyone knows my cousin and her flair for drama.”
“Family secrets,” I said, shaking my head, as we walked across the lawn.
It was Fisher’s turn to have a questioning gaze. “Do I want to know?”
I shook my head again, “Nope. Secrets are meant to be not known.”