Jo Whitman shook her head back and forth as she stared solemnly at Amy. She stood up in utter shock and quietly asked herself, "Why?" Jo could not verbally tell her to stop talking, so instead she looked at her sister with pleading eyes, hoping Amy would just look her way long enough for her to know she was treading on thin ice. Why did she feel like she had to tell the details of this secret now when they had successfully kept it away from public ears for so long?
This was Jo’s story to tell IF she ever decided she wanted everyone to know the truth. However, she had decided long ago that this secret was going to the grave with her. Now, as her mind was letting her dig back into the deep recesses of hidden memories, she could vaguely hear Amy's voice droning on and on. The memory of that long ago day when it all began was very vivid in her mind.
Jo had been a tall, lanky ten-year old. As she and her young step sister, Amy, were walking through the deep woods, you could hear the crunching of the leaves and twigs with every step they took. This was her favorite time of the year. Leaves were falling from the trees in vibrant colors of golden yellow and crimson red, swirling around each other on their way to the ground. Their destination was the old rickety horse trailer hidden deep in the woods. They thought they were the first to discover this secret hideout, but they were wrong.
Even though they were already a short distance from the town square, she could still smell the heavy scents of apple and cinnamon. The town of Grantsville seemed to come alive at the first hint of fall. Wreaths decorated with fall flowers and miniature pumpkins adorned the store windows. Jack-o-lanterns smiled at you with a soft glow every evening. Caramel apples enticed you from the candy shop that sat smack dab in the middle of the square.
Jo slowly snapped out of her reverie and reminded herself she needed to find a way to get Amy to quit talking. With every word Amy spoke, Jo felt like a her body was being ripped apart, one word at a time. Suddenly, Amy glanced her way and noticed the tears welling up in her older sister’s big blue eyes. Despite the sad look Amy recognized, she knew she had to continue. Someone had to help Jo out of this personal hell she was locked in.
Sam, who worked for the Grantsville Journal, had been researching the death of young Jake for years. He had disappeared seventy years ago leaving the whole town in a state of confusion and fear. The whispers slowly died down as every search turned up leaving the Whitman family, as well as the whole town, feeling defeated.
“So how do you know that what you are telling me is the truth,” asked Sam. “And, if this is true, why has it been kept a secret all of these years?”
Jo turned slowly to Amy, gingerly patted her shoulder and in as strong of a voice as she could muster said, “I will take it from here.”
She invited Sam to sit down on the stone bench that had the corners torn away from it from age, much like Jo felt herself. “I was only ten when I discovered the journal,” Jo started. She went on to describe how she and her sister had gone to the hideout many times over the years to hang out. They had been so elated when they discovered this secret place and had assumed that they were the first to know of its existence.
It was only after Jo found the secret journal that she realized they were not the first to use this as their clubhouse. Amy had not been paying attention when the book was found, and for some reason Jo decided to hide it in her backpack and look it over herself before sharing it with anyone.
That evening, Jo read the contents of the journal by flashlight while everyone in her family was sleeping. She didn’t sleep a wink that night as she slowly poured over the pages and realized her grandmother had a huge secret. Grandma Josephine, who Jo had been named after, and who Jo had idolized her whole life had gone to the grave thinking her story was safe. As Jo read and re-read the journal, she made a pact with herself to keep the contents quiet until she had time to do some research herself.
Much to Amy’s dismay, Jo skipped going to the hideout for the next couple of weeks. Usually Amy and Jo were thick as thieves, but Amy was so angry with Jo that she didn’t even need to make up excuses to go to the library by herself. Amy was too mad to tag along.
Jo searched through all of the old newspapers. Jake had disappeared on October 3, 1946. He had been only 5 months old. He was the son of Josephine and had been born out of wedlock. Back in those days, this was very strongly frowned upon and an unwed mother was scorned. Josephine was a strong soul though, and proudly bore her son.
As young Jake, with his big blue eyes and black head of curls, began to smile and coo he quickly won the hearts of the town. They slowly forgot their prejudices against her having the child out of wedlock. He soon became the apple of everyone’s eye throughout the whole area.
Then on that fateful night of October 3, the screams could be heard throughout the small town. No one could calm the young mother down as she rocked back and forth in violent tears. She had gone to the crib to check on her sleeping son only to realize he was gone. Search parties formed right away thinking it was so recent that someone was sure to find the boy.
Month after month, year after year rolled by as the story of missing Jake faded into the history of the town. It had been decided that the boy’s father had swept in and stolen him in the dark of the night.
The journal had been found seventy some years later by Josephine’s only granddaughter. Josephine had filled the pages of that journal with the story of her marriage in 1948 and the birth shortly after of her only daughter. Her journal entries consisted of stories of her happy family of three. She was vigilant with her journal writing throughout her life. In 1965, she wrote of the happy news of a granddaughter being born and named after her.
It was only when Jo got to the entry her grandmother made in 1975 that Josephine learned of her grandmother’s long lost son, Jake. Josephine never wrote about him until later in life. She wondered why.
The father of Jake had returned to her life and wanted the baby. He was going to get his son, and there was nothing she could do about it. In fact, he had strangled her until she passed out the evening they talked just to confirm he would stop at nothing to get him. He had always had an evil side to him. It was when Josephine came to that she knew what she must do. She waited until her mom and dad were asleep and she quietly crept from the house with her young son in her arms.
She cried inconsolably as she sat on the riverbank. She had been beaten one too many times by Jake’s father that she knew what kind of life was in store for him. She couldn’t run away because he would only chase her. Her only option was to take his life now to save him from a life of misery. It was the hardest choice she would ever have to make. She walked into the river and cuddled her son as she quietly watched him take his last breath. She buried him deep in those woods and returned home to act as if he had been stolen.
Jo finished telling the story of that fateful day in October. She hard a hard time grasping the truth, but knew in her heart that her grandmother had done the only thing she thought she could do to save her son. Both her grandmother and mother had taken that story to their graves.