By Ashleigh / Nov 7, 2022
She Couldn’t Believe It
She looked over the paper once again, clearly confused. She expected to see more names on the birth certificate, and slowly but surely, her stomach twisted into a tight knot.
She reached for her phone, desperate for some answers. Her heart felt like it could burst while pounding in her chest. She thought she knew her mother, but now everything was changing before her eyes. Who was she really?
From Admiration To Suspicion
Gail Lukasik looked up to her mother, Alvera Frederic, with her whole heart. She was a kind woman who had her admiration.
For as long as Gail could remember, her mother had been a pillar of strength in her life: she wasn’t just the woman who brought her into the world: she was her confidante, her best friend, and her biggest supporter. Still, there was something else about her.
Pillar Of Strength
Gail couldn’t remember one single occasion where her mother seemed to be overwhelmed by the circumstances. No matter how hard or inescapable a problem could appear to be, Alvera always found a way to bypass it and make it better.
Or at least, it was like that until Gail reached a certain age. That’s when she started noticing some things about her mother that she couldn’t fully explain.
But as Gail grew up her mother’s infallible nature came into question as she started to suspect something. At first, she couldn’t put her finger on what was going on.
She chalked up her oddities to a somewhat eccentric personality, but she soon realized things had to be deeper than that. She had no idea what rabbit hole she was about to tumble into.
Whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, Alvera Frederic had an interesting life. She moved up north from New Orleans to Ohio, where she met her father – Harold.
They always told her that their chance encounter was an instant connection – a spark of chemistry. Alvera was always very good to Harold. Maybe that’s why he didn’t ever notice the secrets she concealed.
Alvera was very secretive about her family. Gail asked many times to finally meet them, but her mother always said it would be too painful for her.
There was a reason for that. According to Alvera, neither of her parents had raised her growing up. However, they were still in touch and talked on the phone every now and then. But how was that?
She Didn’t See Them Much
Alvera’s parents were very poor when she was born, so they gave her away to a foster family in New Orleans. As a child, Alvera could only see her parents and siblings occasionally.
Their situation wasn’t good at all, and it was always depressing for Alvera to see how different her life with the foster parents was from that of his real family.
Something Was Off
At first, Gail bought that story. It still seemed kind of weird to her that her mother had never ever introduced it to her grandparents, but she was too young to seriously question it.
But Gail soon started feeling that there were other strange things about her mother that she only noticed once she started looking.
Wearing Makeup To Bed
“When you’re younger, you just accept your mom’s quirks and think, well, that’s just who she is, that’s mom,” Gail recalls as she remembered her mother always wore makeup when she went to bed.
At first, she had her own theories about it. Despite all of her virtues, if Alvera had a vice, it was vanity. She always liked to look her best, no matter the circumstances.
So Gail merely explained it as being ready in case she had to go to the hospital in the middle of the night. It would be embarrassing to go out unprepared. At least in her mind.
The Washington Post
However, she would in time discover the truth about her mother and her strange habit. And it would be something way more appalling than she could have imagined.
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?
Country Living Magazine
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.
The Letter ‘B’
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.
Atlanta Black Star
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 letters “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.
Geauga County Maple Leaf
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.”
The Seattle Times
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.
The Washington Post
“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.”