“All in Due Time: A Memoir of Siblings, Genealogy, Secrets and Love”
By Kate Troll; Cirque Press, 2023; 186 pages; $20.
Now that genetic testing is available to anyone for a modest fee, and with the shared genealogy databases that have developed from it, it seems that almost everyone is discovering not just their ethnic make-up but long-lost or surprising relatives. This development has been a boon to, especially, adoptees or others who may be curious about family connections.
Kate Troll, a Juneau writer and speaker on environmental and climate issues, is one of what she calls the “Troll Tribe,” six close-in-age children who, as Air Force “brats,” changed countries and schools every few years and grew up in a loving family as a team. Three of them are well-known Alaskans growing now to be elders — Kate; her older brother Tim, a lawyer, administrator, historian and artist; and her younger brother Ray, creator of T-shirts and book and museum art featuring fish and science. Kate’s new book is the intriguing story of a family mystery and its sleuthing out, captured within some larger issues about generational pressures, silences, gender roles, adoption practices, nature versus nurture, and definitions of family.
While it’s not at all unusual for families to discover half-siblings, the Troll Tribe’s experience is uniquely strange and surprising, extending well beyond what might have been expected. It would spoil some of the mystery to say too much here, other than that readers will easily be drawn into the wonderment of it all. It is also a pleasure to be dropped into the lives of Troll family members who share not just sibling history and friendship but a fierce love for one another.
The mystery begins in 1985 when Kate, examining her birth certificate, finds an odd notation on it. When she asks her mother a simple question, her mother shuts her down. Fast-forward to 2012, when Kate turns 60 and her mother dies, and then to 2017, when Kate’s daughter has her DNA tested and finds an unexpected match. Kate starts on a hunt that involves a reluctant correspondent. One mystery leads to another, one frustration to another, one surprise to another. Kate examines her own life and thinks about the lives of her parents and the secrets they each carried to their graves.
“All in due time” was one of her patient mother’s favorite expressions, along with “Leave well enough alone” and “Things work out for the best.” In the course of her inquiry, the author learns in what ways she’s like her mother — but also like her commanding lawyer and military judge father. She also explores the significance of birth order and bonds in a family.
The Troll parents, both born in 1916, grew up together in the same small upstate New York town. They both served in the military — Raymond as a bomber navigator and Mary in the Women’s Army Corps, or WAC. They didn’t marry until 1951, when they were 35, a circumstance daughter Kate attributes to the disruptions of World War II. They never mentioned their courtship or wedding or celebrated an anniversary, apparently ashamed that Mary had been pregnant with Tim before marriage. Only after Mary died did Raymond call the adult children together to tell them this fact of life — something they’d already figured out and considered of no importance.
To better understand both parents, Kate read through letters her father had sent home to his parents during the war. She quotes heavily from them, describing bombing runs, his pride and his fears, his desire to “be someone” set against the attraction of a “quiet life,” “if he trains himself to live in a spirit of kindness and brotherhood.” She also attempts to trace her mother’s life during the war years, when she served as a WAC lieutenant in Georgia, working as a dietitian in a training center. After the war, Mary worked in a community hospital back in New York state. Although Kate learns little of her mother’s actual experience in those years, she does share her research about the WAC generally and opinions at the time about women’s roles in the military and society more generally. She also explores morality during those years and the fate of unwed mothers, consigned to placements in ostracizing “homes” where they were shunned and shamed.
Because both parents had passed before the Troll Tribe united in discoveries, much mystery remains and those alive today can only speculate about important elements of the story. As brother Ray puts it in a final chapter, in which the Troll siblings each have a say, “The fact is, we will never know what happened.” But what they do know, and readers learn too, is that their mother was not wrong — ”All in due time” and “Things work out for the best.” “Leave well enough alone?” Kate Troll did not, and this absorbing, compassionate and life-affirming book is the result.
The cover, a painting by Tim Troll, is of the strong and secretive Mary, loving and loved mother of the tribe.