While cleaning out his childhood home, Nashville’s J. Ronald M. York discovered a box of letters and news clippings that uncovered a long-held family secret. For several months in the fall of 1955, Ron’s father was held in the Dade County Jail awaiting trial on charges of sexual abuse of a minor. During that time, Ron’s father and mother wrote daily letters to each other.
After the death of his father, Ron discovered the saved letters and clippings held in a box. Ron had uncovered a secret that his family had held for close to sixty years. His new book, Kept in the Dark, publishes those letters and follows Ron’s journey toward finding out what happened to his family when he was just three years old.
Ron has graciously agreed to talk to me about his book.
Question: How did you begin to pull the story together of what happened to your family?
J. Ronald M. York: Once I came to terms with what the letters revealed, I wanted to know more. The newspaper articles helped explain the charges, while the letters gave me insight to what my parents were going through. Still, there were blanks and even a couple things they had code words for that needed to be explained. I checked with the few remaining people connected although no one would know the whole story. However, those bits and pieces of information gave me leads to follow in my research. Google and Ancestry dot com became my closest friends.
Question: What was the most difficult part of about sharing this piece of your family’s story?
York: When I decided I wanted to share this part of my family history, I knew that I could not do so without including how I was a victim of the same crime my dad had been accused of – something I had kept secret until then.
Question: When did you decide that this story was one that needed to be shared – first with friends and then with a larger audience?
York: For two months I kept what I found to myself. Finally one close friend asked: “What the hell is wrong with you?” I started talking and couldn’t stop but by doing so, I could pull myself out of the letters and look at it for what it was and realize it might be of help to others. Once the draft was done, that friend was the first to read it and then I let another friend, who is also an author. I then decided it was time to ask someone to read it that knew and loved my parents. I needed to know how he would view the story. His response and support meant so much that I asked him to write the book’s foreword. Within the first 5 people to read the early draft, two had a similar story in their family. I knew then I was on the right track and the book needed to be published.
Question: What are your hopes for the book? What, if anything, made you nervous about publishing these letters and your family’s story?
York: My hope from the beginning would be that the book would be of help to others. That has already proven true as friends began to read and shared their stories with me. It has now gone beyond friends as strangers are contacting me and some of the things they are telling me, they have never talked about before. It seems to be opening dialogue and I couldn’t be more pleased. I was nervous at first to what the reaction might be. Not only do I reveal a dark secret about my dad, but about myself as well. In this day of people speaking without filters, I had no idea how people might react or what they would say. I have been overwhelmed by positive feedback.
Question: How has writing the book and sharing this story had an impact on you? Did it serve as a catharsis for you?
York: I definitely have found myself much more emotional. People have shared devastating things about themselves. As someone that has been abused, I know there is nothing more important than when someone gets up the courage to share something this personal, they need someone to listen, believe and not judge. I try to be strong for them but often find myself in tears when I’m alone and think about the pain others have endured.
Question: You detail that tracking down details from sixty years ago could be frustrating at times. What was the most frustrating detail that you couldn’t get clarification on? What detail did you uncover that surprised you the most?
York: Information on my dad’s friend and partner in crime was difficult to uncover. His name is similar to a mobster in the Miami area and for a long time, I couldn’t find anything on him and more than I wanted on the mobster. A photo helped me remember he had an older brother and although also deceased, I found his son, the nephew, who didn’t know much about the events that happened. However, that gave me leads as to his profession and a couple of cities that when added to the search, brought up some information that I had not had before. The most surprising discovery were the three dates of death and how they were connected. The two accused, the two victims and my mother and her father. I still don’t know the significance of that but it was an eery revelation.
Thank you to Ron for agreeing to this conversation. If you want to know more about this story of love, redemption, healing and forgiveness I encourage you to pick up his book, Kept in the Dark.
RONALD M. YORK graduated from Belmont University and spent the next two decades in the field of interior design before opening his first art gallery. When not at the gallery, York can be found in his studio painting, at his piano composing or assisting numerous nonprofit agencies with fundraising. He lives in Nashville.
You can find out more about Ron’s story by reading his books Kept in the Dark and visiting his website at: http://jronaldmyork.com