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Nashville, Tenn. – What if your family had been hiding a dark secret that changed their lives and, unknowingly, yours? That’s exactly the kind of secret J. Ronald M. York discovered when he found a box of letters and news clippings in a shed after his father’s death. Piecing together the bits of information he found in the box and from the living family members who knew about the crime, York uncovered his father’s sexual abuse toward children, a secret he carried to the grave and for which York’s father spent the rest of his life trying to make amends.
Releasing Jan. 24, 2017, “Kept in the Dark” is the story of a shocking crime that occurred before York could remember, but more importantly, it is a tale of unwavering love between York’s parents and the ability to forgive, a tale shared to create dialogue about the pain of child molestation and the victims who silently endure it. Though it is a story about the past, “Kept in the Dark” is a story that resonates today and shares both love and pain that is often kept hidden.
KEPT IN THE DARK: The jail was located on the top nine floors of the Dade County Courthouse in downtown Miami. The young father could look down from the 21st floor, to the street below. His wife and child would come each night, stand on the sidewalk and wave to him. They would flash the car lights to signal they were there and he, in return, would strike a match from his window to let them know he was watching. Although separated by just a few miles, they were only able to see each other each Sunday, for two hours, through glass and wire. Writing letters became their way of communicating and 100 letters were exchanged during an eight-week period. This was a secret my parents, family and a few close friends took to their graves. No one ever told me and I was too young to remember. And yet, a box containing the letters, yellowed newspaper clippings, faded photographs and cards of encouragement from friends was left for me after everyone was gone. Although the crime took place more than 60 years ago, it is still as current as today’s headlines. After much thought and reflection, I am ready to share this story. Controversial and uncomfortable, it is still deeply rooted in unwavering love. A horrific mistake was made leaving a family to heal, rebuild their lives and hopefully, forgive.
J. 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.
About the Book “Kept in the Dark”
“Kept in the Dark”
J.Ronald M. York • January 24, 2017
Nonfiction • Memoir
An Interview with J. Ronald M. York
How did you find the box of letters your father kept hidden?
I knew I would not be keeping the family home after he passed away. We had lived there for 40 years and from attic to basement were things that I needed to go through and decide what to keep and what to put in the estate sale. It had been suggested to sell the items in the detached tool shed as a whole but still, I felt I needed to take a closer look. There was a trunk stored there and inside of the trunk, I found the box of letters.
Why do you think your parents kept the letters and newspaper clippings?
I honestly believe they were meant for me to find one day. That box had moved with us from Miami, to Chattanooga and three homes in Nashville. You don’t keep something like that and think no one will ever find it. Plus, I had always questioned why we had no contact with one set of relatives and the contents of the box offers the explanation.
How long did it take you to piece together your father’s story?
The letters and newspaper articles told the story, but I wanted to be able to fill in a few blanks with more detail. With the event happening 60 years earlier, everyone directly involved and mentioned in the letters had passed away. Plus there were a few things in the letters that were done in code to figure out. I lived with the story for two months before I could distance myself from it enough to begin research. It took several more months to bring it to this point. I would often find little nuggets that didn’t offer much insight and then later on find another that would tie them together.
Family secrets and child abuse are not easy issues to come to terms with, so it must have taken a lot of courage to tell this story. What made you decide to write a book?
The letters exchanged between my parents, as my dad was in jail awaiting trial, are such a time capsule of the 1950s that I felt they were a story on their own. But because of the subject of child abuse and the fact that I was sexually abused as a child, I felt it was important to come forward and share in hopes of helping others.
When sharing this story with people, what sort of response have you gotten?
I had kept this story close, sharing with only a handful of friends until the book was completed. But in that small circle, nearly half had their own stories to tell of it happening within their families.
Growing up, did you ever have any idea anything was out of the ordinary?
Honestly, I would have never guessed this. The only thing that never quite made sense was the separation between my mother and her older sister.
Your book discusses your mother’s undying love for your father. How do you think this crime affected her life and their marriage?
My mother stood by my father and as I read her letters and learned just a small bit of what she endured at the time, I realize she was much stronger than I would have imagined. As far as their marriage, I never saw conflict, but I have to believe she always lived with the fear of the possibility of it happening again.
If you could say something to your father today, what would you tell him?
At my age, there would be no hysterics. I had a wonderful childhood and an amazing relationship with my father in my adult life. So I can’t blame him for something I knew nothing about. But I would want him to know about my own childhood abuse, something I never shared with my parents as well as ask him if he had been abused as a child.
What do you hope readers will take away from “Kept in the Dark”?
I hope the reader will not focus solely on the crime to the point that they can’t see the strength in my parents’ marriage and how my father made amends. I also hope they can see by my example that abuse does not have to define you. And maybe be open to dialogue if it is something that they have endured and kept within.
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Anglle Barbazon, publicist
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