Things my mom never told me

My brother Clay is working on a family history project, to let the grandkids and great-grandkids know about their ancestors after we're dead. It's a book I'm sure will be flipped through once or twice, but eventually it'll go to a landfill, right?

He's asked all the siblings, nieces, nephews, and in-laws to write a page or two about themselves. I asked to see someone else's page, to get a feel for what Clay's looking for, so he showed me what our mom wrote.

Mom's one-page memoir is jam-packed with things she'd either never mentioned to me, or I'd long ago forgotten. They're not the kind of things anyone would forget, though, so I think she never told me.

• I knew that her father (my granddad, who was dead before I was born) had been a farmer, but I never knew he was also the minister at their church.

• I knew that my mom and dad got together because they went to the same college, but I hadn't known that they met and fell in love on the very day she showed up to register for classes. She was only 17, and Dad was 19.

• Maybe most astounding, I learned from reading Mom's page that her family's house burned down when she was seven or eight years old.

Grandma's house, where I visited many, many times until she died — the house where my mother grew up — was their second house, built after the first house was destroyed by fire.

How could my momma raise me and know me for all these years, and have never told me any of this?

♦ ♦ ♦

There may have been a previous episode of this show where I complained about my mother, so it wouldn't be fair to leave this unsaid: She hasn't bothered me much, in months.

She still texts a lot, and I reply, but it's not a bother. It's rather pleasant. She's stopped bringing up the painful or awkward topics she's always wanted to talk and re-talk about. No more asking why I don't call. Only brief, rare invitations to church, and when I say no she doesn't ask again the next day. It's been at least months since she asked whether I'd be getting my ugly teeth fixed, or whether I've heard from my 1980s and '90s ex-girlfriends, etc.

Mom and I still have breakfast at the diner twice monthly, always with my sister and usually with one or two others. The conversation is not oceanically deep, but it's pleasant. Mom still participates, but she's saying less, and listening more.

Possibly that's a cognitive issue, or her hearing aid's gone kerflooey, but when questions are addressed to her, she still answers, quickly and coherently.

♦ ♦ ♦

At our first breakfast after I'd read Mom's one-page memoir, I asked about her house burning down. She said there wasn't much to tell, but then she told us all about it.

She'd been at school when the fire started, and my grandmother had phoned the volunteer fire department. Someone must've phoned the school, because the teacher told my future-mom to ride the bus to a cousin's house instead of walking to her own house after class.

My grandparents' family stayed with the cousins for months. "They were nice kids," Mom said, "and we all became better friends."

My granddad I never knew cleared the charred rubble and built a new house, on the same plot of land. It was bigger and better, took months and months, and my mom's father and his friends hammered all the nails themselves. They hired only a plumber, because Granddad said he didn't know enough about pipes to do it right.

I asked, what caused the fire? "It was a long time ago," Mom said after thinking about it, "and I really don't remember."

I asked why she'd never mentioned the fire before, and she said she hadn't thought it was worth talking about.

This is my mother. Her house burned down when she was a kid, and she'd never mentioned it to me, I am certain, for as long as I've been alive.

Mom is well into her 90s, but still full of surprises. And I wonder, does anyone really know even the people they think they know best?



  1. "And I wonder, does anyone really know even the people they think they know best?"

    The first time I ever really pondered this question was when I was in my early 20s and saw Last Tango in Paris for the first time. Perfectly illuminated our total alienation.

    1. Really?

      Jeez, Last Tango in Paris.

      You're not the first or second person to tell me I missed something marvelous when I saw it, but still I've never heard a rave review from a woman,.

      But WTF, I'll put a rewatch of LTIP on my watchlist.

    2. Claude Pass The Butter ReignsNovember 4, 2023 at 8:31 PM


      There's no better film about the psycho-sexual hang-ups of men. Completely devastating. Brando's is the greatest performance in the history of movies!

    3. I am skeptical, but it's back on the list.

  2. Most people don't even know themselves.

    1. Seriously.
      Whoa. I've been out-Keanued.

    2. Solipsism may have something to do with that.

    3. Had to open a dictionary for that one, and learned what I already knew — that I'm very self-centered or selfish.

    4. Solipsism is next to onanism

    5. Didn't need a dictionary for that, being a hands-on guy. Anyway, I served with Onan. Onan was a friend of mine. Claude, you're no Onan.

  3. Thank you for this article, and this site. There is something universal about your grumpyness and unsociability. You remind me of a friend who got himself lost.

    I have been reading for a month and wanted to say: thank you.

    1. Universal grump. I like that.

      Thank you for the kind words.

  4. Tell me that in person and buy me dinner, big fellah.


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