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Sunday, May 10, 2009

On Mother's Day, Secrets and Their Keepers

At last night’s discussion/reading/signing at the Red Canoe Book Store and Café in Baltimore, I asked those in the crowd with a family secret of their own to raise a hand. That brought forth hands from about half the audience. Someone else stole my punch line: “You just don’t know it yet.”

From the crowd, knowing laughs.

Afterward, several people murmured to me as I signed their books, “I’ve love to tell you about my family secret.” Talking about my family’s secrets often seems to free others to talk about theirs.

That wouldn’t have happened as readily, or at all, a generation or more ago. In response to a question last night about how my mother managed to keep her friends from finding out about her institutionalized sister Annie, I recounted a scene from the book that involved my mom’s bridge game in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Every week, for more than a decade, the same four women got together to play cards. They smoked cigarettes and swapped stories, but they didn’t talk about Mom’s secret. Later, I learned that all three eventually came to know about Annie, but that Mom never realized it.

One of the bridge players, a woman named Ann, had two relatives with disabilities. She was upset and angry, she told me recently, that my mom had chosen to hide Annie’s existence. But Ann never said anything to Mom.

I asked her why. “It wasn’t my place,” she said. “It wasn’t my secret.”

Instead, the bridge players kept their silence, compelled—by custom, by culture, by circumstance—not to say anything to each other.

Something to think about on this Mother’s Day 2009.

P.S. It felt so good to do my first bookstore signing at the Red Canoe. Not only do authors and readers need to support the independents in this time of consolidation and change in the publishing industry, but it’s within walking distance of my house. How cool is that?

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Dale Van Every said...

Hi Steve-
I'm reading Annie's Ghosts right now, really enjoying it. I'll be reviewing it for Suite 101. This blog is a great idea...I'll be checking back regularly as I finish reading. Thanks for sharing such a personal story. Even though I'm not yet half through, I can tell, this will be the type of story that will help folks realize the importance open communication, most especially within families.
Take Care,
Dale Van Every

May 10, 2009 at 7:14 PM  
Anonymous DL said...

The book is a great read. And Steve, in addition to being a great author and researcher, you're also a generous and helpful person. Thanks for your help a few months ago as I researched my own family secret. I wrote about it here: http://beadedbells.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/family-secrets/

July 10, 2010 at 8:07 AM  

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