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Sunday, June 27, 2010

FAQs on Annie’s Ghosts (#4)

Another FAQ from my talks on Annie's Ghosts:

Q: "Did you find out exactly why your mom hid her sister's existence?"

A: Before I get to that, I'd like to answer another question that has come my way several times in the past week, including twice yesterday at the American Library Association's conference in Washington.

Q: Is your book available on Kindle?

A: Yes (as well as other e-book formats).

Now back to regularly scheduled programming.

My journey into our family secret took me around the country, as I tracked down unknown relatives and friends of my mom from the 1930s and 1940s. I read all the letters -- 600 of them -- that my parents exchanged during my father's Army days in World War II. As best as I could, I recreated my mom's worlds, both the one that she left behind and the one that she inhabited while I was growing up. I came away with a strong sense of what she did and why she did it, and of the social forces that influenced her.

I'm going to stop there, so that I stay on this side of the spoiler rules (don't give away the story).

Next and final FAQ: "How did writing Annie's Ghosts affect your relationships with ..."

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

FAQs on Annie’s Ghosts (#3)

Another favorite FAQ at my talks on Annie’s Ghosts:

Q. If your mom were still alive, would you have written your book?

A. Whenever I’m asked this question, I pause long enough for silence to set in, long enough for the audience to wonder whether I'm going to reply, and I say, “Are you kidding me?”

Then I take a more serious shot at the question. It’s not a tough one to answer: I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t have written this book, the one called Annie's Ghosts. Why? Because my mom’s death triggered the events that led me to believe that I could tell her motivations for keeping Annie a secret and that I could explore Annie’s unknown life.

If my mom were still alive, the story would not have unfolded as it did. The first concrete clue – the forwarded letter from the cemetery that listed Annie’s grave and finally revealing her name – only came to us because my mom was no longer alive to receive it.

Who knows what would have happened if my mom had decided to reveal her secret while she were alive? I imagine that conversation sometimes: Listening to her, gently asking her questions, trying to understand. I know this: I wouldn’t have been thinking about writing a book. As I wrote in Annie’s Ghosts, while my mom was alive, I was very much the son, not the journalist.

If she were still alive, the secret would still be her story. It only became my story – my journey into the secret – after she died.

That’s how I look at it. How would you have reacted? Feel free to leave a comment.

Next: “Did you find out exactly why your mom . . .”

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

FAQs on Annie's Ghosts (#2)

Another of the FAQs asked at my talks on Annie’s Ghosts:

Q. Looking back, with all that you have learned about your mom’s secret, can you now see certain moments as evidence that she was hiding her sister Annie’s existence? Was the secret right there in front of you? Did you have a sense growing up that something wasn’t being discussed?

A. I've been tempted, really tempted, to say, “I always felt an air of mystery in my family. Even as a kid, I already knew that my parents were hiding something. It all added up, looking back.”

That would make me look smart, attentive, observant.

Unfortunately, the only adjective that fits here is . . . clueless.

I can’t remember even a single moment of doubt about my mom’s biography or her veracity. Nothing struck me, at the time, as odd, or deceptive, or off kilter. Like most children, I accepted that my parents did not share their innermost fears or concerns. I knew that they protected me from worries about money, which was usually in short supply. But if any of my friends had asked, “Do you think your mom or dad has any deep, dark secrets?,” I would have said, “Our family? Not a chance.”

Looking back, I do wonder: Were there moments where my mom slipped – and her slip just passed me by?

If so, I can’t point to any. In my mom’s company, I was very much a son, a son who had been raised to tell the truth. The summer that Annie died, in August 1972, I was home from college, working at a local factory. My mom managed to arrange for Annie’s burial, and I never picked up any hint of it.

The journalist in me has to just shake his head, and say: Good job, Mom.

Next: “If your mom were alive. . .”

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