After reluctantly naming me a co-trustee with his man at the bank, my father assured me “the bank” would take care of everything. That was fine with me. I forgot all about his trust. But now he was dead, and I had to consult my co-trustee and make arrangements for the care of my mother, which brought home to me that I didn’t know much about either of my parents.
Oh, I knew their preferences, mannerisms, and expressions. Early on, I’d learned to predict their behavior pretty accurately. But that was surface knowledge. Was there anything more to them—anything deeper?
Dad would repeat a few polished anecdotes about his childhood, but when asked for more information, he’d hide behind his newspaper and say, “Water over the dam, son.”
Mother was even less responsive: “The future is what counts. You aren’t inheriting anything, you know!”
And so my questions went unformulated, unasked, and unanswered. Was it true that my mother used to have a job downtown? How did she and my father meet? What did they see in each other? How come my father ended up working for a sash and door company? Had he ever dreamed of doing something else? Whatever happened to my mother’s unmentionable father? I didn’t even know his name—or those of my father’s parents and grandparents. And where did Gram and Auntie get the money to see five movies every week? As far as I knew, neither of them had ever had a job.
I never expected to learn the answers to these questions and didn’t think I cared to. But when my father was seventy, he surprised me by writing a short memoir. I urged my mother to write one, too. Alarmed, she pooh-poohed the idea. I appealed to her competitive instinct. She didn’t want Dad getting ahead of her, did she? Finally she came through. But unlike Dad, who wanted to get his story “on the record,” she wanted to get hers “off her chest.” He began his memoir, “Life has been good to me.” She began hers, “The only relative I have of note is my grandfather, George Wilson.”