Then Again

Posted: November 18, 2011 in Uncategorized
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I love to read about other people’s lives.  I don’t know why, but I do.  Famous people.  People of great courage.  People who have done interesting things.  People I hold dear as role models and heroes.  People who I have never heard of before but who know how to tell an interesting story.  All of it is a wonderful, exciting journey for me into other worlds, other times.

The newest book I’m reading holds a fascinating premise.  It’s the story of two women, mother and daughter, telling their stories in parallel, a generation apart. I was intrigued by the idea.  Think about it… what if you could sit and listen to your mother or father at the same age you are now, telling you about their life?  Yes, it’s rather “Back to the Future”-ish.  But wouldn’t that be a fascinating conversation?  Not to hear them remember what it was like to be your age, but to actually be your age and talk like contemporaries.

My own mother was an abusive woman who left many scars on myself and my four siblings.  I haven’t seen or spoken to her for thirty-nine years, since Christmas of 1972.  She is living on the opposite end of the country from me now, a frail woman, close to death.  She’s suffered a number of strokes that have left her unable to remember people.  Oddly enough, the strokes have turned her into what my sister describes as a “sweet, fluffy old lady”.  She has become nice, caring, pleasant to be around.  My siblings who have seen the transformation don’t trust it, treating it as another ruse to get them to drop their guard and be vulnerable.  Old training dies hard.

I haven’t spoken with her because up until a few years ago I was still terrified of her.  Like I said, old training dies hard.  But now I would just love to turn back the clock a few years, to when her mind was still intact.  I want desperately to ask her what happened to her to make her into the abusive person she became.  I want to understand her, to be able to love her through all the pain.  I want to know what her dreams were when she was young.  I want to know of her joy and passion, for there must have been some.  I want to know why she treated us the way she did.  Was it a belief instilled in her that this was how children were supposed to have been raised?  Or was she projecting her pain of an unfulfilled life onto us?  Was there some kind of mental illness that controlled her?  Who was she, this woman who gave birth to me and who made me a better person through wanting to never be like her?  Now I will never know.

“Then Again” by Diane Keaton explores her mother’s life and her own in a funny, emotional and insightful way.  Keaton’s mother kept eighty-five journals before succumbing to Alzheimer’s.  Keaton has gone back to read those journals and looked at her mother’s life and then read her own journals at the same point in her own life, seeing the parallels and differences, working to understand the woman who was such a critical and pivotal figure in her life.

I know that Keaton’s understanding of her mother won’t help me understand my mother, but for just a little while, in those few hundred pages, I can pretend to find my answers.  I will enjoy the fantasy.


  1. Louise (RB Akrotiri) says:

    Oooof. This post made my stomach flip – a little too close to the bone for me. Yes, old training or conditioning dies very hard and can seep into everyday and unrelated encounters….
    Hey the book sounds really interesting. I think it would be enlightening to read, compare and reflect on the particular struggles of the day, choices, decisions, options and sacrifices. I wish I had that chance too. Maybe it’s time for me to keep a journal, in case someone wants to fathom me one day.
    PS – I love biographies and one that I hold dear (it had a big impact on me but was excruciating in parts, so I can’t call it my ‘favourite’) is “The Spiral Staircase” by Karen Armstrong.

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