MY childhood is on the line. Pick up the phone…

Fair is fair.  So many of you have revealed the most intimate details of your childhood, that I owe you the same.  Besides, by entering the contest, I stand a good chance of winning the trophy myself (I sleep with the judge).  Mickey looks great  in HQ, and I could use a couple of rolls of quarters.

Here ya go:

Norman Rockwell's Deadman's Hill

A Norman Rockwell New England

by Thorn Sully


I don’t even remember what it was that I said.

But I remember my mother saying, “That’s a lie.”

It struck me as odd, at the time, because it was not a lie.  Only when I got older did I understand the nuances of lying, who to lie to, and under what circumstances.  Leonard Cohen sings “I smile, when I’m angry.  I cheat, and I lie.  I do what I have to do…to get by.  But I know what is wrong.  And I know what is right.  And I’d die for the truth, in my secret life.”

But for a nine year old, an apprentice of virtues that were absolute, black or white, I knew that to lie is wrong, and it was something I would never do. I knew this to be unshakeable.  So why didn’t my mother see that?

I did not realize it at the time, but she was waiting for a confession.  None was forth-coming.  I had not lied, so why should I confess?

There are many cold New Englanders congregated on the East Coast, and I think collectively they chill the air, and blame it on the weather.  The air in my Connecticut home was chilled for several days while my mother waited for me to confess…

In a completely separate incident, days later, an independent conversation, again one that I can’t recall, my mother concluded that I had once again lied.  “That’s a lie.  Tell the truth.”

“No, it’s not a lie.  I am always truthful.”  I was proud of the fact.

“I don’t believe you.  You lie.”

“Well, if every time I speak, you say I am lying, I just won’t talk to you.”

“Fine,” she said.  She was sure I would cave in.

But I did not cave in.  A full two weeks had passed, and I had not said a word to her.  It got easier as time went by.  I had huevos and integrity.

Finally, my father interceded, when he was still God.  “You know, you’ve got to start talking to you mother.”

“But she said I lied to her, and I didn’t.”

“I know.  But you’ve got to start talking to her.”

She was in the basement, doing laundry.

She was still taller than I was back then.  She looked down on me.

“Dad says I should start talking to you.”

“Before you say anything, you need to admit that you had lied to me.” Everyone envied me, because my mother was so beautiful.  A Hollywood starlet who sacrificed a budding career to marry a war hero, to bare his children and do the laundry.

I had put needing her on hold for two weeks. I was fasting. And now I started to realize just how much I hungered for her.  On the edge of tears, and tears can be very slippery indeed. I fell into her and just started sobbing.  She had her arms stiffly around my shoulders, not really holding me.  She was waiting.

When I had absolutely nothing left, I stood back, and the shirt between her breasts was soaking wet with tears, the clear blood of my soul.

“I lied to you.  And I’m sorry.”

That was the first time I ever lied.  It’s gotten easier, since then.

23 thoughts on “MY childhood is on the line. Pick up the phone…

  1. Anonymous says:

    …Please tell me you’re lying about this.

    From my distant point in warm California, this isn’t so much a matter of whether or not he truly lied but of her lack of faith in her own son and her inability to look inward at herself. The sins of the mother has been passed to her son.

    Sad and passionate all at once, that’s a terrible moment for a mother and a son. No child should have to break their own honor code just to feed their parents’ insecurities. At the end, it is truly bittersweet; instead of a moment of truth, it is a moment where a son has to offer a crying shoulder to his mother who can’t and won’t entertain the idea that her own child could be truthful to her. Instead of a moment of clearing the air, it’s a moment where she can hang her insecurities on her own children.

    And life just keeps on running…

  2. Peggy R. Dobbs says:

    As Derek said about my story, “other stories could be teased out of this”. It sounded so familiar. My mother saw things in black and white, she didn’t know that gray existed.

    A wonderful story with some outstanding lines that paint unforgetable pictures, as well as gives us a peek into your closely held background. Thank you for setting us a really high writing standard. Blessings, pd

      • Peggy R. Dobbs says:

        Were you raised anywhere near Guilford, Conn.? I may have mentioned it before, but I collect books by W.H.H. Murray, Adirondack Murray as he was known, ( ca. 1840-1900) When you commented on the “cold New Englanders….collectively chill the air”, it made me think of him and many of his writings. He preached at the Park St. Church in Boston for 6 or 8 years, but he found them “too chilling” and greedy with their religion, when the poor were at the door, often refused entry. He was allowed “to resign”. He rode fast horses and smoked large cigars, which mortified the
        staid membership. From then on, he did his preaching through a wonderful character named John Norton, the Trapper.

        We drove by the Murray Homestead in Guilford, Conn., a number of years ago. Your story caused me to pull out his “Cones For the Camp Fire”, a wonderful afternoon read. With the holidays coming so soon, I’d like to recommend his, “How John Norton Spent His Christmas.” You want regret it if you can find a copy! pd

        • Thornton Sully says:

          thanks Peggy

          I was raised in Old Greenwich, on Long Island Sound. It was a perfect location for an imperfect childhood. You can never go home again? I went back a few years ago and the current occupant of my old home gave me a tour. The way it’s supposed to work–you go to your home town, it’s degenerated, you leave with a few memories, and say “Oh, well”.

          But Old Greenwich was populated with mid-level executives who would commute every day to New York (my father among them). The ones who stayed became upper level executives, and Old Greenwich is now beyond belief with wealth. The house that I lived in that my parents sold in 1964 for $30,000 was just sold for 3,400,000, over a hundred times its cost in the sixties. Oh, well.

          I will look up John Norton.

  3. Mac Eagan says:

    I agree with Stefanie. This is not a flattering portrayal of your mother. It’s sad that she didn’t ask you to explain yourself and offer an opportunity to clear matters up.
    Even your father’s advice seems telling. ‘She says I lied to her and I didn’t.’ ‘I know. But you have to start talking.’ Why did he not step in to resolve the issue? It indicates your mother was not one to be easily swayed. ‘Just give her what she wants.’
    But the overall story nicely exposes the subtleties we have to master in growing up and preparing to navigate the adult world. A good read.

  4. Miryam says:

    “….collectively they chill the air, and blame it on the weather.” What a great line! What a greater paragraph!
    Skillfully sensitive memoir of a paradigm-shift which effected a moment — and a lifetime.
    Enjoyed your talented word smithing very much.
    Thanks T… It may be you and Mickey all the way…

  5. Tlrelf says:

    Thank you, Thorn, for sharing this. Yes, quid pro quo and all that. . .

    What you said is in your brain somewhere. I wonder what it was that she thought you lied about. . .

    Didn’t some famous writer say that fiction writers are people who lie for a living?

  6. M. Stang says:

    I think when telling one’s own childhood drama, as an adult, there is the tendency to glide over the ice with our skates. Blades tracks crisscross over frozen images of our parents, redefining a writer’s arrangement. A common thing, I confess to myself, when thinking of the mother’s fault. Love will do this. How else do we remember the womb.

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