You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘family history’ category.

You never know what interesting, and often entertaining, stories you’ll turn up when you start asking questions. This long Twitter thread is a prime example.


Nicole Cliffe

My dad thought HIS dad was dead until I was a year old. Then he found him in the Toronto phone book.

My mom was doing my family tree and started asking where he was buried and what he died of.

“Huh, dunno. Mom just said he was dead.”

“Doesn’t your mom lie about everything, all the time?”


(opens phone book for Canada’s most populous city: boom, there he is)

“Mom, why did you tell us Dad was dead?” “Well, I hadn’t heard from him in a while, and divorce is such an unpleasant topic.”

So, my dad calls his dad and is like “uh, are you the Ralph Cliffe who was married to Horrible Mother?” (He was.)

So, my dad went to visit him and then we went to visit him and we always brought him a carton of DuMauriers and he bought us Mint Aeros.

Later I was like “Dad, you know your dad didn’t think YOU were dead, didn’t that bug you?”

And he said “listen, no human being who had the ability to get away from my mother would have passed it up. I have no hard feelings.”

The real fun coda to this story (there are two, you’re being so patient!) came a year or so later, when my mom found a wedding pic.

A wedding pic of my dad’s mom, not to my dad’s dad, not to her new husband. An older one. “Who’s that?” she asked her.

Turns out she had married a British soldier during WW2, decided she hated England, got on a troop ship and came home. Never divorced him.

(Divorce being unpleasant.) So she just took that one as a mulligan. He wrote her a lot of letters, she ignored them.

So, she was bigamously married to my dad’s dad, and then later to her new husband.

Now, her new husband was a lot of fun, and a great grandpa to my brother and me. Buncha weird tattoos, missing a thumb.

He was Latvian. We would sit on his lap and play with his thumb stump and watch WWII movies.

But in the late 1980s he started to get really squirrelly and paranoid. Which, in retrospect, was because of the Deschênes Commission.

(Canada had started looking more firmly at the war records of German soldiers who slid on into Canada in the fifties.)

But then he died and no one wanted more Unpleasantness, so there you go.

Anyway, she was one of the worst moms of all time and definitely the worst wife and she and I hung out 24/7 and she let me smoke.

And we watched Young and the Restless together and Biography on A&E and I often miss her. And my dad somehow turned out great.

Thank you for listening to my Canadian family saga, in which avoiding Unpleasantness led to bigamy and marrying Nazis and abandonment.

OH, I forgot the best part! On my dad’s dad’s deathbed, he said “Bill, I have secrets!” and my dad was like “Jesus, Dad, let’s not.”

“Your sister? Not mine. You remember [some guy]?”

So, a few months later, my dad said “hey, sis, do you remember [some guy]?”

And she said, “oh, yeah! He took me to the circus once, randomly.”

And THAT is definitely the end of this story.

I do not feel bad airing the family laundry like this, because that woman may have hated Unpleasantness, but she fucking LOVED Drama.

The only thing you really miss out on by hearing this story via Twitter is me saying “the Mounties are after me!” in a thick Latvian accent.

My grandparents were so cool. As a child, I knew they were the parents of my parents, but I couldn’t connect those dots. They were older people who made me feel special, and introduced me to different perspectives.

This poem resonates with me, so I wanted to share it with you.

My Grandparents’ Generation

They are taking so many things with them:
their sewing machines and fine china,

their ability to fold a newspaper
with one hand and swat a fly.

They are taking their rotary telephones,
and fat televisions, and knitting needles,

their cast iron frying pans, and Tupperware.
They are packing away the picnics

and perambulators, the wagons
and church socials. They are wrapped in

lipstick and big band music, dressed
in recipes. Buried with them: bathtubs

with feet, front porches, dogs without leashes.
These are the people who raised me

and now I am left behind in
a world without paper letters,

a place where the phone
has grown as eager as a weed.

I am going to miss their attics,
their ordinary coffee, their chicken

fried in lard. I would give anything
to be ten again, up late with them

in that cottage by the river, buying
Marvin Gardens and passing go,

collecting two hundred dollars.

%d bloggers like this: