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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.

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Nicole Cliffe
‏@Nicole_Cliffe
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My dad thought HIS dad was dead until I was a year old. Then he found him in the Toronto phone book.
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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.”
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“Doesn’t your mom lie about everything, all the time?”

“Yeah.”

(opens phone book for Canada’s most populous city: boom, there he is)
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“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.”
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So, my dad calls his dad and is like “uh, are you the Ralph Cliffe who was married to Horrible Mother?” (He was.)
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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.
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Later I was like “Dad, you know your dad didn’t think YOU were dead, didn’t that bug you?”
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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.”
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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.
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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.
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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.
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(Divorce being unpleasant.) So she just took that one as a mulligan. He wrote her a lot of letters, she ignored them.
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So, she was bigamously married to my dad’s dad, and then later to her new husband.
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Now, her new husband was a lot of fun, and a great grandpa to my brother and me. Buncha weird tattoos, missing a thumb.
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He was Latvian. We would sit on his lap and play with his thumb stump and watch WWII movies.
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But in the late 1980s he started to get really squirrelly and paranoid. Which, in retrospect, was because of the Deschênes Commission.
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(Canada had started looking more firmly at the war records of German soldiers who slid on into Canada in the fifties.)
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But then he died and no one wanted more Unpleasantness, so there you go.
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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.
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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.
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Thank you for listening to my Canadian family saga, in which avoiding Unpleasantness led to bigamy and marrying Nazis and abandonment.
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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.”
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“Your sister? Not mine. You remember [some guy]?”
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So, a few months later, my dad said “hey, sis, do you remember [some guy]?”
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And she said, “oh, yeah! He took me to the circus once, randomly.”
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And THAT is definitely the end of this story.
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I do not feel bad airing the family laundry like this, because that woman may have hated Unpleasantness, but she fucking LOVED Drama.
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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.

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You Are A Classic

Vehicles not only transport us from one location to another, but they also represent transitional moments in our lives. It’s a fun beginning point if you want to record the life story of a loved one.

For example, my father shared memories regarding the above photograph, in which he’s sitting on a 1948 Harley he bought in the mid-1950s, while attending college in San Francisco. Pre-helmet-days, he wore an upside-down sailor hat to keep hair from blowing into his eyes.

“I bought it from a man who kept it in his barn. It was good-sized. I had never ridden a motorcycle in my entire life. He showed me the elements of it in his field. It was not a foot shifter. You had to shift it by hand, and jump-start it. You worked up a sweat to get it going. I drove it a few times around.

That was on Friday. On Sunday, I headed to San Francisco, with two days’ experience. I’m driving down 101, and the wind is starting to blow. I’m not used to leaning into the wind, and it keeps blowing me toward the center line. I had to keep slowing down to get where I’m supposed to be; speed up a little bit, I’m back at the center line. I get to the Golden Gate Bridge, and my hands, from gripping the handlebars, were closed like claws, and I’m trying to get the wallet out to pay the bridge fare. Cars behind me are blowing their horns.

I was living with my grandmother in San Francisco at the time, and she had a garage below the sidewalk. I loved the motorcycle so much, that I would go down there, and just sit on it; smell the oil.

I had it for the rest of the school year. That July 4th holiday, I thought it would be great to take it to Yosemite [from Fort Bragg], and to take my kid brother, Steve, who was only 13 at the time. I was 18. I told my mom we were going to Yosemite, and then to Carson City, and Reno. She said, “Oh, okay.”

We were about half-way to Yosemite, and I start getting a flat fire in the front, and the front end is shaking back and forth. I could hardly hold onto it, and there’s a big semi behind us.

I said, “Hey, Steve, get ready to jump, because I’m not sure how long I can keep doing this.”

He said, “Get ready to do what?”

I managed to pull it off to the side of the road, and the truck went by. The motorcycle was so heavy in the front end, I couldn’t lift it. There happened to be a husky farm boy who lived near there, who helped me lift it up, put some blocks underneath it. We took that wheel off, hitchhiked back to the nearest town, where they fixed it; hitchhiked back to the motorcycle, put it on, and started heading to Yosemite.

After about 15 miles, the tire started to go flat again. It started to shake a little bit, but not as bad as it did before. If I kept the speed up, the shaking wasn’t too bad, so we made it to the next town. The tire shop said the previous guys did a crappy job of repairing it; didn’t cover the hole completely.

We finally got to Yosemite, camped out on the ground, drove around Mirror Lake, and other places. Beautiful place to drive a motorcycle.

In the middle of the night, a big thunderstorm came up, and we got soaking wet in our sleeping bags. I said, “Why don’t we just cancel Carson City and Reno, and head back to Fort Bragg?”

We drive back through St. Helene to the Becks’ ranch, where I used to go when I was a kid, driving kind of slow, and the motorcycle tipped over. We didn’t get hurt, but it spilled a lot of gas. I kick-started it, and it burst into flames. So, I had to beat it out with a rag.

We had to make it back in one day from Yosemite to Fort Bragg. It was getting foggy and dark. We were on Navarro Road, which had pea gravel all over it, because they had been working on it. One thing motorcycle drivers don’t like is pea gravel, because you skid. So, I’m gingerly working my way along, and finally pull onto Bald Hill Road, totally exhausted. But, we made it back alive.

That was my big motorcycle adventure with my 13 year old brother. He doesn’t realize how many adventures I brought into his life, because he’s gotten really cranky lately.”

When he needed to downsize his closets, he gave me that bomber jacket in the photo. Yes, it’s too large for me. Do I care? No.

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