by Rebecca Wilson
We are, each of us, a product of our experience. The past informs who we are and how we relate to the world. Sometimes, the past includes the lives, and deaths, of our parents. How they lived their lives, even before we were born, can have profound impact many years later in surprising ways. We look in the mirror and see our parents in ourselves. In The Architect of Desire, Suzannah Lessard argued that the murder of famous architect Stanford White still haunted her own family a century later. There is, of course, no shortage of memoirs that tell stories of lost fathers and mothers. Here is a small gem of a book by Rebecca Wilson, whose father Dow Wilson, a union leader and crusader against corruption, was murdered on a San Francisco street in 1966, when his daughter was just three years old. It is remarkable how much of who we are is defined in as short a time as the first three years of our lives. The author's father's death had a profound impact on her and, particularly, her mother who was forced to live in fear and grief for many years. The family flew apart. Oldest sibling Lee became a drug smuggler. Sister Amalia went off with her friends and had children very young. Youngest Rebecca, stayed with her mother, living most of the time in the reclusive California seaside enclave of Bolinas, where many artists and hippies had settled. The story relates a number of stories of Wilson's upbringing and the shadowy echoes of her father's life that colored her own history. Her mother was a free spirit, willing to let her children make their own decisions and seemingly powerless to steer them toward better ones. Eventually, she develops cancer and pursues many alternative and unhelpful treatments. Teenaged Rebecca is forced into a position of taking care of her mother during her terminal illness. One cannot overestimate the profound effects of this experience. The child becomes the caring parent for the infantilized parental patient. Wilson is painfully blunt about it and her feelings. Her honesty is remarkable and punctuates page after page of this small book. Meanwhile, there are more subtle psychological issues at play, such as her attraction to much older, father figure, men. Again, Mom isn't really there to help as much as she is dependent upon Rebecca's care. The whole is a tale of grief and great honesty. The book is touching and plainly-told. We all have our histories, it says, and it is a balancing act for each of us to integrate the pain and wonder into our adult lives.
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