Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Conspiracy Theorist

A Single Event
Can Awaken within us
A Stranger
Totally Unknown.
St. Exupery

My mother was a Conspiracy Theorist from way back.  It might have started during the war, when she would receive letters from my father with the big red CENSORED stamp on the front of the envelope. The government after all, had to make sure there weren't any loose lips sinking ships out there. Occasionally, but not too often, one of my father's letters would have blacked out words or phrases confirming the censor had indeed read every word he had written.  This made my mother nervous. It also made her wonder exactly what the person behind the solid black hash marks in her letters was like. Was IT a he or a she?  Were they single, married, have children and where, for gaud sakes, were They?  Granted she had a full time job, as well as her parents and grandmother to care for, but my mother was a multi-tasker before the phrase came into existence.  In other words, she had far too much time on her hands.

So in her spare time my mother would watch movies ( The Spy Who Came In From The Cold  &  Rear Window were her favorites early on), read the evening newspaper, and hang out with other wives whose loved ones were in the armed services.  Often they would sit on the front porch and catch a glimpse of enormous war planes flying out of Pease Air Force Base.  This could be where my mother's suspicious nature peaked.  I say peaked as though the word implies a downward trend at some point.  This is not what I mean.  Peaked, in this case, means it reached its highest level, and remained there.   My father's letters, when later combined with pictures of the aftermath of Normandy he had taken, served to fuel my mother's healthy imagination into overdrive.  And so, as a result of my mother's naturally suspicious nature, my sister and I grew up in an environment of quietly 'questionable circumstances.'

This Nurture As Opposed to Nature environment was not out of the ordinary for my sister and me.  It was, however, a bit unsettling for our friends.   They tried to stay out of our mothers way to avoid disturbing exchanges.  If my sister would ask, "Are we having tuna for lunch?"  our mother would reply, "Who wants to know?"   This was disturbing because our friends were well aware she was not referring to any of us.  They were also a bit unnerved by the yellowing Rosie The Riveter and  Uncle Sam Wants YOU posters in the cellar.  Uncle Sam appeared to be pointing at whomever was fixated on the poster at the time.  Our mother would tell us it would not be out of the ordinary - directly after Pearl Harbor - while she was outside hanging up clothes to dry on the line, to have a set of work boots appear in the grass at her feet, with the body in those boots lurking directly behind the sheet she was attempting to clothespin to the line (wow, who even says that anymore the line, back then everyone just knew one was referring to the clothesline...).  In the boots would be our grandfather, decked out in his official Civil Defense Sky Watcher jacket, binoculars strung round his neck, listening for approaching planes, that were not 'ours.'

Poor Guy      Dad

Years later, during military social events, my mother would spot my father and another poor guy in a uniform appearing to be glancing side to side, without moving their heads, while talking.  Even appearing to be in a conversation one does not want others privy to was not a good thing to do around my mother (I should mention whispering was forboden). Directly upon noticing said conversation, she would immediately survey her battleground, and start slithering over to my father through the maze of  event goers simply there to socialize.  Or so they thought. This could be the greatest ruse of all time, it could possibly be an event to disguise a meeting between generals, heads of state even, who knew? Once she had successfully reached a point directly behind my father, she would say in that perfected registered nurse tone, "How are we doing over here?"    My father never got over my mother creeping up on him when he least expected it scaring the bejesus out of him.  He began to stand with his back to the wall when she was in the near vicinity, even while home.   My sister - who could never resist a snarky remark opportunity -  would say,  "Holding up the wall Dad?"   "Your mother did this to me." he would nonchalantly reply, and continue reading the newspaper.

And it is in this vein, the one my mother made sure my sister and I also flowed through without impediment,  I end with a telephonic conversation between my mother and I that occurred in 1989. She had called to thank me for the birthday card I had sent.


"It's your mother."

"I gathered."

"How could you tell?"

"You told me."

" Oh. The birthday card you sent arrived this morning. The 'She Came, She Criticized, She Left' was cute."

"Glad you liked it.."

"So what are you trying to tell me?"

"Nothing Mom, it's just a funny card."

"Your father would like a list of the Stephen King books you don't have. Hes been lurking at church bazaars again."


"Send it to the post office box."

"Why, is someone after you?"

"Very funny, you know when I lose it I'll be the frizzy-haired old lady who thinks she's being followed by a double agent."

"I know."

"I should have been a nurse for the CIA."

"I know."

"Do they have nurses?"

"I don't know, Julia Childs was a cook."

"I can't cook."

"I know."

"Call your sister, she hasn't heard from you in so long she thinks you're in a witness protection program."

"OK, tell Dad thanks for looking for the books."


"See ya."

"Yup, bye."

Incidentally,  I am still on the Colby investigation... You know, the allegedly retired agent that went out for a little jaunt in his canoe.  At one in the morning.  On the Potomac. In February.  Temperatures below freezing.  His wife said it wasn't unusual... They found his body a few weeks later. I still think he, and the Russian ex-KGB officer he was 'working on something at the time' with,  put clues in the computer game they wrote that was sold shortly before Colby assumed his 'dead' identity.  It wasn't the game.  The game was taken off the market immediately.  I had to get it through a Russian site...

And now, if you will excuse me, there has been a plain white van parked across the street for a long period of time...


  1. Your mother sounds like me! (Sort of) I'm slightly less paranoid, but I always get suspicious of people and fear the worst.

  2. what a weird story! I thought my parents were odd, but your mother takes the cake!

  3. Brilliant! Love the scene, the dialogue, the picture of times everyone thought spies lived next door and the Russians were going to drop a bomb.

  4. Alas -- I remember the paranoia of the McCarthy times...especially when it came out the Lucille Ball was communist...or so they said. Your stealthy mother actually sounds kind of neat...in a slightly odd way.