Two More Americans

Two More Americans

Since she was old enough to hold a pencil and write between the scribed lines, author and New York Times food critic Molly O’Neill ‘75 knew that her highest calling was to chronicle the life of her Columbus, Ohio, family as Epic Tale. “I was determined to redeem us,” she writes, “to save us not only from ourselves but also from the terrible possibility of being ordinary.” Not a chance, though her memoir Mostly True (Scribner, 2006) is quintessentially American: tradition meets self-invention, reality meets denial, and then there’s food and baseball… Here, an excerpt:

My father had a genius for dodging bad news, bill collectors, confrontations, broken hearts, and the condition that is commonly called “reality.” He would not allow the unpleasant or the unresolved into his stories and therefore he had no misgivings and no regrets. Doubt and worry, along with home maintenance, child care, financial planning, and historical accuracy, were my mother’s department. She also had strong feelings about what she calls “the truth,” a phrase that she uses interchangeably with words such as “fact” and “evidence.”

These differences made it difficult for my parents to see eye to eye. They were not contentious people. They just didn’t agree with each other about what had happened, what might have happened, and what should have happened–if only the other one had been different. As a result, I grew up in the middle of an argument between two Americas. My mother’s America had good silver, a positive cash flow, and higher education. My father’s had baseball bats, a Dust Bowl, and a dairy herd. Tirelessly, doggedly, my parents returned to the past–not only to explain the present and predict the future, but also to determine which of them was leading in the long, hard race to shape the story of our lives.

Published November 2020