My mother’s life divides neatly into chapters, but it’s far from an open book. I never know which details of her stories are richly embroidered and which are more or less told as they happened. An actress by nature and profession, she is a born storyteller. Any oral history inevitably reshapes truth as fiction, so when she said to me, “you don’t know anything about my life,” I assume she meant I understand only what she intends me to.
When I was a teenager, alone with my boyfriend in the drawing room, we would suddenly hear Mother singing the Christian hymn “Rock of Ages” in her glorious contralto voice—a warning that we had to behave ourselves before she entered the room.