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NPR's Michele Norris on her family's hidden history

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What I discovered was that there were some things that I didn't fully understand as a child in that model home. There was a silent tornado in our home, and it led to the breakup of my parents' marriage, or at least contributed to the breakup.

It was something that I didn't see or recognize or even feel fully as a child, but it was there: things that my father experienced and things that my mother experienced but that they didn't talk about.

I always knew that I was shaped by all the things that my parents told me – eat your peas, do things and don't do other things, their admonitions. What I didn't understand was how I was also shaped in fundamental ways by the things they never talked about.

Q: What did you learn about your parents and their unwillingness to talk about how they felt?
That was generational, and we've changed a lot. They didn't talk about their feelings or their emotions the way people talk and tweet about them now.
It had its benefits and its costs. It's amazing to me, now that I know what my father experienced, that he was able to move forward and leave that behind.

But I don't think he ever left it behind. I have this image of him carrying around this weight that none of us can see, that he knows is there, dragging it around with him.

Q: You write that your family was obsessively circumspect, always trying to be perfect in every way to avoid giving anyone a reason to look down on them. Did that seem controlling?
It felt natural. It didn't feel oppressive. That was just the way it was. That was also part of the culture at the time: women dressed to go to the grocery store.
But my parents obviously took it to another step. They were trying to send a message to the outside world. That message lives in my DNA.

Q: What lessons do you hope your book imparts to your children?
The book has given them a history that is theirs, a history that I didn't fully understand when I was their age or even well into adulthood.

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