True Story, Issue #24
"Memoirs of a Used Car Salesman’s Daughter" by Nancy A. Nichols
True Story, Issue #24
True Story is a new home for longform nonfiction narratives. Published monthly by the editors of Creative Nonfiction, each pocket-size issue of True Story showcases one exceptional essay by one exceptional writer. From issue to issue, this new mini-magazine features the widest possible variety of voices and styles and subjects.
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ABOUT ISSUE #24: A talent for lying is a great asset for a used-car salesman, but a bad trait in a father. Nancy A. Nichols recalls the wild rides of her tumultuous childhood outside Detroit.
From "Memoirs of a Used Car Salesman’s Daughter" by Nancy A. Nichols
Back in the 1920s, my father’s brother, Donny, was killed at the age of seven in an accident of some kind. Exactly what happened has never been clear.
My father told many versions of this story. He used to say that an older boy had been playing with his little brother, and there was a rope around Donny’s waist. Donny was playing the part of the pony, and the older boy was riding him. In one version of the story, the older boy pulled the rope, and the little boy crashed into the curb and died almost instantaneously. In another version, Donny broke free and ran into the street, where he was hit and killed. Sometimes the older boy was my father; sometimes it wasn’t.
Sometimes it was an army truck that hit Donny, or maybe an ice truck. My father hit a ball into the street, and Donny ran after it. He told Donny not to go into the street, but Donny did anyhow. Or maybe he didn’t say anything; maybe he just stood staring. The truck driver tried to brake but couldn’t. Or he didn’t brake at all.
Both blamed and punished at the time for his brother’s death, my father began to lie as a child—perhaps as an understandable response to a terrible tragedy or maybe to cover up his own role in his brother’s death. Eventually, lying became a habit. My father lied about everything, consistently, reflexively, whether his lies served a purpose or not. He lied about which grocery store he went to and whether the car was insured or whether there was oil in the burner. Eventually, my father would become a car salesman, and lying would become his business.