Tomb of the Unknown Family

UnkFam1A couple weeks ago I was over by Crocus Hill, straying as far afield as I could given I had no goal that day other than walking.

For mid-winter 2016, the weather was fair.

It was a good day to walk.

On walks I like to take photos and peek in those “Little Free Libraries” that dot the Twin Cities landscape.

In one Little Free Library on Linwood Avenue, near South Victoria Street, I found a copy of M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled with a surprise (photo above right) tucked neatly inside, almost invisible, between pages 138–189, on the chapter titled “The Risk of Independence,”—a 5 x 7 in. photo of some family in the late 1960s, early 1970s.

I took it as a sign.

In the photo of the Unknown Family, I immediately identify with the boy sitting on the floor, even though he’s probably 4 or 5 years ahead of me.

This family is so different from my own: father and mother are on both sides of the kids, with Dad distanced from the rest. Mom is next to her daughter, and—I’m going to speculate—the bearded older brother is with a girlfriend or spouse by his side.

She could be another daughter and he’s the son-in-law, but I don’t think so. She’s the only one in the photo not looking directly at the camera—she’s the outlier.

This family knows how to take pictures; they’ve done it so many times that even their smiles are automatic. But she’s looking down.

She’s the daughter-in-law.

She’s new to the family.

This has a story, I thought.

Or not.


After re-reading three drafts of this post, I felt like giving up writing altogether.

I’d started telling the wrong story, and was truly afraid of what lay behind “the real story.”

I didn’t want to write it at all. Or anything after that.

Which is weird because I do not accept that idea. You’ve come this far, why not write?

Here’s what happened.

Sometime during that week I discovered the Unknown Family I had two consecutive nightmares about my late father. I don’t remember that ever happening before. The nightmares were pure emotion: hatred—furious anger. I kept hitting my father with my fist over and over. All I recall of the dream is saying: “No, no, no! You don’t get that anymore!”

Now, it’s easy to assume (as I did for days later) that there must be some deep psychological basis for that emotion—like repressed memories of physical abuse or whatever. If that’s the case, it happened when I was very young, as I don’t recall any particular incidents after I was double-digits old.

Then I came across this in my journal, written Saturday, June 22, 1985:

“Last night I got pretty angry with Dad as he sermonized about getting a goddamned B.A.—my bad grades and, as he tells it, lack of drive to get through school; it’s true I don’t care a hang about formal education, and the important issue is, I believe, what the hell am I doing living at home at 25?

I always believed I needed to explain myself to my father.


In 1985 I was trying to figure things out. With no writing mentor, I felt lost. So, on Aug. 6 , I noted in the journal:

“It’s important that I stop scribbling scrap stuff and make-believe I’m some hot-shot writer who presumes he’s written a full-fledged Short Story … I think about the story, the stories, and the possible consequences (my fantasies thereof) of publishing them as a saleable collection. I’ve worried that I think too much about The Product aspect of it—I should now be concerned with the substance, for that is all it really is in the end. I shift between two states: One, a relaxed matter-of-fact attitude about the words—‘They’ll practically write themselves!’ The other, ‘Words are so difficult to use effectively’—you say one thing and someone reads another, completely different (or sometimes more irritatingly similar yet incorrect idea) thing. So I’m mentally ‘ping-ponging’ between the two argumentative paddles: Write yer heart out, it’s a breeze AND Don’t be silly, you’re not in any position to be saying these sort of things. I know them both—one’s the Creator, the other’s the Critic. Funny thing is that the fickle bastards don’t realize they need one another.”

Nine days later I was still frustrated about Dad’s expections, and about life at home in the Family Project again:

“…the [university] still emanated for me that ‘eerie’ feeling of my first year there ’78-’79 and I felt I wanted to ‘master’ the place, knowing it was silly for me to think …I gave a damn anyway. I grumbled, ‘God, I hate this place.’ I wondered if the feeling had anything to do with Dad working there. Maybe, but it was more of a general, instinctive rather than familial sort of disgust. I sensed misunderstanding, misinterpretation, of my abilities and talents there.

Holy crap. We’re all such mysteries to ourselves.

Discovering the Unknown Family’s photo, and having those nightmares about Dad, blindsided me into a crazy emotional tailspin.

Assuming there was no way to discover the family story, I glossed over it, in a horrible, cheap-ass, faux-intellectual shrug of a post.

And I hated myself for doing that.

I wasn’t being fair—these were/are lives that had minds and soul and depth: Mom with her constant dinner-table belching, so much so that big brother belches back: “That too!” Little sister’s fascination with astronomy (which no one seems to understand); she wants to become an astrophysicist when she gets to college. Baby brother feels isolated most of the time, and Distant Dear Daddy’s adenoidal whine announces he’s home from a job he thoroughly hates.

Or not.


“…all that lay ahead was unknown, undetermined, unsafe, insecure, unsanctified, unpredictable.” —M. Scott Peck

Who stuffed the photo into the book? Why that chapter? What were they thinking? Are Unknown Mom and Dad now dead and gone? And how did they die? Is older brother and beehive hairdo wife still together? Did they have any kids? How did baby sister turn out? Did she make it to MIT or Stanford?

And is little brother still writing/making music/making art/working through the mystery of his own life?

The journal on Sunday, Sept. 1, 1985:

“There’s got to be more to live than the life I live. —It doesn’t help the fact that I watched the film Our Town tonight—leading me to the thought of life’s quick passing. I hate Life in a Nutshell! I don’t think it’s that way at all. We’re more than isolated individuals. I know the older I get, the harder it is for me to believe that.”

Maybe I can’t know the “true” story of the Unknown Family. But in that chapter where I found the photo, Peck writes:

“In daring to be different, even if it meant to be crazy, I was responding to earlier loving messages from my parents, hundreds of them, which said, ‘You are a beautiful and beloved individual. It is good to be you.’ Without that security of my parents’ love reflected in my own self-love, I would’ve chosen the known instead of the unknown…”

True, sure, that’s a tough place to be—remaining in the unknown—and probably explains why I couldn’t stay with it, to the extent of saying nothing—writing nothing—at all.

So, there’s only one thing I can think to do with this:

Return the book and photo to the Little Free Library where I found it.

And leave it for somebody else to discover and wonder about.

~ by completelyinthedark on February 19, 2016.

One Response to “Tomb of the Unknown Family”

  1. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    Nine months later, uncertainty morphing into solid creative ways of being. Forthcoming new post now in edit mode, to publish next Friday!


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