David Crow’s “The Pale-Faced Lie —— A True Story” is a compellingly and graphically written memoir about a supremely dysfunctional family.
Crow reveals his many malicious pranks as a kid, his beatings at school and especially the meanness and bullying of a violent, abusive father.
The author describes an ex-con who involved young David in his criminal enterprises. He depicts an embittered “mentally fragile” mother whose husband abandoned her and a stepmother who managed the four Crow children like a drill sergeant.
Crow said his parents never took responsibility for their children’s upbringing other than shouting orders that caused them emotional pain.
At one point in her young life, a daughter attempted suicide.
The book is a series of episodes that David Crow, who suffered from dyslexia, poor eyesight and hearing loss, remembered.
The principal “lie” in the book is about identity. Crow’s father’s boasted in rants that he was a Cherokee and his tribe was superior to the Navajos the Crows lived among in Gallup and in Fort Defiance, Arizona. So David Crow identified as Cherokee.
He explained the lie in the book’s epilogue when he traced his father’s family’s ancestry to Northern Ireland and England. “There isn’t a Cherokee among them,” he wrote.
(“Pale-face” is a term that Indians supposedly have applied to Anglos.) Another lie, Crow said, was his father’s declarations that he was a war hero.
It took Crow more than 50 years to overcome the nagging memories of his parents’ imposed feelings of inferiority and guilt on him.
“The way my parents treated me I always felt I deserved (the cruel treatment). I felt hateful inside. I wanted to be good. And then we had a stepmother who made it even worse. I couldn’t escape it,” the 66-year-old said in a phone interview.
“It never goes away unless you make it go away. You’re afraid to tell people what occurred. … I’ve lived a very tortured personal life. But I’ve been a success in business.”
He’s a partner in a lobbying firm.
In his early 50s, Crow still couldn’t find peace of mind. He kept returning to Gallup and Fort Defiance, “convinced I could defang my childhood by reliving it.”
On one trip to Fort Defiance, he met with a Hispanic man who lived in the Crows’ former home.
The man, one of several angels in Crow’s life, asked Crow what keeps bringing him back to his childhood homes.
“A simple question, but asked with such kindness that the tears and memories came gushing out of me,” Crow said. They spoke for 10 hours. The man told Crow he can’t change his childhood but he can let it go. Crow took his advice.
Crow realized the obligatory next step in freeing his mind was to first forgive his parents for blaming him for their faults and then forgive himself for accepting the blame.
Crow said he is giving a portion of the proceeds of the sale of the book to Barrett Foundation, the administrative arm of the Albuquerque-based Barrett House, which provides shelter for women and children.
Crow said it is his way of honoring his mother and acknowledging a generous Albuquerque man who had helped his abandoned mother, who ended up homeless in the Duke City, get back on her feet. He found a home and a job for her and gave her food and clothing. The Crow family lived in Albuquerque for several years before moving to Gallup.