STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Something like 1.2 million people follow NPR's Scott Simon on Twitter. I'm one of them. So I was reading in 2013 when Scott's very short messages began carrying a profound story. He was live-tweeting the death of his mother. He was by her side in a hospital room. He told that story with such grace, it won wide attention. His mom, Patricia, was an exuberant personality who, he believes, knew she was putting on a last great performance. Now Scott has told that story again, in a much deeper way. You read his new book, "Unforgettable," and you find often witty, sometimes excruciating conversations at the end of a life - honest conversations. Scott Simon had a final chance to talk with his mother about her brilliant, if difficult, life. And he learned more about his own youth.
SCOTT SIMON, BYLINE: I think my mother did what probably we should do as parents, which is she always told me the truth, but it wasn't necessarily everything. And I think we were blessed that she would be able to impart this to me at the very end. And I think it shows the kind of exquisite sensitivity and judgment that she had and the consideration for me, in the fact that she wanted me to grow up strong and not kind of be burdened by a lot of these concerns.
INSKEEP: I was aware, as many people who've followed you over the years would be aware, that your father was a comedian. I was not aware, if you've ever mentioned it, that he was an alcoholic.
SIMON: Yeah, I've been pretty open about that. Maybe over the years and at this particular point in my life - and certainly my mother and I were able to finally admit to each other how that angered both of us. And we have no business being angry. Alcoholics don't deserve it. On the other hand, I think we had to admit to each other during those last days that he drunk himself out of our family life. And my mother had to decide. As she said to me, she would have stayed with my father forever if it was up to her, but that she couldn't do that to their son. And what she said in our last days together - she shared a conclusion that I think in my bones I had reached. But she was able to articulate it. I was 16 when my father died. And my mother said, you know, I think your dad died because it was the last thing he could do for us. He loved us. He wanted to be with us. He understood that because of his problems, he couldn't. But if he left us now, on our own, we would still love him and treasure the memory. She said, I think he figured dying was the last gift that he could give us. And I think she's right.
INSKEEP: You describe her, after they broke up, dating a wide variety of men and having to have conversations with you from time to time about what love was.
SIMON: (Laughter). Yeah, I feel so sorry for the men who dated my mother looking back on it because, you know, I was a little jerk. And my mother was very kind to understand I was doing this out of loyalty to my father. So I made life rough for most of her boyfriends. And they were lovely guys. And, you know, I think my mother, at some level, was still in love with my father. And she didn't really want much of a serious relationship for most of those years, which is what led her into the arms of a man who was married.
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that because the relationship went, in a way, very wrong. What happened?
SIMON: Well, he ran a local beauty products company. My mother met him when she was doing a print ad as the hairspray girl. And that's what we called it in those days.
INSKEEP: Because she was very beautiful. She was very glamorous.
SIMON: She was very beautiful. My mother was very beautiful until the last. And he would come over on Thursday nights. And then, after sitting back from the table, he would say to me, you know, Scotty, I understand there's a very good movie at the Village. And he'd take out a $10 bill, and he would say, you know, is this enough? And, of course, that was more than enough. Tickets were 75 cents, as I recall. And so I thought Thursday nights were great. As I got older, I began to put two and two together. And my mother said to me in our last days together that she began to realize that they couldn't keep this from me anymore, that she couldn't, on the one hand, be telling me the facts of life and not expect me to, in a sense, recognize them when they were being put right in front of me every Thursday night. And I came - I came home one night, and there was an empty brown bottle of sleeping pills. And she had left a note saying, I love Phillip (ph). And I knew that this was serious, that she could die. I didn't call for an ambulance because at the same time, I didn't want to embarrass her. So I called a friend of his who was a doctor, who was kind of his cover story for those Thursday nights and actually called my mother's boyfriend, Phillip. And we spent the rest of the night walking my mother around. And I used every expletive I had learned at the age of 17 on this man that night. I wasn't - I wasn't the gentleman my mother would have wanted me to be.
INSKEEP: Well, you felt that he had - he had caused her to almost kill herself.
SIMON: You know, and what she said to me in our last days together was that - she said, I had to show Phillip that we were playing with fire. I had to see for him that these were life and death stakes. And I knew that we were showing you all the wrong things about love. And I couldn't let you grow up thinking that's what love looked like.
INSKEEP: What was it like to be sharing the last bits of these stories in a hospital, with machines beeping and clanking around you and nurses coming and going from time to time?
SIMON: You know, I think I can say now it was - it was pretty wonderful (laughter). They were, along with having our children and marrying my wife, the sweetest moments of my life, to be able to share that with my mother, to be able to spend that time with her, knowing, after a while, that this would be our last time together, to be able to tell each other how much - how much we not only loved each other, but how much the rest of my life will be, in a sense, a continuation of what she left inside of me. It made me really - made me really understand, Steve, that mothers and fathers pour everything they are into us. And they stand us on our own. And they understand that we don't - we don't fully grow up until someday we lose them. There are some lessons that only grief and responsibility can teach us. And to be able to go through that with my mother and have us both feel that inside our souls, really, that's - that's a blessing.
INSKEEP: Scott Simon's latest book is called "Unforgettable." Scott, thanks very much.
SIMON: Thank you, Steve.
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