Mending Fences

Let bygones be bygones, the saying goes. But letting go of a grievance you’ve held for months—or even years—is anything but easy. On the following pages, Ann Hood, once a champion at holding grudges, explains how she learned to forgive.


Photo by Greg Pease

“You’re doing it again,” my friend Sally whispered to me one night, not long ago.

“Doing what?” I asked her, feigning innocence. We were at dinner with a group of people, one of whom had done me wrong years earlier. And to avoid talking to or even making eye contact with this woman, I had situated myself as far away from her as I possibly could.

“Fredo-ing,” Sally hissed. “Look, do you remember the sequel to The Godfather? Michael Corleone decides he won’t have anything to do with his brother Fredo because Fredo has betrayed him. And that’s exactly the same thing that you do when someone hurts your feelings. You Fredo them.”

What could I say? She was right. When Michael Corleone snarled, “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my broke my heart,” I understood his pain. For many years, like the Godfather himself, I tendered beefs with all sorts of people.

I came by this tendency naturally. Holding grudges is a tradition in my family—passed down through the generations like heirloom china. My grandmother, Mama Rose, stopped speaking to one neighbor because of a dispute over the property line. She stopped speaking to the other because their daughters had had a fight when they were kids. No one could even remember what that childhood conflagration had been about, but Mama Rose still Fredo’d that woman for more than 50 years.

I have a pair of aunts who haven’t spoken since 1976, when they argued at Mama Rose’s funeral. Two other aunts cut off contact after one fateful Christmas Eve; allegedly, Aunt A snubbed Aunt B while they both stood in line at the deli to buy prosciutto. And that was that. Back in third grade, I went to a classmate’s house after school, and when I came home, my mother angrily announced: “You can’t be friends with that girl. Her uncle did a lousy job with your grandfather’s will. We won’t have anything to do with that family.”