It’s taken me weeks to make this phonecall.
I’ve got a Scotch on the rocks beside me, for courage. I’m ready to hang up at any moment, should the need arise.
My mother’s voice, deep and unworldly (she’s had her larynx removed) comes on the line.
We chat about this and that. The weather. The grandchildren. The news. I gently bring the conversation to my food memoir (well what else is there to talk about these days?). I tell her about the funny little interview on CBC, and the lovely, long one with the food columnist from the Toronto Star. The free lunch. The deep, dark conversation. My mother gasps and tsks appropriately. We’re both foodies. We both read Gourmet Magazine like it’s a thriller, turning the pages hurriedly, impatiently. When I’m visiting, we cook for each other, (her: chicken stew with perogies; me: friend breaded oysters with mashed root vegetables), each dish a wordless declaration of love.
I finally get to the point.
“So, ah, I’ve dedicated my book to you.” Somehow it ends up coming out so furtively, like I’m admitting I stole from her purse when I was kid. (Which I did).
“Yeah. I just wanted to make sure it’s OK with you. I mean, I can change it.
“I can take out your name. Nothing’s final.”
She’s a bit confused now, not sure what to say.
“Well…. that’s great. I’m honoured.”
Now I’m not sure what to say. This is my fourth book. I’m part of a new generation of postmodern diasporic writers, bending and rewriting tradition. My writing is irreverent, sex-positive, feminist, and queer. It’s also, paradoxically, deeply embedded in the memories and histories of my family and ancestors. For my eighty-year-old Catholic mother, born in a small village in western Ukraine, it’s been a stretch. She’s always wondered why I’m so sarcastic. Why don’t I write something nice? She’s been alternately ashamed and diffident about my writing. We’ve struggled with this for years. I was prepared for reluctance, disapproval, maybe even anger. Not this.
“But,” she says, and her voice gets all dutiful, the good Catholic girl: “Maybe you should dedicate it to Baba (grandmother).”
“Uh, no. I already did, once. And anyways, she’s dead and you’re alive.”
“Oh, OK.” She’s relieved.
“So,” I say, “You’re gonna love some stuff in the book, and then there’s stuff you won’t love as much.” I sound like a high school student. You’d never imagine I had three degrees.
“Well of course,” she says. “That’s how it is. Every book’s like that.”
My mom has a Bachelor’s degree in French literature. She got it when she was in her forties. She’s finally getting to use it.
“But also,” I say, still the high school student, eager to please: “There’s a lot of Tato (father) in it. I think you’ll like that.”
“Well what does he have to do with anything?” she says, her voice swelling a little bit in indignation.
I can’t help but burst out laughing.
She’s taken ownership. The book’s hers now.
Or, perhaps more to the point: it’s ours.