For my mother

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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).

“Really?”

“Yeah. I just wanted to make sure it’s OK with you. I mean, I can change it.

“Oh.”

“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.

6 Comments

  1. What a beautiful story — this food memoir keeps growing more and more roots and branches, and it’s not even on the shelves yet…

  2. The book is magnificent. I’m almost done. And I have cried in public reading it. (well, on the beach.)

    I could cry writing this comment I love this post so much.

    I’m hoping my own few words can do it justice. I will send them in tomorrow. Thank you so much for honoring us all with them. What an incredible gift. For your mother, of course, and for all of us.

  3. Shuna, Thank you for your comment and for your kind and moving words. It’s all of a piece – your blog has inspired me [eggbeater.typepad.com for those who don’t know Shuna], too. Glad you made it to the beach. MB

  4. Aza,
    yes, roots and branches….I’m liking that metaphor. I’ve realized this blog is a way for me to maintain a writing practice in that strange, necessary moment of one project drawing to an end – whihc precedes the ‘what next’ feeling that is soon to arise. So the writing is rhizomatic in that way….

  5. I attended the blog launch last night. I brought along a young man who lives with my family, it was his first literary event. As always with these kinds of events, it is part of his encounter with his adopted country, living now in Canada after being raised in Pakistan. It could not have been a more perfect evening for such an encounter. Charlie from This Ain’t the Rosedale Library bookstore was a wonderful host, offering not only a beautiful salon space but also, in his author introductions, a lively summary of the history and current state of affairs for independent publishers, writers and bookstores.

    Farzana Doctor read from her first novel, Stealing Nazreen – (Inanna Press, Spring 2007), a wonderful food-themed scene honouring the anniversary of the death of Nazreen’s mother–lunch with her father at their regular spot, Everyone who listened to this first public reading from the book is excited to get their hands on it in a few months.

    Marusya read “Eggs” from her upcoming memoir, also a tale of an inter-generational family exchange, talking and eating with her aunt, who she meets for the first time while visiting family in western Ukraine. Followed by a reading of this blog post on the dedication of the book to her mother, the perfect companion to Eggs. Sitting in the audience, you could feel that wonderful sensation when listeners are drawn together by the words shared in common. Like a meal a loved one has prepared for us all to sit and enjoy together.

    Can’t wait for the book launches to celebrate with Marusya and Farzana. Many thanks for Blog-o-licious last night.

  6. Marusya, I love the graphics on this website. I love the stories/recipies too.

    I am sending this URL to my niece, an actor who loves to cook.

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