Hon­or­ing his par­ents and the dif­fi­cul­ties they faced


The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL - By Martin Ru­bin Martin Ru­bin is a writer and critic in Pasadena, Calif.

Ecco/Harper­Collins, $25.99, 179 pages, il­lus­trated

Ire­mem­ber a book­seller say­ing to me many years ago that he al­ways told his cus­tomers that when they bought a book by Richard Ford, they would be read­ing some­one they would im­me­di­ately like: “There’s some­thing just so nice about his au­tho­rial voice. It’s al­ways such a plea­sure to lis­ten to it.”

Well, if that was true of Mr. Ford’s fic­tion, no­tably his Frank Bas­combe nov­els, it is even more so in this lovely, deeply mov­ing mem­oir of his par­ents:

“I was for­tu­nate enough to have par­ents who loved each other and out of the cru­cible of that great, al­most un­fath­omable love, loved me. Love, as al­ways, con­fers beau­ties.”

But in­so­far as any­one can fathom the love be­tween two oth­ers, he has done so; and in so do­ing, has con­ferred beau­ties on them and the reader.

Mr. Ford has cho­sen to write sep­a­rate mem­oirs of each par­ent, giv­ing due at­ten­tion to their very dif­fer­ent back­grounds, yet in­evitably there is over­lap, which he al­most apol­o­gizes for at the out­set in that char­ac­ter­is­tic ally nice man­ner, since each in­evitably in­volves their three decades long mar­riage.

He is so un­der­stand­ing of the dif­fi­cul­ties they faced, sep­a­rately and to­gether. The De­pres­sion and the peri­patetic life they lived, mov­ing from one place and one dwelling to an­other, the bur­den of his fa­ther’s heart mur­mur keep­ing him out of the mil­i­tary in World War II, his mother’s “child­hood that did not bear strict re­mem­ber­ing… .a hus­band she loved for­ever and lost” just four days after Richard’s 16th birth­day.

Her sur­pris­ingly happy, en­gaged and ful­fill­ing wid­ow­hood be­fore can­cer, bravely borne, took her too early as heart dis­ease had her hus­band. Which is per­haps why Mr. Ford can say: “Writ­ing these two re­mem­brances… has been a source of im­mense ex­hil­a­ra­tion for me.”

I wish to take noth­ing away from the im­mense, sub­tle, de­voted honor Mr. Ford has done to his par­ents in “Be­tween Them: Re­mem­ber­ing My Par­ents” when I say that he, the one do­ing that dif­fi­cult, com­pli­cated memo­rial (in both senses of the word) task, is the true sub­ject of the book. Even when he is evok­ing, an­a­lyz­ing and in­ter­pret­ing their lives be­fore he was born, it is through his re­fract­ing lens that we see them.

And of course, in re­count­ing his own in­ter­ac­tions with them, no mat­ter how in­ti­mate or em­bar­rass­ing to him and to them but al­ways with con­sum­mate grace, he is a key player, as well as an ac­com­plished con­duc­tor:

“Be­ing both a late child and an only child is a lux­ury, no mat­ter what else it might be, since both in­vite you to spec­u­late alone about all the time that went be­fore — the par­ents’ long life you had no part in. It fas­ci­nates me to think of the route their life could’ve fol­lowed that would’ve pre­cluded me: di­vorce, even ear­lier death, es­trange­ment. But also greater close­ness, in­ti­macy, be­ing to­gether in a way that de­fies cat­e­gory. They wanted me; but they did not need me. To­gether — though per­haps only to­gether — they were fully formed.”

Is it pos­si­ble to imag­ine a more gen­er­ous, in­tu­itive, un­der­stand­ing of a parental mar­riage and the ef­fect on it of a child’s late ar­rival as it turned out at the ex­act mid­point of their union? Or a more del­i­cate but un­flinch­ing ex­am­ple of that fa­vorite pas­time in French cul­ture, “al­ter his­toire” or al­ter­na­tive his­tory?

And you sense that Mr. Ford feels such a strong bond with each par­ent. His fa­ther ac­com­pa­ny­ing “me and my mother to the Bap­tist Hos­pi­tal when I was eight and had my ton­sils and ade­noids out on the same day. Once he pa­tiently doc­tored me with a men­thol in­haler when I had asthma — though the in­haler sud­denly mal­func­tioned and sprayed hot wa­ter in my face. Which made him cry.”

It is these mem­o­ries rather than those of his fa­ther’s ill­ness and life­less body which bind them to­gether to this day. If his fa­ther is em­bed­ded in Mr. Ford’s mem­ory, his mother is an in­te­gral part of him­self and his life: “My mother and I look alike. Full, high fore­head. Same chin, same nose … In my­self, I see her, hear her laugh in mine … some­how she made pos­si­ble my truest af­fec­tions.”

In ad­di­tion to its in­trin­sic virtues — and there are more than I could pos­si­bly enu­mer­ate in the space I have — I heartily rec­om­mend this pro­foundly em­pa­thetic mem­oir as a salu­tary an­ti­dote to the all too many Mom­mie and Daddy Dear­est sock it to ’em ex­er­cises in re­venge for dam­age real or imag­ined. It is one of those rare books which re­ally does honor the cou­ple who made the au­thor, both be­fore and after his birth, and makes the reader feel as if he knows them and their son — and is glad of it.

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