MY MOTHER’S WISH is professional storyteller and professor Jerry Camery-Hoggatt’s upbeat, motivational look at the 1960s, complete with seasonal tie-ins, and a fun way to kick off the holiday season.
Camery-Hoggatt tells his story through the person of Eleanor “Ellee” Crumb McKutcheon, a teen who prides herself on being contrarian. The free-spirited, independent-thinking Ellee is an enigma to her mother, who wants her to be proper, popular and more like her older sister, Susie. Ellee writes backwards and, as her middle school vice-principal says, “does everything wrong.”
Her mother is one tough cookie who believes she can mold Ellee into the image of who she wants her to be. And she tries. She insists that Ellee’s teachers call her Eleanor. They do --- all but her beloved third-grade teacher, herself an original who lovingly teaches Ellee what it means to compromise.
One of the few people who understands Ellee is her father (“the tomato doesn’t fall far from the vine”) who teases her by calling her vegetable names (“my little kumquat”) and stands up for Ellee to her mother. When Ellee overhears her father and mother fighting (her father insisting Ellee has a right to be herself, her mother calling her a gypsy and a tramp), she leaves Blackwater and runs away to the Comeback Truck Stop Café, 30 miles south of Hastings, Nebraska. There, she listens to a grizzled grandfather soothe a baby with beautiful baritone songs and realizes that the ordinary people around her with their “interchangeable lives” might just be extraordinary.
Camery-Hoggatt mixes whimsy with reality, mystical with the factual. Hearts break, fall out on a table and are handed back. Midwestern truck stop customers drink gravy out of glasses. The author serves these fanciful flourishes with a light touch that engages rather than confuses the reader. By the time Ellee leaves the truck stop with a gypsy truck driver hauling goulash and his piratical cat, Cecily, we realize we have been lulled into a story that requires we leave logic behind and fully engage our imagination.
The gypsy truck driver takes Ellee back home, leaving her with some folksy wisdom: “Be gentle with your mother...Behind the Pond’s cold cream, her face, too, is a wrinkled road map of a hard, hard journey.” As Ellee learns more about her mother’s life with her namesake (Ellee is named for her mother’s mother, Eleanor Crumb), she comes to some not unexpected but nonetheless sweet conclusions. As Ellee muses over the ordinary and the extraordinary, touched by her father’s love, the kindness of a waitress and the wisdom of a truck driver, she discovers the uniqueness and beauty of commonplace people. She may even be able to forgive her mother.
This is a brief, read-it-all-in-one-sitting, poignant tale that is just the thing to get you into the spirit of Christmas in the midst of a plummeting economy and grim global news. Enjoy it. Then go call your mother.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on September 16, 2008