In this memoir, a journalist shares life lessons she learned from her colorful mother.
Back in the 1970s, Giese (A Woman’s Path, 1998, etc.) felt “sorely disappointed” with her stay-at-home mother. Describing herself as a “seventies-bell-bottom-wearing, Ms. magazine-writing daughter,” the author hoped she would never be like her mom, who spent countless hours embroidering dish towels. When Giese was in her 50s, however, she looked in her closet and recognized that her clothing was very much like her mom’s. The author also realized it was not such a bad thing to be like her parent, who lived life to the fullest. Very ladylike, Giese’s mom loved to wear ruffled blouses in the ’70s yet she hosted boozy, late-night dance parties and was an amazing arm wrestler (she always won). She unconventionally asked her daughter to call her Babe because she didn’t like her given name, Gladys. And with all that embroidering, Babe transformed her daughter’s bell-bottoms into hip, flowery fashion statements that rivaled designer brands. Painting a vivid portrait of a sometimes-contentious but always loving mother-daughter relationship, this spirited memoir is divided into 13 common-sense life lessons Babe taught, like “Don’t Be Drab,” “Never Leave a Compliment Unsaid,” and “Thank-You Notes Are Never Too Plentiful.” Giese’s prose is lively, and though the entire book can be read in a couple of hours, it’s brimming with entertaining anecdotes. For example, there was the time when the author and her family moved from Seattle to Houston, and Babe had them playing games during a hurricane. “Sometimes Life Begins Again At Ninety-Five” recalls energetic Babe moving to a seniors’ community and becoming the life of the party. Many of Babe’s lessons are wise; in “Go! While You Can,” she urged her daughter to travel while she was still physically able. At almost 98, Babe gave a heartbreaking final lesson—she showed her kids how to die with dignity. Despite describing painful episodes (Babe suffered five miscarriages), Giese’s account is mostly upbeat, as she celebrates her mom’s unique personality and fulfilling life.
This engaging tribute should ring a bittersweet bell with many baby boomers whose aging parents are dying.