In this debut memoir, Stevens pays tribute to his mother as an avid learner, wise teacher, and tender nurturer.
The author was born in 1958 and grew up in rural Indiana. As he describes his mother, Berthella (who receives co-author credit), it immediately becomes clear that she didn’t conform to traditional gender roles of the era. She had “perpetual struggles in the kitchen,” didn’t keep an immaculate home, and pursued “her own social and intellectual stimulation.” Her in-laws rejected such nonconformity, but it was a tremendous blessing to her nuclear family. She always had time for her children and for education—constantly learning new things and teaching others. She also embraced her talents, providing therapeutic massages in her home and writing a newspaper column about her local community. The memoir recounts Stevens’ childhood memories, but it’s truly about Berthella, with each chapter painting another stroke in a portrait of an exceptional woman. She’s shown to be fun-loving, as evidenced by an impromptu family food fight, and nurturing, as seen by her care of Stevens when he suffered from polio and later, two broken arms after a playground mishap. Ultimately, the author says, “she was crazy for life,” constantly finding joy and meaning in nature, language, and relationships. Stevens’ vivid details transport the reader directly into the time period and physical settings, and he has a gift for describing ordinary things in beautiful, artistic ways, allowing the audience to experience a zest for life that he seemingly inherited from his mother: “Strawberries grew like jewels in the treasure chest of our garden”; “she and I regularly plucked food from [the library’s] shelves for our ravenous minds.” The book’s slow pace is reflective of unhurried rural life. Still, each chapter draws the reader in, allowing them to glimpse life in the country and a woman who lived life to its fullest.
A slow but purposeful and engaging remembrance.