A mixture of family history and memoir, Duncan’s debut honors her 94-year-old mother, Marguerite, who struggles with dementia.
Duncan is a direct descendant of Peter Butler, who left America in 1829 and helped establish an all-black Canadian settlement, Wilberforce Colony. The author hopes to preserve her family heritage by recording memories of life in Canada, which fill the first half of the memoir. Many of the vignettes are tinged with humor. When Duncan was little, Mom—who wanted a new couch—told her to jump on the couch on Dad’s side until the springs poked through. After Dad sat on the exposed springs, he promptly bought that new couch. Duncan’s descriptions of her hardworking mother are loving: “She was the person someone would call whenever something needed repairing. It would never be too much trouble to drive a neighbour to the store or take them to their doctor’s appointment.” The second half of the book focuses on Marguerite’s illness. Here, the author conveys her acute stress and sadness as her mother’s disease progressed and she placed her in long-term care. The author’s experiences run the gamut, from bringing Mom home for Christmas to Marguerite’s biting an aide on the hand. Duncan ends with a miscellany of advice; e.g., “Don’t be shy about asking for or accepting help.” The simply told narrative is a heartbreaker, but Marguerite’s spirited personality and resourcefulness are notable; e.g., she could sew a replica of a designer outfit just by looking at it in the store. This isn’t a comprehensive guide but an authentic glimpse into the trials of caregiving. Several striking black-and-white photos of family members (past and present) are included.
A bittersweet, unvarnished portrait of a mother’s strength and decline.