Friday, March 18, 2016

Book review: Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime by Scott Simon

I remembering hearing about NPR's Scott Simon's tweets from his mother's bedside in the hospital when she was dying, at the time that it happened. I'm not much for Twitter but I'm big on NPR so I was interested, but not enough to hunt them down. So when I heard they inspired him to write a memoir, that hit a lot of the right notes for me and I added it to my To Read list right away.

The book covers both the one week his mother lay dying in the hospital, and also his whole childhood growing up with her. As the sing, reminisce, and go through therapies, waiting for doctors that never come, Scott jumps back in time to talk about his hardworking single mom. Pat was a single mom at a time when that was rare to the point of scandalous, but as much as she loved Scott's father, she couldn't live with an active alcoholic any longer. She worked a real variety of jobs, including being a local model, anything to keep food on the table. And in retrospect, Scott realized that there were times at the end of the month when his mother would skimp on food for herself. They shared a one-bedroom apartment with a lot of love. Family and friends populated Scott's life as he grew up, standing in for his missing father. While Pat did eventually remarry (twice), for most of Scott's formative years, it was just the two  of them, forming a strong bond.

The memories are interwoven seamlessly. The many characters are well-drawn and distinctive. His mother seems like quite a character herself, being both the friend of mobsters and also the custodial staff. She insists that Scott go find her manicurist and hairdresser and apologize that she wouldn't be coming to them anymore, along with giving them each a large tip. She was renowned for her thank yous. Even when they were at their poorest, she still managed to throw memorable birthday parties for Scott, always with name cards (which he amusingly renounced as symbols of the bourgeoisie when he was about 12.) She had her own depressive episodes, which she might have inherited from her mother, But usually she showed the world, and especially Scott, a brave and cheerful face. Pat sounds like a wonderful woman. I wish I could have met her. She would have been proud of such a beautiful and caring tribute to her. It is a touch sad in moments, but overall it's a celebration of her wonderful life.

I bought this book at my local used bookstore, The Book Rack.

No comments: