I’m a Bit Like That Mom

There’s probably a mom (or aunt or grandma) like this in every family: the woman who goes into overdrive for a big holiday meal like Thanksgiving or Christmas, cleans everything in sight, cooks for days, decorates just so, and choreographs all the timing for the actual meal like it was a stage production.

When most of us gather as extended families, some of a family’s underlying history, stresses, and habits come out. This book looks at family connections—and trials—across generations.

In early December I often review a number of books for Another Way that have been sent to me for reviews. But this time I’ll just focus on one. (Plus, publishers have cut way back on the number of free review books they send out.) I didn’t think I even had time to read this one in my leisure time, but when I picked it up, I was soon hooked.

In Evie Yoder Miller’s new novel, Everyday Mercies, (independently published by Big Girl Press, 2014), middle-aged Charlotte is the kind of mom who goes into orchestrating a holiday meal blissfully happy but comes out with a bad headache afterward. She has two children, ages 17 and 25. We meet the family on the day before Thanksgiving, and most of the action takes place over four days.

I must confess I saw a bit of myself in Charlotte and, interestingly, a bit of my garden/dirt-loving/environmentalist daughter in another main character, Charlotte’s daughter Caroline. Caroline wishes to be called Carrie, but Charlotte thinks it’s just a passing fad like some of Carrie’s other notions.

Charlotte’s husband, James, and her mother, Martha, round out the other lead roles in this novel, which could easily be performed as a stage play. Martha is the Mennonite matriarch of the family who lost her husband, Daniel, earlier in the year. The circumstances surrounding Daniel’s illness and death are something of a mystery, hinted at and suspenseful until late in the book when it becomes pivotal for the book’s heartwarming—while still honest and real—outcome.

To be frank, the writing style bugged me at first. I’m sure my writing style bugs certain readers as well who probably don’t hang with me for long. But Miller takes us inside the minds of these four main characters who often have choppy, incomplete thoughts (just like real people—me for sure). So that is the predominant writing style, but it grows on you. You get used to it. For instance, I can read my mother’s letters with sentences that jump from topic to topic so fast you get dizzy, but my husband can’t quite follow them.

In Miller’s book, you learn to read between the lines and connect thoughts as you get to know these totally sympathetic, very believable characters—especially the women. Or maybe that’s just because I am a woman.

Anyway, poised as we are in this time between two great holiday seasons—Thanksgiving and Christmas—when most of us gather as extended families and some of a family’s underlying history, stresses, and habits come out, this book looks at family connections—and trials—across generations. One friend confided she likes living near her parents (in the same community) rather than having to travel to see them at holidays because when living nearby, you can jump in the car and go home when hot buttons are pushed. When you travel “home” for the holidays and stay with relatives, the only way to escape nicely is to go take a long nap, if you can. There are a number of times in this book when the relatives need space from each other.

Early in the book, Carrie makes a cutting remark and then says, “Oh that’s right, we don’t argue openly. We come from the quiet in the land. Too nice to confront directly.”

In the very next paragraph, her inner editor critiques her own barb. “Ugh. Could it have gone any worse?”

Since Carrie is hoping to convince her dairy farmer dad to let her rent a couple of acres to start an organic vegetable enterprise, she knows, and wants, to play nice. By the end of the book, we live through the drama of an unexpected guest at the Thanksgiving table (Charlotte moves into flexible hostess mode), and an unwelcome gingerbread house brought by a sister-in-law. The only place Charlotte has to park it is on top of the washer in her new, beautiful kitchen laundry, hidden behind closed doors.

This is sort of a Mennonite book coming out of Mennonite background (the author dedicates the book to the memory of her parents, Bessie King Yoder and Herman Yoder, “who gave me my first experiences of family”), but you can certainly enjoy it if you know very little about Mennonites. Miller also honors two daughters for the “ways they carry on traditions and establish new patterns of being family.” Indeed, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it—learning to adapt and flow with the times while continuing to love each other, no matter what. The themes quickly engage all of us who come out of loving families—families that earnestly try to get along, but sometimes fail.

Since women are frequently big readers of this type of book, I can heartily recommend Everyday Mercies for your holiday reading or gift giving—maybe even to yourself. You can find out more at www.evieyodermiller.com

For a free leaflet, “Forgiving Your Parents for Not Being Perfect,” send to Another Way, 1251 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22802 or.

Posted 12/4/2014 7:00:00 AM

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