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Who Killed Mom by Steve Burgess

abstract:The cover design of Who Killed Mom? (Greystone Press) has a black and white photo of a beautiful young woman seated on a picnic blanket holding a scrappy puppy with her three babies seated directly in front of her. The children have that look children get when you are taking their picture at this age of minimal awareness of the importance of holding still for something that remains bafflingly obscure to their immediate need. The mother, Joan Burgess has a look of serenity and fragility at once. Fine bone structure and a side-parted short hairstyle with her trim figure in a practical dress speak volumes. The book has been sent to me by the author's publicist. From my first e-mail exchange with Steve, I am treated to his wit. He jokes, "Guess which one is me in the photo? Two are girls so be careful who you insult".

I guess correctly, "You're the toe-head on the right looking off to the side instead of at the photographer, " I say describing the baby with no shirt and a roly-poly stomach.

Right!" he answers.

"Somehow I feel you have always been a man of distraction and drool." I quip.

Next I study the author's website www.steveburgess.ca and his photo. He is leaning out the window of what looks like a bus, nattily dressed, sporting a grand smile and a high forehead above dark framed glasses. Burgess is an avid traveler and award winning magazine columnist, web contributor for the likes of MSN, Salon, AOL and has been a broadcast host at CBC. He could easily take over as the savvy urban version of Garrison Keillor, the OTHER radio broadcaster I enjoy listening to on CBC (from syndicated programing at NPR).

Over the course of the next week, while

article:

May 07, 2012
— attending the TD National Reading Summit III, coincidentally, I am doing each evening what we are talking about each day, reading. Reading for the pure joy of it. Reading for information. Reading to understand the human condition better.

Steve's memoir has captivated me from page one paragraph one. "A last check before heading to the airport. There are several containers of yogurt in the fridge. I am wondering whether I should just leave them in hopes that they will still be good when I get back. And that's what the situation has come down to—trying to calculate whether yogurt or my mother will expire first."

What follows is a tender, funny account of his childhood, the difficult teenage years of delinquency and his eventual snap out of self-destructive behavior as the self-described torturer of his loving parents - preacher dad and teacher mom. The four other siblings figure into the story as minor accomplices, but the central presence of the story and Steve's hold on the reader is in his portrayal of his mother—the silent functioning, self-depricating heroine at the center of the story.

Like Shelagh Rogers has said before me, "You will laugh, you will cry and you will laugh again." Steve has written a memoir that captures the love a child has for a parent, the respect he gains with maturity, and the service we return to our parents when their health, their minds and their autonomy begin to fail. And the struggle we go through to understand the meaning of it all when they are gone.

"My mother had a husband and five children. Each of us experienced her differently. Each of us forged a relationship that was unique in each of our lives, and different in turn from the others. My mother and I had a relationship that belonged only to us, with its own rules and dynamics. So would my grief differ from the pain of my siblings and my father."

Of the book he says, "It's a personal history reconstructed through memory, augmented by the minimum necessary amount of speculation. The goal is to describe a character, a strong and admirable soul whose influence lifted almost everyone she knew."

Anyone going through this passage of life will find their own experiences represented in some form. For those not quite at this stage of life, buy the book and see what's ahead.

 

 

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