Richard Ford is one of America’s great writers. He has a way of answering the question “what is the meaning of life?” in the most direct way possible–by writing about living. “Between Them” is two separate memoirs, one of his mother and one of his father, written 30 years apart. In the memoirs, Ford describes the seeming unextraordinary lives of his parents, which at first blush seems to be a self-indulgent exercise but upon further reflection depicts the fairly extraordinary routine of living.
Both of Ford’s parents were born in Arkansas to fairly humble beginnings. His father, Parker Ford, was working in a grocery when he met his soon to be wife, Ford’s mother, Edna. In 1938, Parker became a salesman for the Faultless Company out of Kansas City, selling laundry starch. The job kept him on the road during the week and home only on the week-ends. Parker held the job until his death.
Most of Ford’s commentary about his father is conjecture and supposition. The memoir was written almost 50 years after Parker’s death and it is clear by Ford’s descriptions of his father that a great deal of time had gone by and that Parker was not well known to his son. However, that seems to be part of the point. Ford surmises that his relationship with his father was likely different from other children’s relationships to their fathers and observes that “I grew up understanding that the view from outside any family, mine included, and the experience of being inside would always be different.”
Parker Ford had his first heart attack at the age of 43. He lived 12 more years, dying at the age of 55. “I can recognize now that life is short and has inadequacies, that once again it requires crucial avoidances as well as fillings in to be acceptable. Most everything but love goes away.”
Ford’s mother, Edna, was born to a 14 year old who left Edna’s father and ultimately married a significantly younger man (who might have been close in age to Edna). Edna’s mother sent her to a Catholic boarding school (Edna and her family were not Catholic) out of concern for her being too proximate to the younger husband. For inexplicable reasons, Edna’s mother later took her out of school and advised her to tell people they were sisters. Needless to say, Edna did not have the most conventional upbringing and Parker’s mother was never exactly accepting of her. Edna ultimately died of cancer while in her 70s.
The best part of the book is the Afterword, where Ford explains his view of life, his parents and why he wrote the memoirs. “I have always admired Auden’s poem ‘La Musee des Beaux Arts’ for its acute wisdom that life’s most important moments are often barely noticed by others, if noticed at all…This understanding has been a crucial urge for most of what I’ve written in fifty years…The fact that lives and deaths go unnoticed has specifically inspired this small book about my parents and set its task. Our parents’ lives, even those enfolded in obscurity, offer us our first, strong assurance that human events have consequences.”
The book is very short and a quick read, with pictures of his parents and his younger self interspersed throughout. The memoirs are consistent with Ford’s uncanny ability to see the extraordinary in the ordinary and expose the richness of everyday life. If you enjoy Richard Ford and are curious about where his amazing perspective originated, you should read this book. Between Them will be released in May of this year and can be reserved at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11251450__Sbetween%20them__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold