There’s a difference between keeping a journal and keeping a journal. The former requires discipline: showing up at the page each morning, to make sense of one’s world by releasing hopes, fears and passions word by word, one entry at a time. The latter requires brazenness –leaving the passion of these missives behind for others’ eyes. What if I get hit by a truck tomorrow? Do I want really want to leave these words behind?
One friend burns her journals as soon as she finishes the last entry. Another rips lined pages from their metal spirals and shreds them. So far I’ve held onto mine, daring fate to take me before I burn them. I suppose I could go through each one, culling insights into yet another notebook as I come across them. But who has such time? One day I’ll take care of it. No one can read my handwriting anyway.
Former NYTimes Food critic and Gourmet Magazine editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl knew that somewhere in the basement of her home was a box of her mother’s letters and notes written upon scraps of paper. The mother whose eccentricities she put on display as if they were petits fours. And eccentricities is putting mildly. Reichl’s “Mim Tales” were legendery. One chapter into Tender at the Bone I knew Miriam “Mim”Brudno was bi-polar. Reichl would go on to write two more memoirs — Comfort Me with Apples and Garlic and Sapphires before summoning the nerve to venture into the basement. Not Becoming My Mother & Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way is a sweet and touching counterpoint to the tart fare of Reichl’s first three memoirs.
Ambivalent about finding her mother’s lost letters, Reichl is on the verge of leaving her quest behind in the mustiness of her basement, when she stumbles over a faded B. Altman’s box — the mother lode. The top of the box crumbles in the author’s hands, revealing “a huge collection of letters, notes and clippings. Looking down I caught sight of my mother’s bold handwriting and inhaled sharply…I bent to pick up a sheet of paper covered with her vivid scrawl. I could almost hear her voice.” The woman who reveals herself in these fragile pages is so much more than the hapless housewife and mother in the “Mim Tales” Reichl told for years.
It takes guts to read the words of your mother’s heart. To confront the dashing of her dreams, to tease out the tender threads of her beginnings and realize how thickly and how tightly time twisted them. To come face to face with the sacrifices she made in order to to let you become who you needed to become.
Reichl has guts and more. In this short and poignant book, she gives us a portrait of an intelligent and ambitious woman, born fifty years too early. Ruth Reichl meets her mother as “a little girl, hopeful young woman and an increasingly unhappy older one.” One scrap at a time, Miriam Brudno comes alive as her daughter meets her mother for the first time. Pick up this slender book. Through Reichl’s eyes, Mim comes to have a Tale much finer and deeper than any before.