By Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli
Its All Relative
By Wade Rouse
The thing about Wade Rouses new memoir Its All Relative, is that you shouldnt expect a clown show. Maybe his last memoir, At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream, began with a raccoon on his head but dont expect this one to be all snickers and titters, though, of course, theyre in here too.
The relatives of the title are his mother, father, extended Ozark family, friends, and his lover, Gary. The encounters with all of them are viewed not with a jaundiced eye, poking fun, but with loving honesty about the people of his life and about himself.
The book takes a look at a year of celebrations not from any one year but celebrations from all the years of his life beginning with past New Years Eves, to Oscar Parties, Ash Wednesdays, Valentines Day, birthdays, Easter, Secretarys Day, Barbies Birthday, Halloween and, of course, Thanksgiving and Christmas. All those holidays we dread and look forward to and keep in our memories for the sweetness of them and for the disappointments (well, maybe not Barbies Birthday).
So, lets jump into this swift-flowing river of memory, starting with some of my favorites, both funny and poignant. There is the Oscar party when Gary dressed up as Oscar himself, draped in gold lamé, only to find that gold lamé Is highly chaffing.
There is the childhood Christmas when an X-rated Santa Claus made an appearance. And there is My Plastic Peeps which seems to celebrate the Pez Collectors National Convention during which Wade learns some hard lessons in collecting, chief among them that you cant love what you collect, too much, or you destroy their value.
Pretty Pink Peonies takes the reader out on an Ozark Memorial Day devoted to visiting simple graveyards. Wade visits with his mother and grandmother, bringing small American flags and his grandmothers special peonies to each grave of a cousin, an uncle, a war veteran, a friend. Then they would stand beside the grave and share stories about the dead person. Those peonies always stayed in his mind. Years later, with his grandmother and her peony beds long gone, he is shattered when his mother comes to Michigan; Gary, an avid gardener, has taken starts from those original peonies, nurtured the plants, and can put those same peonies into Wades mothers hands. Garysexplained what he did:
The earth is what grounds us and connects us all for a very short time. Thats why I like to grow and share starts of plants with others like your grandmothers peonies because its like sharing a memory with the world.
In The Wonder Years a stray dog finds its way to their Michigan home. The dog was a dirty, dingy, pee yellow, and there were burrs and cuts and dried blood strewn throughout its fur. Its nails were so long, they had curled and bent and grown into his pads, which were infected and raw. This dog couldnt be saved. But what a wonderful last few hours they were able to share with him. I guess a lesson in quality versus quantity.
My favorite here is the last; my own personal pet peeve: the Christmas letter. Those impersonally copied lists of a years achievements that leave out Uncle Petes incarceration, Jessicas unfortunate and inopportune pregnancy, Aunt Matildas short stay in rehab, and all the little interesting warts and mishaps that make up a life I could actually believe in. Rouse calls these things the most vile of holiday traditions and cured me of ever seeking revenge by writing one.
I was especially surprised, he writes, to receive an eerie form letter from a woman whom Id always deemed a true friend, a funny, smart, creative, hip woman with whom Id stayed in touch... Since the letter was so crass, so impersonal, so devoid of human emotion that it shook me to the core of my soul he is driven to craft a hilarious letter of his own, including: March brought some very EXCITING news for Gary. He was promoted to junior assistant director to the associate vice president for marketing, who is a DIRECT report to the Companys junior VP for branding. WOW!!!!
And then a Christmas he goes back to the Ozarks to be with his mother who is dying of lung cancer. Her dream is to visit the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, though they arent Jews, and place her prayer in a crack in that historic wall. He writes As my mother gently rocks me, like she did forty-three years ago when I was a baby, I realize I must do this one thing for herafter everything shes done for me . . . I have no other choice but to fulfill her final prayer and get her to Jerusalem. But he cant. She is too sick to travel. Instead he finds another way, another wall, and learns that her prayer, all along, was for him.
Oh, and Barbies Birthday a kind of freedom day for two boys who wanted a Barbie doll all their lives and received Daisy BB guns or train sets instead. They are grown now, in love, dedicated to each other, and off to buy a Barbie, only to be confronted with rows and rows of Barbie choices. They made a choice, took her home, let her share their lives, but then shelved her. After many moves she was found, Her clothes were a bit flattened, her hair a touch more ratted, and one leg looked as though it might have been truncated after being wedged under a concrete garden gnome for years. They celebrated her 50th birthday with her, only to discover Barbie doesnt easily forgive the treachery of being forgotten.
With some writers, their books are sometimes barometers of how theyre doing and feeling during a particular year of their life. I suspect this latest memoir from Rouse was written that way, governed by emotions including sadness, joy, retrospection, pleasure, and gratitude. Which pretty much covers a year in anyones life, if theyre lucky enough to live it full tilt, which Wade and Gary do.
Elizabeth Kane Buzzellis next mystery from Midnight Ink, Dead Dogs and Englishmen, will be published in July, 2011.