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The Things between Us: A Memoir


The Things between Us: A Memoir Cover





October 1998 Framingham, Massachusetts

First things first. You have to meet my mother. You have to meet the Mumzy in the morning, sitting with her old tree root legs, stunted and worn, dangling off the edge of the king-size bed she shares with my father. In front of her is a purple walker, reminiscent of a racing bicycle with four wheels, its wire basket stuffed with socks, notebooks, a Kleenex or two. She looks up at the clock that sings a different bird song every hour on the hour and announces to my father, who is reading in a chair, "Monty, it is eight forty-five." She holds up three fingers to indicate the number of ounces of gin she wants in her drink. My father leaves the room, and I study my mother's face, the folds in her skin collapsed around bones and things she cannot express. I pat her shoulder and follow my father into the other room to watch him make my mother a drink — one of his many chores since Mother broke her shoulder a few years earlier.

In the kitchen an old wooden chest of my grandfather's stores booze and nuts and crackers. My father flips open the top, reaches into its belly to pull out a half-gallon jug of Tanqueray, and pours it into a jigger twice. There is something disconnected about his movements, but he says nothing. The only sounds come from the clinking of glass and ice and the pouring of spirits.

I am following my father around my childhood home now — watching, studying — because the doctors recently found the reason that he has been losing weight and, in the last few weeks, has found it difficult to swallow: He has a tumor in his stomach. They do not know if it is malignant or not, which is why I study him so vigilantly; I am trying to decipher our future.

Dad reaches into the fridge and grabs a handful of fresh mint, and from a cabinet, a few plastic straws, and stuffs the bunch into the glass. He knows I watch him so he completes this maneuver with a self-conscious flair. "Take that!"

My father and I deliver Mother's drink and sit silently. I lie back on the lavender carpet and stretch my back, sneaking peeks at both of them. My mother, sitting on the edge of the bed, stares out the French doors into the field and my father goes back to his paperback thriller. The black pancake face of their little dog, Inky, peeks out from under the bed, and while I pat her, I pull at an odd tumor, a sac of skin, that hangs off her neck. Mom looks at Dad and then at me sadly, her expression asking, Now what do we do? I smile at her, trying to be reassuring, as I am thinking Dunno. Dunno. Dunno.

Three days earlier, on a bright autumn morning, Mom and Pop call with the news.

"But the test says no cancer?" I say into the phone. "That's good, isn't it?"

"Partly sunny, partly cloudy," Dad says. "It's the same damn thing. There's still a tumor there."

According to my father, they can't identify the tumor because "the asshole" on the other end of the scope can't get a piece of the thing to analyze. When he says this, all I can think about is the doctor. I had known his daughter in kindergarten. I remember her especially well because I had adored her mother, particularly how she made tuna sandwiches. I'd never seen anyone do anything so mundane with such care. She used Miracle Whip, not mayonnaise, and toasted the bread, cutting off the crusts, and slicing the beautiful remainder into tiny triangles.

"Please come," Mother says from the other extension.

"What is she going to do, Barbara?" my father says.

"You need support."

"I DO NOT need support."

"I do, then," she says.

"I need the kids available if I have to have surgery," my father says. "There's no point..."

"Fuck it," I finally say. "I'm coming."

"Jesus," my father says. "Your language is awful. You take after your mother."

"Go to hell," my mother says.

Dad says nothing, but hell is where I'm headed. I climb on a plane and fly east, back to Framingham and my parents' home.

Copyright © 2006 by Lee Montgomery

Product Details

Montgomery, Lee
Free Press
Personal Memoirs
Biography - General
Edition Description:
Trade Paperback
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.44 x 5.5 in 8.33 oz

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Related Subjects

Biography » General
Health and Self-Help » Recovery and Addiction » Adult Children
Health and Self-Help » Self-Help » Biographies
Health and Self-Help » Self-Help » Memoirs

The Things between Us: A Memoir Used Trade Paper
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Product details 256 pages Free Press - English 9781416543107 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "In her bittersweet memoir of her father's death from metastatic stomach cancer, Montgomery (editor of Tin House magazine) charts the rough terrain of her eccentric New England family life and explores the trauma it took to reunite her dysfunctional family. Montgomery's mother is a falling-down drunk who has gin for breakfast; her gentleman farmer father, Big Dad, ignores his wife's alcoholism. The author's sister, Lael, and brother, Bob, are nine and six years her senior: Montgomery feels as if she grew up solo, in a different world than they. Escaping harsh realities is a family trait and none of the family has spent so much as a holiday together in more than a decade before Big Dad's news, when they all, reluctantly, come home. Montgomery skillfully shifts her narrative between the harrowing dailiness of her father's yearlong illness, her mother's escalating drunkenness, her own impending sense of loss and a damaging familial past she recalls with deeply mixed emotions. Montgomery's lyric and nuanced rendering of her love for her miscreant tribe has comic as well as tragic moments, but she steers clear of both sentimentality and New England stoicism, creating a tender portrait of modern death and real American families." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "What Montgomery does, uncannily well, is to catch how normal an alcoholic family feels when you're in the midst of it. Montgomery has wrung an engrossing book from her eccentric (at best) childhood and the journey of reconnection she and her brother and sister take in the wake of their father's terminal diagnosis....Montgomery's greatest gift is to be able to describe her family clearly and unsentimentally but without cruelty. That's what allows us to laugh with the Montgomerys but certainly not to laugh at them. They're much too compelling for that."
"Review" by , "Most families have a black sheep. Montgomery's had a black hole — her mother, a frustrated performer and prodigious drunk. So imagine Montgomery's surprise when she is called home to mount a death watch — not for her Mumzy, but for her tight-lipped father, always something of a cipher for his children. Her memoir of a belatedly dutiful daughter, harrowing and inevitably heartbreaking, also manages to be scathingly funny."
"Review" by , "This is not just another memoir of alcoholism and family dysfunction — this is the smartest, funniest, warmest, and most wicked of alcoholism and family dysfunction memoirs to come along in many years. Lee Montgomery paints flawed and aching people with a touching and lovely palette."
"Review" by , "A monster mother, a beloved father, a trio of grown siblings who reunite to deal with a death in the family. The Things Between Us is unflinching and absolutely as fascinating as it is sad. It's also a scathing attack on the practice of medicine in America today and a perhaps inadvertent plea for us to rethink the role of hospice and our dying process."
"Review" by , "Montgomery has a lovely, straightforward, trustworthy style....There's no pretense of offering some grand lesson, other than love: Love as best as you can for as long as you can. That's all."
"Review" by , "[T]ackles universal questions of love and loss without judgment or bitterness."
"Review" by , "Montgomery writes her memoir with precision and grace, showing how a parent's decline and ultimate death can unite a family and lead to self-discovery, forgiveness, and healing."
"Review" by , "An immensely heartfelt book....What makes this memoir moving and memorable is that the love is firmly rooted in honesty, in a generous but still clear-sighted assessment of one family's struggles, alongside the closeness."
"Review" by , "[P]erfectly captures a middle-aged rite of passage: returning home to help a parent die....[D]amn near perfect."
"Synopsis" by , The Montgomerys are among the last of a dying breed — New England WASPs who effortlessly combine repression, flamboyant eccentricity, and alcoholism. Fragmented by drink and dysfunction, the family has not assembled in more than a decade. But when Big Dad, the patriarch, is diagnosed with stomach cancer, the siblings return to their childhood home, Four Corner Farm, to help their parents navigate the specialists, treatment options, pain management, and, most difficult of all, their own anguish.

Big Dad has always moved carefully through life, taking responsibility for the farm, the cars, the house, and his wife. The irrepressible Mumzy, now in her late seventies, drinks her first gin each day at 8:45 a.m. and spends her time singing jazz standards and reliving the glory days when she rescued horses from the now defunct hunt club. Prickly and proud, the two have always tried to keep their chins up, but Big Dad's cancer rattles their formidable denial.

Montgomery's stunning memoir vividly evokes the often unspoken bonds between family members — bonds made of memory, love, and disappointment. Heartbreaking, lyrical, and frequently hilarious, The Things Between Us hums with a sense of wonder as the author discovers anew the most familiar people in her life, herself among them.

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