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They Left Us Everything: A Memoir

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After almost twenty years of caring for elderly parentsfirst for their senile father,and then for their cantankerous ninety-three-year-old motherauthor Plum Johnson and her three younger brothers experience conflicted feelings of grief and relief when their mother, the surviving parent, dies. Now they must empty and sell the beloved family home, which hasn't been After almost twenty years of caring for elderly parents—first for their senile father,and then for their cantankerous ninety-three-year-old mother—author Plum Johnson and her three younger brothers experience conflicted feelings of grief and relief when their mother, the surviving parent, dies. Now they must empty and sell the beloved family home, which hasn't been de-cluttered in more than half a century. Twenty-three rooms bulge with history, antiques, and oxygen tanks. Plum remembers her loving but difficult parents who could not have been more different: the British father, a handsome, disciplined patriarch who nonetheless could not control his opinionated,extroverted Southern-belle wife who loved tennis and gin gimlets. The task consumes her, becoming more rewarding than she ever imagined. Items from childhood trigger memories of her eccentric family growing up in a small town on the shores of Lake Ontario in the 1950's and 60's. But unearthing new facts about her parents helps her reconcile those relationships with a more accepting perspective about who they were and what they valued. They Left Us Everything is a funny, touching memoir about the importance of preserving family history to make sense of the past and nurturing family bonds to safeguard the future.


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After almost twenty years of caring for elderly parentsfirst for their senile father,and then for their cantankerous ninety-three-year-old motherauthor Plum Johnson and her three younger brothers experience conflicted feelings of grief and relief when their mother, the surviving parent, dies. Now they must empty and sell the beloved family home, which hasn't been After almost twenty years of caring for elderly parents—first for their senile father,and then for their cantankerous ninety-three-year-old mother—author Plum Johnson and her three younger brothers experience conflicted feelings of grief and relief when their mother, the surviving parent, dies. Now they must empty and sell the beloved family home, which hasn't been de-cluttered in more than half a century. Twenty-three rooms bulge with history, antiques, and oxygen tanks. Plum remembers her loving but difficult parents who could not have been more different: the British father, a handsome, disciplined patriarch who nonetheless could not control his opinionated,extroverted Southern-belle wife who loved tennis and gin gimlets. The task consumes her, becoming more rewarding than she ever imagined. Items from childhood trigger memories of her eccentric family growing up in a small town on the shores of Lake Ontario in the 1950's and 60's. But unearthing new facts about her parents helps her reconcile those relationships with a more accepting perspective about who they were and what they valued. They Left Us Everything is a funny, touching memoir about the importance of preserving family history to make sense of the past and nurturing family bonds to safeguard the future.

30 review for They Left Us Everything: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Esil

    3.5 stars. They Left Us Everything is an odd little memoir. The author recounts the year following her mother's death, during which she lived in her childhood home going through her parents' things and preparing the house for sale. The memoir focuses on far more than the physical act of sorting through stuff -- she dwells on parts of her mother's life, her own childhood and her relationship with her mother. The book is odd because we jump right into the author's situation with little background 3.5 stars. They Left Us Everything is an odd little memoir. The author recounts the year following her mother's death, during which she lived in her childhood home going through her parents' things and preparing the house for sale. The memoir focuses on far more than the physical act of sorting through stuff -- she dwells on parts of her mother's life, her own childhood and her relationship with her mother. The book is odd because we jump right into the author's situation with little background or prelude -- for example it takes a while to figure out how many siblings Johnson has and where the house is located. And the narrative jumps around quite abruptly between different time periods and subjects. But once I got used to this quasi stream of consciousness style, I found myself quite enjoying Johnson's memoir. My favourite parts were those that focused on Johnson's mother who sounds like she was quite an interesting person and a force to be reckoned with-- born in Virginia in the early 20th century, she spent WWII in England, a few post war years in a number of Asian countries with Johnson's father, and then ultimately ended up in Canada with her husband and 4 children. Johnson was the oldest and only girl, and she grew up in a bit of care taking role to her younger siblings, living under the very strong personalities of both her parents. The book is definitely a reconciliation of sorts. This felt like a journey very personal to Johnson -- but it was also very readable as an outsider looking in. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sharlene

    I received this book as the result of a Goodreads giveaway. This was a hard book to set down. It was the equivalent of sitting up late at night with a dear friend who was caught between reminiscing and grieving. I did not ever feel this was a woe is me book, which some memoirs dealing with loss can feel like, but more of a testament to what an adult can feel about their parents once they are gone. A memoir about finding oneself along with who their parents were. I did find it a refreshing look I received this book as the result of a Goodreads giveaway. This was a hard book to set down. It was the equivalent of sitting up late at night with a dear friend who was caught between reminiscing and grieving. I did not ever feel this was a woe is me book, which some memoirs dealing with loss can feel like, but more of a testament to what an adult can feel about their parents once they are gone. A memoir about finding oneself along with who their parents were. I did find it a refreshing look back over Johnson's life as well as her parents. What interesting people, I might add! Rich with history and togetherness there really is something about this family that makes them feel like part of your own. There was a lot of relatable moments for me having lost a parent nine years ago in the same month that the author lost hers. References to not only the land but to the sense of community that is and was prevalent, ring true and remind you of a day where things were simpler and more alive. (I just read the irony in that last statement!) The book is easy to sink your teeth into and the flow from chapter to chapter is smooth. Do not feel that it is going to be a depressing book, it isn't. In fact, you will find yourself chuckling a few times along the way. A wonderful tribute to her parents and family. A stand up book that not only goes through the pain of losing a parent but the process of one finding themselves through it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Elinor

    So here's an interesting concept -- instead of clearing out our possessions before we die, author Plum Johnson urges us to leave everything for our children to sort -- on the grounds that it will lead them to better understand our lives! That's what happened when her own parents died, leaving a massive house full of "stuff" ranging from valuable antiques to pockets full of used Kleenex! It took her about a year to sift everything, and her personal journey through the lives of her parents made So here's an interesting concept -- instead of clearing out our possessions before we die, author Plum Johnson urges us to leave everything for our children to sort -- on the grounds that it will lead them to better understand our lives! That's what happened when her own parents died, leaving a massive house full of "stuff" ranging from valuable antiques to pockets full of used Kleenex! It took her about a year to sift everything, and her personal journey through the lives of her parents made her a better person, or at least a happier one. The book might have been less interesting if it hadn't been for her parents, who had strong personalities and led adventurous lives. The house itself was the main character in the book -- a huge historic home on the banks of Lake Ontario. Since I love old houses, I found this non-fiction book quite fascinating. And, of course, now I have an excuse not to throw anything away!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Daisy

    I received this ebook from First to Read for an honest review. Thank you to the author, publisher and First to Read for this opportunity. I really don't read a lot of non-fiction books. I requested this one based on the title and cover. I knew nothing about it as I started reading because I didn't read the blurb about it. I am so thankful I requested and received this book. I read it in less than a day and absolutely loved it. Plum knows how to weave a story to make you feel as though you are I received this ebook from First to Read for an honest review. Thank you to the author, publisher and First to Read for this opportunity. I really don't read a lot of non-fiction books. I requested this one based on the title and cover. I knew nothing about it as I started reading because I didn't read the blurb about it. I am so thankful I requested and received this book. I read it in less than a day and absolutely loved it. Plum knows how to weave a story to make you feel as though you are living it. I could picture everything vividly from her descriptions, whether it was the description of her childhood home or the feelings she had as she wound her way through the journey of discovering herself. This Memoir was laugh out loud funny in places and emotionally heart wrenching in others. This is one of the best books I have read in 2016. This is definitely a gem to be cherished. The only thing I didn't like is that the book ended. I would have loved to read more, much more, about all the history and valuable (not necessarily monetary value) finds in the childhood home. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys memoirs with history mixed in.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    What a pleasure to read an affectionate book about family dealing with the problem of dismantling the home they were raised in and in which their mother continued to live until her death. Like Plum Johnson and her four brothers, many of us have been faced with this wrenching situation. Plum, being the oldest and most able to do so, volunteers to spend six weeks at the house getting things in order. She figures, how hard can it be to buy some trash bags and roll up her sleeves? She wasn't What a pleasure to read an affectionate book about family dealing with the problem of dismantling the home they were raised in and in which their mother continued to live until her death. Like Plum Johnson and her four brothers, many of us have been faced with this wrenching situation. Plum, being the oldest and most able to do so, volunteers to spend six weeks at the house getting things in order. She figures, how hard can it be to buy some trash bags and roll up her sleeves? She wasn't prepared for the flood of memories unleashed at every turn. She ended up staying for more than a year. This is a family that lived the same decades as I've inhabited, so some of the references ring familiar. It is a pleasure to read about a caring, loving family that holds together supportively and makes it work.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sylvia Valevicius

    The author states: 'My six-week plan to sort through clutter has taken sixteen months.'(p.266) This award-winning memoir took me four days (with the necessary interruptions of life) to read. It was a classic case of, 'I couldn't put it down.' This book is so much MORE than cleaning clutter from an old house. It is a fascinating book with a history of a fascinating family. The house is like a museum: people lived and died in the house. The house held the joys and sorrows of an extended family of The author states: 'My six-week plan to sort through clutter has taken sixteen months.'(p.266) This award-winning memoir took me four days (with the necessary interruptions of life) to read. It was a classic case of, 'I couldn't put it down.' This book is so much MORE than cleaning clutter from an old house. It is a fascinating book with a history of a fascinating family. The house is like a museum: people lived and died in the house. The house held the joys and sorrows of an extended family of means and tragedies. Astounding historical records of this talented family were uncovered, and the psychological issues behind them. There were artifacts centuries old within this house. The writing is poignant, evocative, nostalgic, and artistically so competent wrapped in a gentle aura of humour. I can't praise this book enough. I will probably re-read it and weep and laugh once more. Exceptional work from Plum Johnson.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Krista

    This house is so big I realize I'll need a master plan for clearing it out. I can't afford to get emotional. There are twenty-three rooms, so if I get caught up in the rigging, I'll go down with the ship. They Left Us Everything the first book ever written by the 68-year-old Plum Johnson recently won the RBC Taylor Prize for Non-fiction for 2015, and when I heard of it, I was intrigued to discover what an award-winning-late-in-life-first-time-author would sound like, and I was delighted by This house is so big I realize I'll need a master plan for clearing it out. I can't afford to get emotional. There are twenty-three rooms, so if I get caught up in the rigging, I'll go down with the ship. They Left Us Everything – the first book ever written by the 68-year-old Plum Johnson – recently won the RBC Taylor Prize for Non-fiction for 2015, and when I heard of it, I was intrigued to discover what an award-winning-late-in-life-first-time-author would sound like, and I was delighted by what Johnson accomplished here. This is an insightful memoir populated with larger-than-life characters and a sprawling century home on the shores of Lake Ontario, written in a literary and engaging style. Plum Johnson suffered the pinnacle of her sandwich generation: as a single Mom and entrepreneur, she also spent nearly twenty years as the go-to child of a father who was deteriorating from Alzheimer's and a needy and demanding mother. When her 93-year-old mother finally died, Johnson was overcome with equal measures of grief and relief, and when it was determined that she was best situated to be the one of her siblings to clear out the family home before selling it, Johnson was forced to re-examine her parents and their relationship through the things they left behind. While this is a common enough situation to be in, there was nothing common about Johnson's family: her father was a strict former British Naval Officer who had a chaotic childhood and her mother was a pampered Southern Belle; gregarious, artistic, and full of life. Together, Johnson's parents fought constantly, but provided a stable and happy childhood for their five children. And the family home was uncommon, too: a huge house on the lakeshore in Oakville, ON – now valued at $2.5 million and therefore too expensive for the children to keep – every room was stuffed with the flotsam of fifty years of family life. And this flotsam itself was uncommon: not all of us will discover amongst our parents' papers a letter of pardon from the Napoleonic Wars or have an entire bookshelf of volumes written by or about family members. What was intended to be a six week clearing out process eventually took Johnson nearly a year and a half, and in the end, that was how long it would take her to process what she was discovering about her family and about herself. I've been struggling to understand not only my relationship to Mum, but what this ancestral home means to me. I sense that it, too, is womb-like, this container – the source of all my happiness and unhappiness, the two inextricably intertwined, to be understood if at all by the untangling of it. And so, in the end, what Johnson discovers is that the primary decluttering she needs to work on is that in her own mind surrounding her relationship with her mother. And while, again, mother-daughter relationships are common enough material, Johnson is able to weave a story that feels completely fresh yet completely familiar; everything about her Mum is extreme, so it follows that their relationship would have been, too. Am I my mother's biographer? Do all daughters become their mother's biographers, taking her history and passing it on to future generations? Writing letters was one of Mum's greatest talents, and here is the record of her life. At the end of our lives, we become only memories. If we're lucky, someone is passing those down. We should all be so lucky to have someone like Plum Johnson passing down the stories our lives create.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    At the end of our lives, we become only memories.If we're lucky,someone is passing those down." An absolutely beautiful memoir about the love and lessons learned from our parents. I laughed and I cried a few times while reading this book and I suppose it makes me a little lost for words. Well worth the read!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alexis

    I absolutely loved this book. I thought it would be a lot sadder than it was, but ultimately, it was uplifting. When Plum Johnson's mother finally dies, Plum and her brothers have to sell the house, go through everything and reminisce. They learn a lot about their family and themselves in the process. THis was a very thoughtful, thought provoking and beautifully written book. This won the RBC Taylor prize for non-fiction and was the author's first book. She published it at the age of 68. Way to I absolutely loved this book. I thought it would be a lot sadder than it was, but ultimately, it was uplifting. When Plum Johnson's mother finally dies, Plum and her brothers have to sell the house, go through everything and reminisce. They learn a lot about their family and themselves in the process. THis was a very thoughtful, thought provoking and beautifully written book. This won the RBC Taylor prize for non-fiction and was the author's first book. She published it at the age of 68. Way to go!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Amanda McGill

    Really enjoyed reading about the author's parents and their life stories. I wish there was more emotions coming from the author.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    I loved this book. I don't usually read memoirs but this one struck a chord with me. The premise seemed fascinating to me...a woman loses her parents and then finds herself facing the task of emptying their 23 room house and preparing it for sale. It seemed daunting to me...I'm finding it difficult to clean out my attic and purge my own things. And I still have both of my parents. The book is Canadian, the house is still (I hope) in Oakville. The author won and award for her book...the RBC I loved this book. I don't usually read memoirs but this one struck a chord with me. The premise seemed fascinating to me...a woman loses her parents and then finds herself facing the task of emptying their 23 room house and preparing it for sale. It seemed daunting to me...I'm finding it difficult to clean out my attic and purge my own things. And I still have both of my parents. The book is Canadian, the house is still (I hope) in Oakville. The author won and award for her book...the RBC Taylor Prize for non-fiction and I had listened to her interview on CBC radio. So I signed it out from the library. It was really wonderful. Plum Johnson's stories of her parents long and tumultuous marriage, the stories of her four younger brothers and her own childhood, of her coming to terms with the loss of her parents and ultimately the house she grew up in, the dispersal of objects burnished with the patina of memory; all of this resonated very strongly with me. I confess I wept often during the reading of this book...but there is a rich vein of humour throughout as well. All in all a wonderful way to spend a few hours. I gobbled this book down in two days...now that I have finished I feel sad and yet oddly sated. It was like spending time with a grieving friend...and in the end you are better for it. Plum Johnson said that it took her 16 months to finish with the house...in our rushed not very introspective society there is that expectation that you will be finished grieving in weeks or a few months. It doesn't happen like that at all...it is a process that can take years. This book stirred up memories of my own losses I suppose but I am not sorry for that at all. There is a richness to this book and sense of wonder as the author slowly grows to understand her parents better. Now I suppose I have to buy a copy of it to give to my mother...I think she will like it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    This book hits especially close to home for me. And in some ways has helped me start the mental prep for a scary eventuality.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Chihoe Ho

    There is something about "They Left Us Everything" that is both endearing and disconnected. Plum Johnson comes from a family with a fascinating history - her ancestors and father are all sorts of historic figures, her family has travelled across lands and grew up with various cultures (one being of mine on the Malay archipelago) - and a family home that has been a part of Johnson's and her siblings' lives. "I realize that Mum was the house, and all this time she's been speaking to me," and that There is something about "They Left Us Everything" that is both endearing and disconnected. Plum Johnson comes from a family with a fascinating history - her ancestors and father are all sorts of historic figures, her family has travelled across lands and grew up with various cultures (one being of mine on the Malay archipelago) - and a family home that has been a part of Johnson's and her siblings' lives. "I realize that Mum was the house, and all this time she's been speaking to me," and that is the tone the book tries to take. After the passing of her mother, Johnson moves into their family home again and begins the process of clearing it out, and this begins a reliving and rediscovery journey for her. Because of this, I expected a deeper emotional connection to what Johnson wanted to share, yet somehow all I got was a dry presentation of every action that was done with the house and possessions. There are moments where she starts to open up a little more with her feelings, and I think, here we go, but it quickly gets glosses over. I love reading about family lineages and Plum Johnson has a great one to share. She does write in an honest voice, and I do think "They Left Us Everything" is a very personal book for her, but this memoir escapes me and has left me feeling underwhelmed.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Faith

    A thoughtful book for me having emptied my childhood home a number of years ago when my mother died. Now we have downsized and our family home was passed on to a young family. Our sons now have their own homes and have never shared this smaller home with us, and I attempt valiantly to keep the clutter under control so the job of "dispersal" is not as monumental as the one described in the book. A Point 'o View that gives me pause.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

    Compulsively readable. Poignant in its ability to be simultaneously uplifting and bittersweetly-heartbreaking. A beautiful memoir about how we all come together to grieve differently and separately for people that we have loved differently and separately. 4.5/5

  16. 4 out of 5

    Eleanor

    Actual star rating: 3 1/2 stars. My mother died in the fall of 2011; my father on the last day of the year 2014. Between those years my father moved into a dementia care facility and my siblings and I cleared their belongings from their home, each of us taking the things that meant something to us. By some process I became the person to whom the archives -- papers, letters, photographs, scrapbooks -- came. I am nowhere close to even opening the things on the tops of all those piles, as each time Actual star rating: 3 1/2 stars. My mother died in the fall of 2011; my father on the last day of the year 2014. Between those years my father moved into a dementia care facility and my siblings and I cleared their belongings from their home, each of us taking the things that meant something to us. By some process I became the person to whom the archives -- papers, letters, photographs, scrapbooks -- came. I am nowhere close to even opening the things on the tops of all those piles, as each time I begin I lose all track of time and continue to deal with what I have called the Little Landmines that seem to be around every turn. I have become quite fascinated, because of this, when I have the opportunity to talk with others who are charged with this same task. How do they handle it? How do they decide what is worth keeping forever? After so many conversations, and certainly after reading Johnson's memoir, I come to a couple of truths about it. First, it's almost never the biggest or finest things to which we discover ourselves most attached, when the time for pitching out comes. And second, the process changes you if you are lucky enough to take the time to carefully sift. What Plum Johnson and I and so many of my friends have discovered in those dusty boxes and in the bottoms of pocketbooks and pockets of coats on their way to Goodwill are the people our parents were, when they weren't busy being our parents. What a gift. Pocket litter turns out to be ground zero, the debris left behind that no thrift store will take: small mounds of ash, yet mountains to climb, for me. Reading that line, early in Johnson's memoir, brought back exactly the feeling I had when I opened one of my mother's evening bags and discovered a cigarette butt, stained with her lipstick. The moment I saw it the tears began to flow, and in short order I was little more than a puddle on the floor. This was months and months after her death, when I thought I was done with the deepest grieving. What I wish is that Johnson had spent more time talking about this process, and all the discoveries she made, because when she did, this memoir was magic. When she chooses instead to write about her parent's histories I was less enamored. They had certainly lived interesting, story-worthy, lives, but I had come to this book as a fellow finder of "pocket litter," and could really only connect with Ms. Johnson over those moments. I certainly do recommend this book, even so.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Terri Durling

    I loved this book. Although it revolves around a very difficult subject, that of dealing with sickly elderly parents and the aftermaths of their deaths, it is done in such a manner as to help the reader navigate through the stress and turmoil adult children experience as caregivers and orphans. Plum does a remarkable job detailing her difficult relationship with her parents, and in particular, her mother-daughter relationship as the first child and only daughter of two eccentric and very I loved this book. Although it revolves around a very difficult subject, that of dealing with sickly elderly parents and the aftermaths of their deaths, it is done in such a manner as to help the reader navigate through the stress and turmoil adult children experience as caregivers and orphans. Plum does a remarkable job detailing her difficult relationship with her parents, and in particular, her mother-daughter relationship as the first child and only daughter of two eccentric and very different parents in a family with five younger brothers. The way the five siblings (one brother died prior to the deaths of his elderly parents) communicate and deal with the issues surrounding their parents care and the disbursement of all their possessions, with nary a disagreement, is remarkable in itself but a story I could relate to and I think many could benefit from reading. It's funny and yet also serious as the siblings figure out things through a series of sibling suppers that obviously worked for them. I am an aging parent of four adult children and can only hope they are there for each other through the difficult times as Plum and her brothers were. If there was jealously or resentment, it didn't come through and I admire very much how they all come to terms with their parents illness and passing, as well as the death of their brother prior to that. I would love to see their old homestead in Oakville and will look it up if ever in the area.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Karly

    I did not want this to end! So well-written and captivating from cover to cover! Plum shares her experiences and memories of going through her parents home where she lived for most her childhood. Her parents lived in a very grand home in Toronto and never got rid of anything. Once they both passed away, it was up to Plum and her three brothers to relive their childhood and go through everything their parents had left behind. Plum effortlessly blends past and present, recalling memories triggered I did not want this to end! So well-written and captivating from cover to cover! Plum shares her experiences and memories of going through her parents home where she lived for most her childhood. Her parents lived in a very grand home in Toronto and never got rid of anything. Once they both passed away, it was up to Plum and her three brothers to relive their childhood and go through everything their parents had left behind. Plum effortlessly blends past and present, recalling memories triggered by various items. She writes so poetically and vividly, you feel you are a part of the story. Every moment shared in her story has meaning, literally until the last sentence! I wish it wasn't over!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Candice Putnam

    This is the kind of book that you will appreciate more if you talk about it with others, as it will inevitably bring up memories and stories from your own family history that are fun/important to share and think about. A great book club book for sure.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kathe

    A well crafted memoir about family, and eccentric parents, and life. And a 23-room house that has to be cleared out when the author's mother dies (in her 90s). Full of vivid details (the kind I used to tell my students bring a book alive for the reader) and pithy observations on human nature.

  21. 5 out of 5

    EP

    This is a quiet book that describes the conflict one feels with respect to our parents from the perspectives we have of them: as children, as adults, as caretakers and finally as mourners. I appreciated but didn't expect to be able to relate to this so much.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sara Joseph

    This is a beautifully written account of the complex emotions tied to saying goodbye to good parents. It helped me cherish my parents even more while I still have them, and reminds me of the brevity of life. How important it is to savor every precious moment!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Coller

    This was an unexpected 5-star read for me. I received this in a box of books that had made its rounds through several states, each friend along the way putting in a few biographies/memoirs and taking out a few. As I went through the box last week, this one stood out to me and I set it aside to begin that night. I am SO glad I did---it really spoke to me. My own mother's mother died at the very young (and getting younger all the time) age of 49. I was 7 years old and my mother was 30. I had no This was an unexpected 5-star read for me. I received this in a box of books that had made its rounds through several states, each friend along the way putting in a few biographies/memoirs and taking out a few. As I went through the box last week, this one stood out to me and I set it aside to begin that night. I am SO glad I did---it really spoke to me. My own mother's mother died at the very young (and getting younger all the time) age of 49. I was 7 years old and my mother was 30. I had no perspective at the time but, now looking back, I can't imagine how lost my mother must have felt losing her own so very young. It's heartbreaking, really. My mom didn't get a chance to go through her mother's things after she passed away and there probably wasn't a whole lot to disperse anyway. Grandma lived with us the last few months of her life and I'm sure mom held on to most everything she'd brought into our home during that time---at least for awhile. Losing my mother will probably be different. I think about it sometimes---going through her stuff, I mean. I imagine her husband, dazed and crazy in his chair, watching nonsense on TV while I am locked in their bedroom crying and boxing up every. single. thing. to go through back at home by myself. Or maybe her husband has passed on first and it's just me. I imagine then that I'd lock myself inside and hermit for a few weeks as I slowly come to grips with all the beauty I want to remember and all the regrets I want to forget. Writing this out makes me feel like I'm suffocating. Once a few years ago, my mom posted an article on Facebook about how my generation doesn't want to be left with all their parents' stuff. It said it would be better for retired/elderly parents to disperse their things early and donate the rest so it will just be a quick and easy wrap up for this generation of too-busy adult children. I was horrified. No. I want to be able to go through her things. I need that closure and that coming-to-grips. It is my right and a step of mourning that I don't want to be denied. I was fascinated that Plum's mom had enough written correspondence, diaries, and more to fill up a room on her third floor. I wish my mom and I had more letters. We have years of daily Facebook messages---but that's not the same. I've decided I'll start copying them and printing them out, though. It's something. I do have several years of letters from my teenage years when we lived apart---but we were different people then. I don't want my grandchildren to have a skewed view of what our relationship was like. As Plum says, "What's going to happen to all our histories if computers crash? What happens when software formats change? Storing things is one thing. Retrieving them is a whole other matter...With computers, the more we think we have preserved, the more we may have lost." I don't know if the older generation realizes this. The written word on good old fashioned paper is still the most important form of communication in letters. This book sparked so many thoughts and emotions in me. I feel like writing it all out would lessen the effect for the next reader. There's a lot I want my mom to get out of this book and I'm curious what her thoughts will be as she didn't have this experience with her mother. (Though I've heard some horror stories about my great-grandmother Annabelle...ha!) I'll be passing it along to her this week.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Karan

    Torn between 3 and 4 - it's a 3.5 : ) Eminently readable.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Laurie • The Baking Bookworm

    I went into this book thinking it would be an emotional journey of an adult daughter and her experience as the caregiver to her ailing, elderly parents. Johnson writes well and helped me gained insight into the struggles of baby boomers who face caring for elderly parents, sometimes for decades. She also highlights the relationship between mother and daughter which can sometimes teeter-totter between loving and tempestuous. Unfortunately, I didn't feel quite the emotional impact which so many I went into this book thinking it would be an emotional journey of an adult daughter and her experience as the caregiver to her ailing, elderly parents. Johnson writes well and helped me gained insight into the struggles of baby boomers who face caring for elderly parents, sometimes for decades. She also highlights the relationship between mother and daughter which can sometimes teeter-totter between loving and tempestuous. Unfortunately, I didn't feel quite the emotional impact which so many other readers raved about. While Johnson shares some touching moments I felt the story got bogged down in the details as she goes through her parents' house and all of the items they accumulated over the years. It became more about cataloging family relics and dividing them up between the siblings. While these descriptions of furniture, pictures etc would be interesting to those within the family I can't say that I felt the same way. Among these family relics stories about family lineage were thrown in here and there to give the reader a better understanding of Johnson's family's history. With the focus on family keepsakes I lost interest around the half way mark and had to force myself to finish the book. What I did like about this book is Johnson's descriptive writing. She brought her neighbourhood in Oakville, Ontario and the house she grew up in to life with vivid descriptions. She also doesn't hold back her honest, and sometimes hard to read, recollections of being raised by parents with very different parenting styles. It felt like Johnson began to romanticize her parents after their death (which is bound to happen) but I couldn't shake the images of Johnson's childhood with a mother who came off as narcissistic and a father who was uptight about rules and doled out physical punishment for his children's 'own good'. I found this book just an 'okay' read and wavered between giving it a 2.5 and a 3 star rating. I'm somewhere in the 'an okay read but not one I'd recommend' realm so I've upped it to 3 stars. While I felt the book was well written and the author brings some interesting issues to the table regarding the care and loss of elderly parents, overall I found this book quite dry, disjointed in its telling and, unfortunately, I struggled to finish it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    I received a copy of this from a publisher's rep. It was on a table with others and I thought it looked interesting - it was a wonderful pick! I enjoyed this story from several different angles - as a genealogist and family history enthusiast, as a librarian and as a daughter. When I started reading I was a little disappointed because it seemed to gloss over a lot of details that I would have liked to have known but as I got further into the book I realized that the story was filling in as she I received a copy of this from a publisher's rep. It was on a table with others and I thought it looked interesting - it was a wonderful pick! I enjoyed this story from several different angles - as a genealogist and family history enthusiast, as a librarian and as a daughter. When I started reading I was a little disappointed because it seemed to gloss over a lot of details that I would have liked to have known but as I got further into the book I realized that the story was filling in as she told it. I absolutely loved the fact that Robin and Plum both kept catalogues of items they had found because of the value of the catalogue itself - that people will be interested not necessarily in the content of the items in the list, but in the collection or the picture that the list presented. I am so glad for the author that they found things that helped her get to know her parents (no spoilers!). I loved the honesty of the author's explorations into her family relationships. Finally the family itself seems extremely interesting - if anything the book is too short - I hope that the author considers expanding on her Mother and Father's tale. I would highly recommend this to genealogists/family historians, caregivers (or those being cared for), house historians, and daughters everywhere.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Meredith

    As a person with elderly parents who still seem to think yardsales are great and have a house bursting I could relate to this. I also liked how she showed that a lot of our turmoil about things or in our lives is really not about the stuff, but what the stuff reminds us of and our own battles with our own self and and the choices we have made. While I don't think I am a sentimental or emotional about things as the author I am glad that I have her experience to draw on so I know that it is okay to As a person with elderly parents who still seem to think yardsales are great and have a house bursting I could relate to this. I also liked how she showed that a lot of our turmoil about things or in our lives is really not about the stuff, but what the stuff reminds us of and our own battles with our own self and and the choices we have made. While I don't think I am a sentimental or emotional about things as the author I am glad that I have her experience to draw on so I know that it is okay to go through turmoil at this time. It is okay to react in whatever way happens when I hear the news of my parents passing. I doubt I will find the kind of treasures she found in her parents house. But, I know that this is a journey that when the time comes I will be able to tackle, or at least let my siblings tackle.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kristina

    Great book. A daughter's memory walk through her relationship with her mother as she deals with her mother's belongings after her death.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Carla

    Wonderful re-read for book club. Still enjoyed. Good discussion that I didn't have the first time as I didn't discuss it with anyone.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Caren

    I so enjoyed this book. Written in an engaging, personal style, the author introduces the reader to her breezy, life-of-the party, Southern belle mum; her elegant, strict, but loving British dad; and her four brothers. Born in 1946, the eldest of five children and the only girl, her father always called her "First Daughter". Her parents met during WWII, married during the war, then lived their early married years, after the war, in Asia. When the political situation deteriorated, the family I so enjoyed this book. Written in an engaging, personal style, the author introduces the reader to her breezy, life-of-the party, Southern belle mum; her elegant, strict, but loving British dad; and her four brothers. Born in 1946, the eldest of five children and the only girl, her father always called her "First Daughter". Her parents met during WWII, married during the war, then lived their early married years, after the war, in Asia. When the political situation deteriorated, the family moved to Canada. Her parents bought a rambling, old house on a lakeshore in Oakville (near Toronto), Ontario. For more than fifty years, it was the family home. Even when her parents were very elderly, they stayed on. The author spent the last twenty years of their lives helping care for them. She lives in Toronto, but hired a Nepalese couple to live with her parents and watch over them; she would drive out often to make sure they had all they needed. Her father had Alzheimer's for the last twelve years of his life, but the author had promised him she would see that he could stay in his home. She kept her promise and was with him at his death. Her feisty mother lived to be 93 and had a rather fractious relationship with her daughter. After their deaths (and the earlier death of one of the brothers from cancer), the four siblings gathered at their childhood home to decide what to do. The author, who was a self-employed artist and writer, offered to live there while clearing out the layers of clutter. She imagined it would take six weeks; it took more than a year and a half. The memories of a lifetime were hidden in the contents of the house and her task became a rich exploration of her parents' marriage and of her childhood. These are interesting people whom you will want to know through Ms. Johnson's evocative text. Maybe the book appealed to me because I have been through somewhat similar experiences with losing parents and then sifting through the possessions of a lifetime. At any rate, the story was so well-told, I really felt I had come to know this family. The author has a website with some nice home movie clips: https://plumjohnson.com/videos/

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