Richard Ford, Between Them: Remembering My Parents (New York: Ecco, 2017), 179pp.
In an age when so many memoirs rely upon a narrative of human wreckage, Richard Ford's affectionate memoir about his parents is a blast of fresh air. It's actually two separate pieces that were written thirty years apart. "Gone: Remembering My Father: (pp.1–87) was written recently, over fifty years after his father died from a second heart attack at the age of fifty-five, when Ford was only sixteen. "My Mother, In Memory" (pp. 91–163) was written soon after she died in 1981.
Both of Ford's parents were from rural Arkansas. Their lives were unremarkable and uneventful, except for the normal slings and arrows of life. This is a story of the sacred ordinary, except for the improbability of a famous writer emerging from such a pedestrian background. His father Parker dropped out of school after the seventh grade, and spent his shortened life as a traveling salesman selling laundry starch for the Faultless Starch Company (which had but one product). He left Monday mornings and returned on Friday nights, covering his seven southern states in the "company car." His mother Edna, seven years younger than Parker, traveled with her husband on the road for the fifteen years that they were alone together before the author was born.
Thus the double entendre of the book title. Ford tries to understand the deeply devoted love that his parents shared, a life without him for fifteen years, and then the tragic loss his mother experienced after Parker died so young. In addition, Ford recognizes that, as an only child, he also came between that special love that his parents enjoyed.
Even though his father's presence was very much an absence, gone every week and all week, this is a story of deep affection: "They loved each other and would love me. Love would be presence enough. We would be happy. And in that way — a way I think of as good, up to the very moment I write this — in that way my life began, and its lasting patterns became set." (31). This was a childhood that Ford remembers as "blissful." As for his mother, "Love, which is never typical, sheltered everything. We expected it to be reliable, and it was." (p. 162).
Richard Ford (b. 1944) is best known for his four novels that are all based upon the protagonist Frank Bascombe: The Sportswriter (1986), Independence Day (1995)—the first novel ever to win both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize in the same year, The Lay of the Land (2006), and Let Me Be Frank With You (2014).