Tuna Casserole & Ms. Keaton

Diane Keaton began talking about her memoir (Adult Authors Breakfast, BEA, NYC) by recalling one of her heroes, Katherine Hepburn, and her 1980-something memoir titled “Me.” DK thought it was an uncomfortable title, so, so, so — me-ish. (I’m paraphrasing.) But now Ms. K. confesses that she has done the same thing with Then Again, which comes out in the fall.

She said she wrote the book because she misses her mom, who died in 2008 after a 15-year siege of Altzheimer’s. Diane talked about her mother as we talk about life-long good friends, with parental guidance and support thrown in. She told about the family, her teenage desires, her career, and about her mother, including her custom of leaving notes around the house — one of the most frequent and enduring ones: “Think.”

Ms. K. then read from the book, including passages from her mother’s journals. As her mother slipped deeper into the disease, she moved from writing journal entries to sentences, from sentences to words, from words to letters, and from letters to numbers.

She recalled the joy of going home from wherever she was, and perhaps a score of movie scenes entered the minds of the several hundred people ignoring their bagels and coffee to imagine the true homecomings, the whoops and laughter and hugs. We’ve seen how it might have been. Then she started adding details from those visits and before long said, “… tuna casserole.” She stopped, choked on the words, and we all were caught with her in that moment where one person’s dinner is another person’s entry beyond noodles and canned fish into a cavernous memory of all of the tuna casseroles, the dinners, the mom’s love, the gatherings with siblings, the talk, the home-ness.

She recovered partial voice and read on with difficulty.

Later, I thought about James Joyce’s story “Clay,” which has a similar moment when Maria repeats the first verse of a song, because the second is too painful to utter and will choke her voice. These moments are like hinges that take us readers/ listeners through an unexpected entryway into something so personal that we are lift on some sort of brink, speechless, waiting, nodding, and then backing out, because we understand enough and need to retreat from the proximity. We’re thankful but need to go.

But thank you.

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About Carolyn

I live in Washington, D.C., write, teach, try to eat the requisite fruits and veggies daily, and avoid caffeine after 2 pm. I wonder about things a lot -- like why "pretty" means "pretty" and "not so much" and if I can ever perfect the single-portion, no-knead, daily baguette and how many people realize that Beau Brummel had a lot to do with our desire to bathe daily -- those of us who do in fact "take the daily."
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