When you lose your father, you don’t do certain things.
For starters, you don’t read memoirs about father-daughter relationships, because regardless of what your relationship with your dad was like, it is still too sad – yes, even 30 years later – to Go There.
Until you pick up The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan, who shares in her gorgeous, heartfelt memoir the story of her relationship with her gregarious, larger-than-life dad as both of them experience cancer at the same time. There, in the first few pages, Kelly Corrigan writes about her father, who is called Greenie by everyone he’s ever said hello to in his life.
“He does that for me too. He makes me feel smart, funny, and beautiful, which has become the job of the few men who have loved me since. He told me once that I was a great talker. And so I was. I was a conversationalist, along with creative, a notion he put in my head when I was in grade school and used to make huge, intricate collages from his old magazines. He defined me first, as parents do. Those early characteristics can become the shimmering self-image we embrace or the limited, stifling perception we rail against for a lifetime. In my case, he sees me as I would like to be seen. In fact, I’m not even sure what’s true about me, since I have always chosen to believe his version.” (pg. 3-4)
Four pages in and you are right back to where you once belonged, remembering what it was like, once upon a time. And perhaps, what could have been.
The first Facebook post I saw this morning was from Kelly Corrigan.
Several years ago when I finished reading The Middle Place, the first thing I did was – this is sort of embarrassing and crazy-sounding, but what the hell – was to embark on a Google search to see how Greenie was doing in his own fight against cancer.
I fully realize this makes me sound a little off-kilter. Exceptional books do that to you; the words become something more as they make you feel as though you are inside the pages themselves.
Maybe part of that can be attributed to the “reader’s response” theory that Kelly recalls from one of her literature class (“more often than not, it’s the readers – not the writers – who determine what a book means. The idea is that readers don’t come blank to books. Consciously and not, we bring all the biases that comes with our nationality, gender, race, class, age. Then you layer onto that the status of our health, employment, and relationship and our particular relationship to each book – who gave it to us, where we’ve read it, what books we’ve already read – and that massive array of added spices has as much to do with the flavor of the soup as whatever the cook intended.” Glitter and Glue)
Kelly Corrigan’s writing style is absolutely superb, completely engaging and heartfelt. I’m not surprised at how much I love her books (The Middle Place, Lift and Glitter and Glue) because, like me, Kelly is a Philly girl. Much of her books takes place on Philadelphia’s Main Line, a part of the area that I’m very familiar with and very fond thereof. I’m partial to well-written books that take place in my city.
Whether it’s the reader’s response theory or damn good writing, Kelly Corrigan has a way of making her reader feel like you are an honorary member of the Corrigan family for the duration.
And although I never met the man, what I read about him makes me believe that her dad Greenie wouldn’t have it any other way.
Published last year and newly released in paperback, Glitter and Glue takes its title from Kelly’s mother, who is as much the focus of this memoir as Greenie was in The Middle Place.
“Your father’s the glitter but I’m the glue,” Mary Corrigan had said, meaning that it takes both the sparkling effervescence of a Greenie and the practical, keeping-everything-together nature of a Mary to have a successful marriage and family. It’s the yin and yang of how parents relate to their children and to each other.
It is that substance – the symbolic glitter and glue – that is the tangible and intangible stuff that makes us the people we are.
Glitter also never quite disappears. If you’ve ever used glitter in a craft project with kids or gotten a greeting card adorned with the stuff, you know it is here forever; always with you. It is the ultimate permanent record. It is the shiny specks of that “shimmering self-image” that those we love give to us and that we carry, always, made all the better for their gift and ready to pass the love on.
Yes, faith, hope and love remain.
May it be so with Greenie. Your dad’s spirit was larger-than-life, Kelly, with more than enough for everyone and then some. Thank you for sharing him with your readers.