My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Merrill Joan Gerber's book "This Old Heart Of Mine" is a collection of her Janet & Danny stories which were originally published in Redbook magazine between 1964 and 1991. Although some of the stories are obviously a little dated (cloth diapers and safety pins! pay phones! record albums!), there wasn't a single story here that didn't draw me in, and there wasn't a single story I couldn't relate to.
Gerber has a really sharp eye for the tone and cadence of domestic life, and her stories take us through the years through Janet's eyes. In the first story she is pregnant with her first, and in the last, she is dealing with empty nest syndrome. It's like listening to a friend you've known for twenty years talk about her life.
In "Baby Blues" Janet is disturbed to find that she feels more for one daughter than the other, and she also has an unsettling encounter in the hospital with a woman whose child was stillborn. In "The Ultimate Friend", she discovers that her best friend really is the man she married.
In "Poor Katie", an unsupervised, obese, somewhat spooky and needy neighbor child gets on her nerves, even though she feels bad about feeling that way. She finds herself blaming this girl for things she may not even have done. It is Janet's oldest daughter who has a warm heart for Katie and wants to be her friend.
In "I Am...The Queen...Of England", Janet gets some kind of super flu. At first she is annoyed with her husband for ignoring her (after she asks him to leave her alone so she can rest), but then later, when he comes in to ask if she needs anything, she wonders why he can't just leave her alone. All the while, he takes care of the three girls as well as Janet, without complaint, but he doesn't do it the way SHE would do it. I found this one pretty funny. Poor Danny!
In "Touching Is Good For Living Creatures", the death of her daughter's pet quail has Janet swearing that there will be no more pets that she just ends up taking care of and then burying. Enter a stray kitten who is NOT allowed in the house...until Janet breaks her own rule and sneaks it in while everyone is at school or work. Instant flea infestation! Do I really even have to say that kitty stays, in the end?
"Hold Tight, My Love" was the most poignant story, to me. A boy, a classmate of her teenage (and youngest) daughter, dies. Janet sees the article in the newspaper and blithely mentions it to Myra. It turns out that they were close, and Janet realizes that her daughter has a whole life that has nothing to do with her; friends she doesn't know, interests she wasn't aware of, and strengths she hadn't given her credit for. A similar theme is explored in "How Can She Get Along Without Me?", which is about Myra leaving for college, and Janet's difficulty in letting her youngest go. "Bye Bye Baby" is set a couple of years later, when Myra brings a serious boyfriend home.
"This Old Heart Of Mine" is full of 25 wonderful stories running the gamut of emotions. Gerber is a talented writer, and all her stories ring true. I loved them.
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