They Left Us Everything: A Memoir
By Plum Johnson
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Plum Johnson used to believe that parents should tidy up before they left the world. After spending a year clearing the family home after her mother’s death, she came to think differently: “Don’t die early. Wait till your children are old enough to appreciate it, and then leave them everything.” In her quiet yet powerful memoir, she recalls the task of sorting through the belongings of her mother in her 23-room house on the Canadian shores of Lake Ontario. However freeing it might have been, getting rid of hundreds of items came with the fear of loss. She had a fractious relationship with her mother, a domineering woman who in her last years was as demanding as Johnson’s father was sweet and grateful before his death from Alzheimer’s.
Decades of caring for her parents had stripped the author of patience and compassion, until she discovered, through letters left behind, a part of her mother she never knew. Hong Kong readers will thrill at brief descriptions of Johnson’s early years in the colony in the late 1940s. And daughters everywhere will wonder, as she does, if we are all destined to write our mothers’ histories.