All Gone: A Mem­oir of My Moth­er’s Demen­tia. With Refreshments.

Alex Witchel
  • Review
By – April 23, 2012

All Gone: A Mem­oir of My Mother’s Demen­tia, With Refresh­ments, mix­es sto­ries of nos­tal­gia, love, and loss with stan­dard Amer­i­can Ashkanazi recipes in a for­mat designed to cel­e­brate Alex Witchel’s mother’s life and fam­i­ly while doc­u­ment­ing the mother’s slow descent into demen­tia. Author Alex Witchel ends each of the eight chap­ters with recipes from her mother’s kitchen, lib­er­al­ly sprin­kled with ketchup, bread­crumbs, and canned veg­eta­bles: meat­loaf, latkes, tuna casse­role, sweet and sour meat­balls, gar­lic chick­en, kre­plach, hot­dog goulash, and more. 

Witchel’s moth­er, Bar­bara Gold­stein, raised and sus­tained her nuclear fam­i­ly in New Jer­sey, break­ing 1960s stereo­types and sur­pass­ing expec­ta­tions for women by earn­ing her Ed.D, teach­ing in a col­lege, tak­ing local polit­i­cal action, gar­den­ing, rais­ing chil­dren, run­ning the fam­i­ly, and cook­ing each day in a rhythm of sus­te­nance that anchored the author’s upbring­ing. Cook­ing is how Witchel shares mem­o­ries of her super-achiev­ing mother’s life. Witchel writes, I could over­cook or under­cook the meat­loaf and it still tast­ed the same….It was my rem­nant of home and I con­jured it, reach­ing back, always back. Each time I made it, it was absolute­ly per­fect. And each time I made it, I felt more and more afraid.” 

All Gone shares the del­i­cate, inex­orably painful process of watch­ing the per­son who has been your per­son­al rock dis­ap­pear before your eyes, becom­ing some­one to be tact­ful­ly cared for while you man­age your own family’s health chal­lenges, rela­tion­ships, and career demands. Through­out the book, threads of food and recipes weave in and out of her mother’s many accom­plish­ments; hold­ing the past fast with kines­thet­i­cal­ly evoked mem­o­ry; mov­ing into the future with savory plates, smells and meals as a lov­ing trib­ute to Witchel’s moth­er and the process of respond­ing to her ill­ness and passing.

Relat­ed content:

Ellie Bar­barash is a writer, musi­cian, and dis­abil­i­ty activist liv­ing in Philadel­phia. Her non-fic­tion has been pub­lished in Bridges. Ordained as a Kohenet, she is work­ing on pro­duc­ing an anthol­o­gy, Clear­ing the Spring, Sweet­en­ing the Waters: A Renewed Call to Torah.

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