When I brought this book home from the library, and even as I read it, I didn’t realize until I got to the last pages that I was not reading a work of fiction. It seemed too incredible to be true, but Under One Roof: Lessons I Learned from a Tough Old Woman in a Little Old House is a biography. Unlike most books I recommend here at By Word of Beth, it is a book written for adults.
Barry Martin, author of the book, is a construction foreman by vocation. He had no idea what he was getting into when he started working on a mall project in Washington State. There was an obstacle to the realization of the full plan for the mall — although all the other houses in that area had been bought and torn down, one elderly woman was determined not to sell no matter what.
Barry went over to the house the first day he was on the job to see if he could persuade her. He soon found he was up against the proverbial immovable object. He also soon found he was doing things for this woman that were not in the job description of any foreman on any construction job anywhere: buying groceries, taking her to hair appointments, cleaning up after her when she was sick, cajoling her to see the doctor.
Listening to stories of her past convinced him either she was someone who had led an amazing life; someone with an immense and vivid imagination; or someone who had totally lost touch with reality. After all, you don’t expect someone who had survived a Nazi concentration camp, someone who claimed to be Benny Goodman’s cousin, and also claimed to have taught Mickey Rooney to dance (or at least taught him a step or two) to be living in a tiny house that was standing in the way of ‘progress’ and ‘development.’
This book is about aging, and what happens to people in our society as they age. It is about how those who are caregivers cope day after day and night after night, and how their family’s support (or the lack of it) impacts how that caregiving happens. At its core, its heart, it is about love — not romantic love, but the love that grows between people in the most unlikely circumstances, who seem the least likely to grow to care for each other.
The book touches the heart — in fact, for anyone who has watched a loved one age, at times it wrenches at the heart. It also makes the reader laugh uproariously, while brushing away a tear. And always it makes the reader marvel at the tenacity of one old lady determined to live the rest of her life in her own home.
I highly recommend it. As I said, when I read it, I didn’t realize it wasn’t fiction — you will have an advantage over me, as I’ve told you upfront that it is true. It will still test your powers of belief, I suspect. I know it will move you, and inspire you.
Under One Roof is available in hardcover and in e-book format. Check it out!