African Gray Parrot

Image source: Wikipedia

“Housewifely Arts” by Megan Mayhew Bergman really struck me. It’s about a single mother whose actions and thoughts seem to be both random and to make sense. She is on a quest to visit her deceased mother’s old parrot, a bird that could imitate her mother exactly, to hear her mother’s voice one last time. And she’s got her seven-year-old son along with her on the 9 hour drive.

The mother tells the story in the first-person and she is just so real and honest.

If I were a better mother, I would say no. If I were a better mother, there would be a Ziploc baggie in a cooler with a crustless PB&J, a plastic bin of carrot wedges and seedless grapes. If I were a better daughter, Ike would have known his grandmother, spent more time in her arms, wowed her with his impersonation of Christopher Plummer’s Captain von Trapp.

I’ve had similar thougts: If I were a better (fill in the blank), I would…, but we’re all just doing the best we can, as is the narrator here. We learn about her fears and concerns for her son, about the complicated relationship she had with her mom. We understand why she’s trying to sell the cricket-infested house she lives in now and why she felt the need to break into what had been her mother’s home, which is now vacant. And I liked the ending, the decision she makes. Granted home is where you family is, but it’s also a place.

In an interview with One Story, Bergman states, “I have never wanted to be better at anything than motherhood. And I’ve never found anything harder to be good at. Motherhood is physically and mentally humbling.” Her narrator reflects that.

At heart it’s a story about love, the love we feel for others and the love we crave.

“Housewifely Arts” was first published by One Story, but I read it in The Best American Short Stories 2011 which can be pre-ordered at Amazon or an Indie Bookstore.

4 out of 5 stars

John hosts Short Story Monday at The Book Mine Set. Head over there to see what he and others have been reading.

Book source: Review copy


  • I wholeheartedly second the statement that motherhood is physically and mentally humbling. I can feel so in control and sure about most other parts of my life but when it comes to parenting, I have found that I have very little I can control. That’s terrifying!

  • Harold Pascal

    I read the short story, Housewifely Arts, several times and thought about it much more. The comments above are all so true, but my take is the mother and grandmother had a tense, often times acrimonious relationship. The grandmother has her take on life and family, which often ran counter to her daughter’s. The daughter experiences guilt, jealousy and love. Guilt about what she put her mother and father through. Jealousy of the parrot, who captured the heart of her mother and repeats phrases the mother used of course, maniacal love for all three characters.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.