A memoir recommended for those who are caregivers to aging parents and want to share the heroism in the lives of ordinary people.

Patricia Hampl is known for her exquisite prose and her knack for memoir writing. Both are on fine display in this account of her life in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her Czech father Stan, a florist and her cautious and distrustful Irish mother Mary. Whereas her brother couldn't wait to leave the Midwest with its dramatic weather and boring routines, Patricia stayed behind to look after her elderly parents. They are a study in contrasts with Stan arising in the morning and singing "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning." He loves flowers and bringing their beauty into his customers' lives. Mary, a former librarian, balances the family checkbook and likes to tell cautionary tales. "Her eye for detail was lyric, but her vision burned with the acid of her potato-eating ancestors." Patricia acknowledges her mother's impact on her writing and her pleasure in her daughter's role as a creative person. But there are many times when the two of them rub each other the wrong way.

Hampl does a marvelous job describing St. Paul: "What a romantic city it was, full of believers, wrapped in pride and insecurity, those protons of provincial complacency. We pulled the blanket of winter around us, we clicked shut the wooden blinds of summer against the killing heat. But our drama was all just weather, the swatted mosquitoes of summer, the dripping ice dams of winter. Our lives were little, our weather big."

The author mixes family history and personal memoir with finesse and manages to convey the heroism of heavy breathing in the lives of these ordinary Midwesterners.