Waiting to Begin
Memoir published August, 2016
Of Waiting to Begin, the memoir published by Bottom Dog Press, Gretchen Legler writes:
"This warm, deep, and fascinating story of an American life spans six decades, from Pat O’Donnell’s childhood in small town Iowa, where her backyard bordered a sea of corn, to her sexual and intellectual coming of age amid the sixties counter-culture of San Francisco, through her struggles as a beginning writer and poverty-stricken single mother with two children trying to earn her MFA, coming to rest in a present life of commitment, maturity, and gratitude, where happiness has landed for her “like a butterfly on a tongue” in her solid marriage, loving relationship with her grown children, and her work as a teacher and writer in Maine.
O’Donnell’s sweeping memoir brings her back home to Iowa, where she pokes the bruised spots of her younger years. But this is not a return to the idyllic, ordered, fecund landscape of her childhood, instead it is one ravaged nearly beyond recognition by tornado and flood. Here she searches for her family home amid the destruction, finds the comfort of childhood friends, and anxiously helps to orchestrate her grown daughter’s first encounter with the man who is her father.
In Iowa, O’Donnell reconnects with who she was in the beginning. “Patty,” remembers her aged father calling to her as he wakes up from a dreamy Parkinson’s moment. “Paaa-ty,” she hears her mother call to her across their Iowa neighborhood in the dusk. In Iowa, she writes, “I felt returned to where I should be again at last. . . I was not a stranger but a daughter returned home. “
Ultimately, this beautifully crafted book is about the difficulty and joy of circling one’s past, making one’s life into story, and offering it as a written gift to oneself and the rest of the world. For O’Donnell, the act of writing her life brings her to see clearly the “responsibility of owning your life...saying, this life is mine, to do with as I wish, I accept it. I will make it work. Thank you.”