BookBrowse Reviews Driving Miss Norma by Tim Bauerschmidt, Ramie Liddle

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Driving Miss Norma

One Family's Journey Saying YES to Living

by Tim Bauerschmidt, Ramie Liddle

Driving Miss Norma by Tim Bauerschmidt, Ramie Liddle X
Driving Miss Norma by Tim Bauerschmidt, Ramie Liddle
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  • First Published:
    May 2017, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2018, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky

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Driving Miss Norma is the charming, infectiously joyous chronicle of one unique family's experiences on the road.

In my cultural life, I've met and been awed by two Normas: The demanding, clueless, fiercely determined gangster's moll Norma Cassidy (Lesley Ann Warren) in the delightful farce Victor/Victoria, and the equally fiercely determined, wheelchair-bound, self-reliant Norma Mulvey in Ron McLarty's affecting The Memory of Running. Now there's a third – the first real-life one – in Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle's Driving Miss Norma. She is a 90-year-old matriarch and, like the other two Normas, she is fiercely determined. She needs to be upon finding out she has been diagnosed with uterine cancer.

Norma does not want a hysterectomy, nor radiation, nor chemotherapy. She will face this illness on her own terms. As she tells the ob-gyn with the same strong spirit as those fictional Normas, "I'm hitting the road."

The yearlong RV road trip with her nomadic, retired son Tim Bauerschmidt and daughter-in-law Ramie Liddle, spans a 55-foot Jolly Green Giant statue in Blue Earth, Minnesota, a lifetime-awaited balloon ride in Orlando, a San Diego Feast Day dance at the Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico, and a huge lobster in Winthrop, Massachusetts, to name just a few of Norma's grand adventures.

Before the trip, in seeking an RV suitable for their new traveling companion, Bauerschmidt and Liddle consider the sheer, overwhelming enormity of not only caring for an aging parent, but also facing their departure, which portends one's own mortality. The weight of these thoughts could make anyone sink into an emotional black hole, but Norma's cheery outlook on her remaining time keeps them all looking ahead to the experiences they will enjoy together. Norma demonstrates that while we all must confront what she's facing, in different forms, we also need to keep living. Instead of ticking off the number of days that might be left, we need to use those days. Embrace those days. That's what matters.

This is not the kind of life-affirming, inspirational memoir that grabs you by the shirt, hoists you up, and screams, "LIVE! GET UP RIGHT NOW AND LIVE!" It leads by quiet, unassuming example, leaving you to choose what's meaningful to you, what you want to apply to your own life.

It is abundantly clear that Norma was always a spitfire; always facing the world head-on. Even though there are many great examples of this in the book, one stands out: During World War II, Norma was a member of the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), serving as a nurse at the San Diego State Hospital, while her husband worked in the Army Air Corps office. In 1949, both had returned from the war, living in a fifteen-foot trailer towed behind a 1940 Ford sedan. They took advantage of the GI Bill, moving to Grand Rapids, Michigan for Norma to attend Kendall College of Art and Design. However, they soon had money troubles because their veterans' checks hadn't reached them from Toledo, Ohio. Norma decided to write then-Congressman Gerald R. Ford, who represented them in the Fifth Congressional District, telling him of the missing money. Ten days passed, and Congressman Ford himself knocked on their door, handing them their overdue checks.

Driving Miss Norma is stocked with many surprises like that, such as the blog that Ramie keeps about their travels blooming into a Facebook page, which attracts thousands of fans; the attention of the CBS Evening News; invitations from all over for Norma, Tim, and Ramie to visit; and profuse thanks from countless people for inspiring them in different ways. Those notes are among the most touching moments here. Stories of the life and amazing career of Tim's late sister, Stacy, a special agent with the Secret Service, who worked for Ronald Reagan, Ford, and Bill Clinton, are incredibly compelling too.

In the telling of this remarkable story, Bauerschmidt and Liddle complement each other beautifully. Tim isn't keen on the publicity Norma's receiving, telling Ramie that he's a private guy, and it shows – his writing is sometimes stiff, tentative. But he grows into it, turning a few phrases nicely along the way, such as being "full of grateful determination" when on the way to pick up their new RV to begin the journey. Liddle, on the other hand, mines the depths of their ever-shifting emotions, becoming the guiding light for our own feelings about this life stage for Norma. And all the time, Norma is the bright light of these pages, which transforms those who ride along.

Reviewed by Rory L. Aronsky

This review was originally published in June 2017, and has been updated for the May 2018 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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