For Russo's fun-loving, stylish mother, Gloversville was a place she abhorred while in residence, yet felt nostalgic about when she wasn't. Separated from her gambling, boozing husband (who worked in road construction), his mother was stuck renting the upstairs apartment in her parents' two-family house. She worked at GE in Schenectady and prided herself on what her only child calls her "perceived independence." In truth, he points out, she relied on her parents' assistance, especially with childcare, but resented needing their help.
Russo paints a vivid if devastating portrait of this woman stuck in "a cage of her own design" who identified strongly with Scarlett O'Hara yet had no Tara to root her. He captures her mix of pluck, pigheadedness, and panicked meltdowns. When her beloved "Ricko-Mio" chose to head to Arizona for college, she decided to relocate with him, which he seems to have accepted rather placidly. His spirited account of their hair-raising drive across country in his iffy old Ford Galaxie reads like a scene from one of his tragicomic novels.
Trying to help his mother find ever-elusive happiness, Russo gets sucked into what he acknowledges is "a dangerous loop of repetitive behavior." How to jeopardize a new marriage? Allow your mother to move into the cramped trailer you're living in while working your way through graduate school, not just teaching but singing in a restaurant to earn extra cash. Each relocation during his "academic nomadship" is complicated by the need to find suitable housing nearby for his mother. "Couldn't she, just this once, have what she wanted?" whines this woman who repeatedly scoffs at what assisted living can offer because "my son does all that."