A Good Batch of Scones: A Daughter’s Memoir by Alison Melotti-Cormack

What does it mean to be a good daughter? What does it mean to be a good mother? In this practical and heartbreaking tribute about mothers and daughters and saying goodbye, Alison Melotti-Cormack documents time spent with her mother, sister and niece in July 2013 as they work together, seeing to the details of closing out a life on earth, and finding some places of joy. Ailsa Craig Cormack has always been independent and her daughters, Alison, Diane and Joanne, inherited that same individuality. While all three girls do not live close to their mother, Alison traveled the farthest, moving from New Zealand to Falling Waters, West Virginia in America. Since their father’s death in 1987, their mother lived in a small apartment in Oamaru along the coast of the Pacific in southern New Zealand. As their mother had been sick, Alison was not surprised to receive an urgent call in May 2011 to come home, but the devastating call was about her sister, Diane. When Alison arrives home to the deep greenness of New Zealand, she learns that Diane died that morning. Now in 2013 the call came about their mother, who had moved into a nursing home as her health continued to worsen. It would be left to Alison and Joanne to see to the final needs of their mother. Both in their own way would fulfill the unwanted responsibility of becoming the mother of a parent who was dying.

Ailsa, always strong, independent and practical, prepares for her death with the same sensible outlook. In A Good Batch of Scones, Alison Melotti-Cormack hears her mother say, “bring it on, uttered without the strange alchemy of courage and acceptance that can overcome the instinct for survival at the time of death.” And Melotti-Cormack asks her readers, “Who of us on this side of life knows what the body and soul must accomplish together in order to reach for and turn the knob on the exit door?” As she listens to her mother plan her funeral with the funeral director, Alison is quietly amazed at the amount of information required to die; noting “No wonder so many religious rituals add all manner of comforts to take us across the divide of life and death.” Her mother wants only a quiet service, with a cup of tea served and remembrance to all that she was more than someone who could bake a “good batch of scones.” The book winds down in her mother’s nearly empty apartment, holding a few remaining items and “dust motes of grief.” At the end, she and her sister “are but evidence of endurance among the leftover plates and glasses and baking trays and longings, the remains of a good batch of scones.” A recipe of her mother’s scones and glossary of New Zealand terms round out this beautifully written and poignant book on learning how to live and how to die.

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