How to Love an American Man: A True Storyby Kristine Gasbarre
A lovely, warm, and poignant true story that reads like compelling fiction, How to Love an American Man is Kristine Gasbarre’s unforgettable memoir recalling the valuable lessons on love she learned from her newly widowed grandmother—and how Grandma’s advice and memories enabled the author to find and fall for a man with an old-fashioned/b>… See more details below
A lovely, warm, and poignant true story that reads like compelling fiction, How to Love an American Man is Kristine Gasbarre’s unforgettable memoir recalling the valuable lessons on love she learned from her newly widowed grandmother—and how Grandma’s advice and memories enabled the author to find and fall for a man with an old-fashioned approach to romance. Fans of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, women readers drawn to tales of powerful female bonding, and anyone looking for a beautiful love story will be moved and, perhaps, profoundly inspired by How to Love an American Man.
In this fun but also moving debut memoir, Gasbarre tells the story of how she "boomeranged" back home to help care for the newly widowed grandmother who unexpectedly became her "ideal relationship guru."
The two women seemed polar opposites. "Grandma Glo" had married young and never finished college, while Gasbarre had graduated with a master's degree, lived in Europe, and "spent all of [her] twenties questing and introspecting to understand where [she] fit in the world." But for all the adventure she had experienced, the author, unlike her grandmother, had only known unfulfilling, short-lived romances with men. Yet the two women found common ground in one important way—they both shared an "equally intense affinity for the first generation all-American alpha male." Their bond deepened as Gasbarre shared the details of the two relationships that occupied her attention during her stay at her parents' house: one with an immature collegiate six years her junior and the other with a shy, gentle cosmetic surgeon who showed her what it was like to be courted.Grandma Glo in turn provided glimpses into a bygone era when men cherished their women and women stood steadfastly by their men. Gasbarre uses each "lesson" she learned from her Grandmother—such as learning to listen, being prepared to forgive and loving by existing—as the title of each chapter, and each chapter as a kind of chronological "illustration" of how she came to terms with that lesson.Her depiction of how two "fiery, independent women" bonded across generations is heartwarming without being saccharine.The author's treatment of the central conflict that drives the book—the quintessentially modern female quandary of finding lasting love while staying true to personal ambitions—comes across with an integrity and veracity women readers will undoubtedly appreciate.
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Read an Excerpt
How to Love An American ManA True Story
By Kristine Gasbarre
Harper PaperbacksCopyright © 2011 Kristine Gasbarre
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Why do you fly today?"
I'm buckled into the left window seat of an Alitalia flight,
spreading soft white cheese on a roll. I pause apologetically as
if to tell the man, I'm afraid my answer won't be pleasant. "My
grandfather," I tell him. "He's dying."
"Ah." The man smiles politely. I wait for him to extend his
compassion for my sorrow, or at least offer me his coffee stirrer,
since the Italian stewardesses have disappeared down the aisle.
Instead he runs his tongue down the tiny plastic straw, adjusts
his glasses, and goes back to reading today's La Repubblica.
Mister, did you even hear what I just said? If I weren't so
accustomed to European insensitivity after five months living
abroad, I might want to explode. In exactly what time zone did
dismissiveness become acceptable? Decency must be hovering
somewhere over the Atlantic before the UK, where I last saw
Adam, because every time when I tried to bond to another
individual (particularly a man) in Europe, I've been blown off as
defenselessly as an eyelash from a fingertip. It's now the end of
January, and there are more mushrooms on a slice of pizza than
the number of times I've heard from Adam since I landed in
Milan in June.
I spent my summer nannying on the Riviera and in the Alps
at remote locations where most Italians have never even heard of
the Internet, not to mention needing a digital IV hooked up to
their arms like I'd grown so used to in my pursuit of connection
(ha!) and career accolades. On the rare occasion I spotted a café
with Wi-Fi, my heart sunk when the name "Adam Hunt " was
perpetually absent from my in-box. If he replied to my texts at
all, it was to brag that he was "quite drunk! xx" at expensive wine
tastings and spending his summer evenings at exclusive clubs
in downtown London. I would receive his texts, then scan the
gray, collapsing, water-damaged Italian holiday cottage where
I'd been trapped for a month, these toddlers killing each other at
my feet. Then I'd craft a stabbing reply like, Again?! Wow, your
poor English liver. At Riviera now, so amazing, rode in a Porsche
last nightso fast! Then I'd add an xo, one meager attempt to
pull us both back to center, back to the affection we'd once both
found unmatched comfort in. But I could see it was no use. The
more Adam appeared to be forgetting me, the more I strived to
prove how effortlessly I too was climbing the European social
ladder . . . and the only thing that turned me off more than the
way he was acting was the way I was acting. I hated begging
for his attention. The xx's and xo's may as well have been
invisible, mere formalities evaporating to zero meaning. We'd traveled
quickly to becoming lovers and kept the relationship flying
for almost a year, and now suddenly we were complete foreigners
again. Geographical proximity wasn't bringing us closer
instead, we mysteriously repelled each other.
When I hadn't heard from Adam in three weeks while I was
still at the seaside, I finally called him on Skype from a café on
my Friday off from the bambini. I caught him just as he was
"Oh my God, hi. Are you okay, chicken? Are you safe?"
"Yes," I answered, with reserve. "Adam, I haven't heard from
you in almost a month. I've been worried."
"Ah, baby. I'm sorry, I should've told you." He paused. "I've
taken a job in Bahrain."
I take a punch in the stomach. I want to double over and
"Are you there?"
Ah yew theh? The sweet properness of his accent weakens me
yet, and my voice comes out deflated. "I'm here."
"Are you there, darling?"
"I'm here!" I snap. "Where is Bahrain?"
"In the Middle East, near Saudi Arabia."
"You're moving to Saudi Arabia?"
"I'm moving near Saudi Arabia." He is losing his patience. "I
go on the twenty-fifth."
"The twenty-fifth of September." Certainly he didn't mean
two weeks from now.
"No, August twenty-fifth. Week after next."
"Good luck, Adam. I don't want to keep you."
"Wait, chicken, you're okay?"
"Yes, I'm fine. I'll let you go."
But I couldn't let him go. Everywhere I went, he was still
there with me. I remember a hike one day in the Alps a few
weeks after that conversation. I walked with the five children
I was nannying for what felt like miles along a stream. I stayed
behind and chuckled to myself at the grandma-style kerchiefs
wrapped around their little toddler heads; how they skipped
along in their knee-high woolen socks and hikers. When we
decided as a group that we were good and hungry we found a flat
spot to picnic, straight across the path from three thin grazing
cows. "Guardate le mucche!" Alfonso cried, and with all their
energy the kids took off to the wood fence to marvel at the cows.
As I flew our picnic blanket open and spread it on the grass, it hit
me: Hey, would you look at that, I haven't thought of Adam since
we started the hike two hours ago! And then I wanted to kick
myself because, of course, I'd just thought of him. That was the
longest period that the concept of him agreed to leave me alone,
but then he returned. For months after that he never left again.
When we land in Pittsburgh eight hours later, the fool in the
seat next to me checks his watch. He leans far across my half
of the armrest until I can taste the coffee on his breath. Have
I heard what the captain said about the weather? "Snow," I tell
him. He says he's relieved to be here for business and not holiday,
then folds up his paper. I look out the window to study how
gray the Pennsylvania sky turns this time of year; how night
intrudes on the afternoon, so unwelcome to fall so early; and how,
in town, traffic has probably already turned the bright snow into
gray sludge peppered with gravel. Grandma will have to mourn
in this, I think, and wonder if it's more helpful when the weather
tries to perk up loneliness with its shine or when it chooses to
sympathize drearily with a sad mood. It may not matter. In either
case I don't believe that my grandma will ever recover after
Grandpa is gone.
After sixty years of marriage, he's her life. He's all she has
going on. They travel together. When he needs a hearing aid,
she gets one too. Every day she knows it's four o'clock when he
says, "Hey Glo, feel like making me a martini?" I'm as pained
for Grandma to lose him as I am for myself.
A moan escapes me as I reach under my seat for my single
carry-on packed with only black clothes for my week's stay, and a
one-ounce bottle of expensive balsamic vinegar from my boss to
my family. I might consider appearing as though I actually live in
the world's fashion capital when my family sees me. I smooth on
a coat of lip gloss, and the "Unfasten seat belts" bell dings. The
man next to me rises and exits without saying goodbye.
In the last two weeks the phone calls from my parents had
grown so frequent and frantic that it became very clear they
weren't just panicking. It was officially time to book a flight
home: Grandpa was about to die. When I enter my grandma's
front door into the living room and drop my bag down, I feel
naked like in a dream where no one knows how to react to you.
Apparently my arrival from Italy is the official signal to my
aunts, caught laughing and drinking wine around the dining
room table; to my dad and uncles, resembling modern Greek
centaurs in their dress shirts and pajama pants and their Wi-Fi
and Black Berries buzzing through the house; to my cousins,
lounging with magazines on the couch and playing poker in the
kitchen with their hats turned backward: the last of us has just
arrived, and from far away. Their vigil is nearing its final hours.
Grandma emerges from the scatter of family and clinches
tightly around me. I lean down so she doesn't strain and I pat
her back gently, the way a new mother hopes to ease a restless
baby to sleep. I can't fathom how to console a woman who is but
days away from losing her husband of six decadesnot hearing
from Adam for a few months all but destroyed meso I just hold
her. Her skin smells floral like Oil of Olay, and her hearing aid
hums in my ear. When we separate, she braces my shoulders
and smiles through her tears. Then she clears her throat and
smooths herself over. "I'm very happy you've made it," she says,
as though she's addressing members of Parliament. "He was
asking for you."
"I'll go to him. Grandma," I thumb my kiss off her cheek,
"Are you doing okay?"
She nods hastily. "Yes," she says, and sniffles. I'm trying. She
doesn't notice when I reach for her hand to walk back to the
hall, so I just follow her to the guest room where they've set up
Grandpa's hospital bed, along the way studying her immaculate
brown curls and her tiny frame. She's not showing any signs of
dementia yet, although I examine her for a change in appearance
the way I did when my friend Lynne in New York told me
she was six weeks pregnant.
Grandma and Grandpa announced to the family two weeks
ago, right before he took permanently to the bed, that two years
ago Grandma had been diagnosed with early dementia. They
decided last month, when the doctors determined that Grandpa's
lung cancer was terminal, that it was a good time to loop
us all in. They had been sick together and fulfilled a solemn
pact to keep the information strictly between them for as long as
possible. To my grandparents, suffering is not a noble condition.
The capacity to fulfill a promise to another person, on the other
hand, is. Will I ever trust someone so unshakably?
My parents and aunts and uncles crowd the doorway as
Grandma pioneers her way straight to Grandpa's side and waves
me in next to her. "George?" she calls. "Krissy's here."
Not a muscle moves.
"Huunn," she sings. This is the first I've ever heard her call
him anything other than George; suddenly she's lighthearted
and congenial in a way I've never seen her. "Sit down, Kris."
I sink carefully into the desk chair with wheels that sits at
the rail of Grandpa's bed. They've propped an ottoman underneath
the chair. It's upholstered with bright tapestry and regal
bolts, like it was designed to sit at the foot of a queen's throne. I
presume it's for Grandma, and I don't feel familiar enough with
this situation yet to rest my feet there in comfort. I have to go
through the initiation into this horrible setting that all the rest
of the family knows as their new reality.
"Hun, there's a granddaughter standing here. She just arrived
from Italy and wants to say hello." She urges me. "Go ahead."
I search for something normal to say. "Hi, Grandpa." I can't
force out anything else. As I scan his body, I observe that everything
from his ribs down is tucked in tight between the sheets. I
focus on Grandpa's skinny hand and run a single finger down his
tendons, defined as the prongs of a fork. My God, where has he
disappeared to? He's lost twenty pounds and gained thirty years
since three weeks ago when we hugged goodbye at New Year's.
The muscles in my throat strain open, and a tear races down my
cheek and lands fat on my hand. I want to collapse and wail.
"We'll leave you two alone." Grandma and the rest of the
gang, watching from the doorway, disappear down the hall.
I scan Grandpa, his gaunt cheeks and olive skin washed out
to a surrendering gray. I admire his stillness, his vulnerability.
Here he is, yet again, even more tender than I'd ever perceived
him before. Suddenly his eyes open, and widen, and he lets out
a relieved sigh. You're here! he wants to say.
"Hi," I coo softly, as though he's a waking baby. I scoot to
the edge of the chair, and he smiles. "I'm here." He sighs again,
then smiles, then rests his head slowly back into the pillow. My
throat, this pressure. I pull the St. Christopher medal that I
always wear to travel from around my neck and loop it around
the bar of his bed. Certainly this voyage he's on is much more
demanding than mine just was.
Laughter explodes from the living room, punctuated by
Grandma's girlish giggle. Our family has turned this bedside
vigil into a cocktail-slumber party. I understand why. Grandpa
wants us to take care of Grandma and help her carry on as
uninterrupted as possible. The two of them have made all the
arrangements; they've signed the wills and bought this house
we're sitting in now, a one-story bungalow with a sun porch and
emergency pull cords so that in case Grandma falls, she can call
for help to the nursing home across the road, the one where I
worked the nighttime switchboard all through high school.
With the business that my grandpa founded, his mark is
impressed all around this small town. My grandmother will never
be able to escape the thought of her husband after he's gone. He
built a wing with a computer lab onto the Catholic high school
from where the last of my cousins will graduate in a few months.
Grandma will pass that building every day on her way down-
town. Grandpa was usually her partner at Mass; I wonder how
she'll bear the solemnity of church without him. Our factory
sits proud in the middle of the industrial park, the gasbarre
products, inc. sign shining brightly at all hours, starring the
masculine green logo that Grandpa designed. I can't even
hear an English accent without pining for Adamhow will my
grandma be able to continue without Grandpa after he's passed?
Excerpted from How to Love An American Man by Kristine Gasbarre Copyright © 2011 by Kristine Gasbarre. Excerpted by permission of Harper Paperbacks. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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