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My Mother's Wish: An American Christmas Carol Hardcover – September 16, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


“An enchanted, stirring tale about the greatest and most surprising gifts, acceptance and love.”
Elizabeth Dewberry, author of His Lovely Wife, Sacrament of Lies, and Break the Heart of Me

“Over the years I’ve read about every conceivable kind of Christmas story that existed. Then came this one: truly a wondrous one-of-a-kind tale bringing laughter and tears. If it were possible to fuse the writing styles and messages of Garrison Keillor, C. S. Lewis, Dave Barry, and Catherine Marshall, the result might very well bear the title My Mother’s Wish.”
Joe L. Wheeler, Ph.D., editor of the Christmas In My Heart® story anthology series

“Jerry Camery-Hoggatt explores the mystical relationship that binds mothers and children together and gives all of us an opportunity to revisit that magical time as our own mothers dragged us, kicking and screaming at times, through childhood.  This is a book that makes you think–and remember. You will want to call and thank your own mother and tell her you love her.”
Ed Butchart, professional and official Santa, Stone Mountain, Georgia, and author of Red Suit Diaries and More Red Suit Diaries

“Eleanor Crumb McKutcheon–call her Ellie, please–is a precocious little tweener blessed with a ratty wryness that puts her at odds with her purposeful mother, whose heavenly vision of what her daughter should be bears no resemblance whatever to what Ellie sees for herself. When hostilities reach epic proportions, Ellie packs up and leaves, an act of rebellion and defiance that brings her, kicking and screaming, into the neighborhood of grace. Jerry Camery-Hoggatt’s charming Christmas fable is proof that a less-than-accommodating Bethlehem stable still has room for every last one of us.”
Dr. James Calvin Schaap, Department of English, Dordt College, author of Startling Joy and Romey’s Place

About the Author

Jerry Camery-Hoggatt, Ph.D., is professor of New Testament at Vanguard University, in Costa Mesa, California. A professional storyteller, he is the author of the highly-acclaimed Christmas stories When Mother Was Eleven-Foot-Four (in trade adult and children’s picture book editions) and Givers of Gifts.

Jerry and his wife, Shaleen, are the parents of three children.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 96 pages
  • Publisher: WaterBrook Press (September 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400074053
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400074051
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.4 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,863,081 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Not so long ago, there was a boy who lived with three cousins and four siblings in a three-story house. The attic was converted into a large bedroom where they slept and played and wondered about things larger than themselves. In that house the boy learned about God, about love, divorce, violence and, much later, reconciliation. There he began his quest for truth that would lead him around the world and finally to a life-altering experience at a place not so far from where he began.

So goes the story of Jerry Camery-Hoggatt '75, professor of New Testament and narrative theology for nearly 30 years, and 3-year chair of VU's religion division, 1-year Director of VU's Grad Programs in Religion. Camery-Hoggatt has sterling academic credentials, but he is also a riveting storyteller, a published author of scholarly monographs, commentaries, memoirs and fiction, a performer of story concerts and a pioneering professor who teaches the gospel as odyssey rather than as outline.

"[Universities] package most of what they do in outline form, but most people come to their religious beliefs in story form," Camery-Hoggatt says. "I try to write prose that people who'd never pick up a theology book can read comfortably, that engages them in theological reflection. I use story as a vehicle for achieving that."

Camery-Hoggatt's life is as dramatic as the stories he tells. As a boy, his childhood was overshadowed by his parents' divorce, which left the Pentecostal, church-going family with a shameful stigma. Former church friends crossed the street to avoid them. Camery-Hoggatt was so shaken by this that he began to question God's existence. He posed a theological question to his pastor one Sunday, and the pastor replied, "We're Christians. We don't ask those kinds of questions." Perplexed, Camery-Hoggatt graduated high school and left home, joining Up With People and touring the world. Deep in his heart he was searching for answers.

One Easter Sunday he found himself in an old Russian monastery in Stamford, Conn., attending a midnight mass. There, seated among the immigrants who whispered to one another in their native tongue, Camery-Hoggatt witnessed a scene of reconciliation that stirred his soul. At that moment he decided he would ask again the question of God. If God did not exist, then nothing mattered; if God did exist, then nothing else mattered in quite the same way, he thought.

He returned from touring and took his spiritual journey to Vanguard, where he says he was welcomed despite his spiritual doubts. Wary and questioning, he attended a prayer meeting one Wednesday night in the old Coat of Arms room above the gymnasium, and when the Communion elements came by, he refused them. He didn't want to be a hypocrite. Then something strange happened: The fellow sitting next to him put an arm around his shoulder, pulled him close and began to cry. "I feel how lost you are," the fellow said, "and I'll pray that God will find you and take you home to him." At that moment, Camery-Hoggatt had an epiphany: if that person could care that much for him, God could, too. He stood up, walked to the front of the room, took a paper cup and the almost-empty pitcher of grape juice, walked back to his seat and said, "Pour this for me."

"At that moment I knew I had become a Christian and would be a Christian for the rest of my life," he says, weeping at the recollection.

He also found his professional home at Vanguard. That very semester he discovered biblical studies under Dr. Russ Spittler and Dr. William Williams, and the subject was "a hole into which I fell and I never climbed out," he says. He abandoned pre-med and threw himself into study of the New Testament.

"What captured me was the discovery that these books were written by real people who had real stories to tell and were wrestling with real life issues," he says. "It was a great release, because I'd been handed a view of the Bible that was divorced from real life; that it was a theoretical and abstract book, that it could be applied to real life but had not originated in real life. Now I saw it as a real book that came out of real human experience. I found it immensely rich."

His journey took him to Gordon-Conwell Seminary, where he earned a master's degree, and Boston University where he earned a Ph.D. in early Christian origins. He studied with Amos Wilder, older brother of playwright Thornton Wilder, and wrote his dissertation on the use of irony as a narrative strategy in the gospel of Mark.

Today, he mainly writes stories instead of technical theology.

"People respond to a story in a fundamentally different way than they respond to an outline," he says. "There are dimensions of reality that cannot be captured in an outline but can be in a story. So there's an automatic disconnect between our formal education and the daily life of the church. Most pastors never learn how to bridge back in the other direction. An effective minister has to be bi-lingual and communicate in both modes."

Camery-Hoggatt turned his own childhood experiences into stories that eventually became a book, My Mother Was Eleven Foot Four: A Christmas Memory (Revell). It tells of his growing up in a house with eight children an great tension; of his father's violence and his parents' divorce, and his mother's coming to terms with that. The story was re-issued as the first of three stories in Giver of Gifts. A children's picturebook version of this story was also published by Revell.

The most recent Christmas story is not based on his life, but is written in the 1st person narrative voice of a fictional 17-year-old girl--My Mother's Wish (Waterbrook Press). He has written other books, notably Reading the Good Book Well: A Guide to Biblical Interpretation (Abingdon Press), Irony in Mark's Gospel (Cambridge University Press), Grapevine: A Spirituality of Gossip (Herald Press), Speaking of God: Reading and Preaching the Word of God (currently available in paperback form from Wipf and Stock Publishers). He also wrote a commentary on Mark for Zondervan, and a book on interpretive method for Hendricksen. He's excited about his newest projects, one of which is a novel built around the gospel of Mark, another is a digital resource for working with the Bible, and one of this is a church history written for college freshmen and church laity.

Vanguard changed his life in other ways as well: He met and courted Shaleen '75, his wife. All three of their adult children have followed Jerry's footsteps and attended Gordon College or Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary before going on to additional theological studies and parish ministry.

The most rewarding surprise in his career has been his relationships with students, he says. His office is adorned by mementos from students -- a wax cross, a glass tin, a cigar given to him as thanks for mentoring a friend through a doctoral program at McCormick Seminary. On a special stand he has the pulpit Bible that once belonged to the pastor of the church his family attended when he was six years old.

"These mementos move me very deeply," he says. "This is the core of teaching, and it's why I do what I do. There are moments in which people are ripe for hearing some particular truth. Maybe nobody else in the room is. If you connect with them at that moment, it can be transforming, but you can't plan that into a curriculum. You have to respond to the signals. That's what makes teaching so joyful and challenging."

When he sees former students, they almost always comment on the stories he told in class. "They learn what I taught in the class, but they remember the stories," he says.

He hopes to give back what he received from Vanguard during those critical years when he was questioning God.

"At Vanguard I found people who were eagerly probing hard questions, challenging me and respecting where I was on my journey, and I'm profoundly grateful," he says. "Those years were joyful and liberating. I never had to choose between my brain and my heart. The kind of teaching I received is the kind of teacher I wish to be."

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 13 customer reviews
It was fun to read and heartwarming.
Karla Cook
Ellee knows mom means well even if her good intentions pave the way to hell for Ellee.
Harriet Klausner
The author gives the main character, Ellee, such a unique voice.
J. Mijares

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on September 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Jerry Camery-Hoggatt writes My Mother's Wish remarkably in the voice of a woman looking at her early years with uncommon insight. Little Ellee sounds much like Mark Twain, while Teen Ellee sounds a lot like someone I want to know and could have been. As a Polar Express, conducted by humor like that of Twain and Roald Dahl, this story is priceless. It should be read aloud to children and adults at Christmastime.

Ellee's mother tries to tie off the loose ends of unfinished business with her own mother by naming Ellee after the older woman, "Eleanor Crumb" McKutcheon. The name Eleanor represents high tea and lace, while young Eleanor wants to be called by her real name, Ellee, which represents adventure and individualism. She wants the unconditional love and acceptance we celebrate at Christmas and does not want to wear the cloak of expectations best suited to someone else. Ellee flees one night after she listens from upstairs as her mother calls her horrid names to her father downstairs.

Only Ellee's third grade teacher ever understood the need for a real name, later coming to Ellee as a gypsy in a dream. Ellee becomes that gypsy, heading out of the 1960's Midwest to Nebraska, where she seeks shelter from a storm in the Comeback Cafe close to Christmas day. The diner goes silent as an old trucker picks up a crying infant and sings ancient Christmas carols that transform the diner into Holy Ground for several minutes of magic that evaporates as he returns to his seat at the dining counter.

Amid school administrators and waitresses that seem to have several arms each, Ellee finds a friend in a trucker driving a boatload of goulash to the Midwest. He's related to someone she knows and perhaps also to God himself.
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Format: Hardcover
MY MOTHER'S WISH: An American Christmas Carol, by Jerry Camery-Hoggatt (88 pgs., 2008). This is a sweet & charming & very short Christmas novella. It's the 1960s in the Midwest & Ellee Crumb McKutcheon is a seventh grader who is bent on changing the world or at the very least bent on getting her teachers & her mother to recognize that her name is Ellee, not Eleanor.
She has run-ins with some authority figures at school, a boy in her class & her Mom. She finally gets fed up & runs away from home. She gets a lift from a friendly trucker. They stop for a meal at the Comeback Cafe, where they are served by a three-armed waitress & meet some nicely eccentric strangers.
Hopes, dreams, wishes & desires are what this book is about. Read how these quirky strangers eventually help Ellee return home & how in the end she reconciles with her Mom & teachers & ends up marrying that boy.
You'll laugh & cry & tears will roll down your cheeks. You'll also wonder just who is that truck driver & your belief in Santa will be solidified.
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Format: Hardcover
My Mother's Wish, An American Christmas Carol, by Jerry Camery-Hoggatt, is a sweet little Christmas story told with the imagery of Garrison Keillor, if Garrison Keillor had the bizarre sense of humor and imagination of Tim Burton.

My Mother's Wish tells the story of Ellee, a young girl who embraces being "contrariwise" in every sense of the word. She insists on being her own person, defying the mold her strong willed, proper mother has created for her. She resists her given (read "forced upon") nae of Eleanor and the image it conjures.

Ellee paints word pictures that will make the reader feel 8 years old all over again. In fact, her narrative style will remind you of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. Ellee is wise beyond her years, funny and sadly misunderstood. But in the end, she is loved and accepted for who she really is. This is a tale of reconcilliation . . . a wry, hilarious, sad little tale of eventual acceptance and forgiveness. Thankfully, Christmas morning comes just in time.
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By David Jenison on December 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Wow!!! Camery-Hoggatt is masterful 21st century storyteller who crafts animated characters and compelling narratives with an inspired pen. My Mother's Wish is a holiday tale seen from the perspective of a young girl named Ellee living in a '60s middle America landscape. Ellee's observations reveal a girl with insight and smarts but whose conclusions are still constrained by the inexperience of her limited years. It's a sweeping first-person Christmas narrative that tackles the many complexities of growing up. It's about a mother learning to accept a daughter's uniqueness and a daughter learning to see the maternal love that parenting often masks. C-H created a character that's sharp, quick-witted and independent, and crafts a tale that reminds its readers that the greatest Christmas gift of all is family. My Mother's Wish is a first-rate holiday story!
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Format: Hardcover
My Mother's Wish by Jerry Camery-Hoggatt is aptly subtitled An American Christmas Carol. Ellee McKutcheon has never been able to live up to her mother's expectations of her and has actually taken pride in living life her own way, but after a major fight between her parents, Ellee takes to the road. A stop at the Comeback Cafe resurrects old feelings and more than a few ghosts bringing Ellee home and to new appreciation for her mother on Christmas. Camery-Hoggatt writes with a wry and witty style making each anecdote a delight. While the story is short, it packs a real punch about the meaning of Christmas, family, and love. It's a charming book perfect for holiday gift-giving.
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