The Last American Mom

jessiejuneatlake.jpglastmanbook.jpg If you’ve never read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, “The Last American Man”, I suggest you pick it up this Fourth for a bit of quirky, patriotic fun.  It chronicles the true story of a modern day hero who lives in a teepee in the Appalachian Mountains, eating only what he himself picks, raises or kills.  The guy is an egomaniac and a genius, and the writing, especially when detailing how he forages in the woods, is funny and sensitive and page-turningly good.     

The only problem with that book is the title.  He’s not the last American man. My mother is.   

She spends every summer, and most of every fall, wading through rivers with a fly-fishing rod, and hiking giant, shale-covered mountains to sleep under the stars.  She’s had staring contests with bears and cougars, weathered lightning storms under scraggly trees, and once hiked three miles back to her truck with a broken tailbone. 

While other Beverly Hills girls spent their summers hanging out by the pool, I was pitching tents with my mom at high altitude, and thanking the universe for the trout we were about to eat by smoking tobacco out of a be-feathered elk-bone pipe.

agathamom.jpg And so it follows that on the Fourth of July, while the rest of America ate barbecue and played catch in the backyard, I was often dragged off into the wilderness with bells tied to my ankles in case my mom felt like “going up ahead”. Instead of hot dogs, we had beef jerky; instead of macaroni salad, the bowl of shrimp flavored ramen in our packs.  We collected reeds for basket weaving, rose hips for tea, and discussed which spirit animal best represented us.  (Coyote and rabbit: I’ll let you guess who was who.)

Occasionally we did have a more traditional Fourth.  At the behest of my immigrant father, a “Trying Hard to be American Man”, we stayed in Beverly Hills and fired up the grill.  He, who believes that the best test of American citizenship is the ability to untwist an Oreo, felt we should do our civic duty, and eat.  Luckily my mother, in addition to being one with nature, is also an accomplished cook.  (As well as a prize-winning quilter, ex-swimsuit model, and working artist.  So, you know, not much to live up to.)  But although she may have hung up the hiking boots those few early Julys, my mother still brought something distinctly primitive to the table: ribs. And while I haven’t ever managed to make them seem quite as Wild West and mountain-man as she does, I do have the recipe.  And it’s good.

My mother would say these are best eaten after some kind of strenuous outdoor activity, although if you feel like “The Last American Man Likely to Get Off the Couch” this Fourth of July, I understand.  Just don’t forget to thank the universe . . .  And my mom.

Pork loin back ribs
Sweet and sour sauce, from a jar
Onions, chopped
Garlic, chopped
Lemon juice   

Combine all and marinate for a few hours, then grill.  (As with all my mother’s recipes, there are no proportions and very little instructions offered: everything should be to taste.  She does, however, make one recommendation. “If you make a lot of ribs, make a lot of sauce”.)


Agatha French is a Boston based writer about to make a cross country move.  After 12 years away from her home turf of Southern California, she will be returning to Los Angeles in the fall.  She, and Ryan, are very much looking forward to the year round fruit.