Jeannette Walls kept her childhood secret for many years. She was raised by eccentric parents. Her father a would be inventor and dreamer and her mother was a wannabe famous artist. Jeannette was one of three girls and one boy. Her sister Lori was the brain, was was almost legally blind. She was finally able to get glasses after a teacher nearly forced her parents to get them for her. Her awe and discovery of the world after glasses is so beautiful and yet sad that it took so long for her to be able to see.
The family was drug from pillar to post either running from landlords, or even the law. They left Texas because of an altercation with a neighbor boy who tormented Jeanette. They nearly starved to death and the kids would go turn in bottles to get food to eat. Their mother who never really lived in reality was much too self important to be bothered with feeding her children. She always told them to look at the bright side.
As if things couldn’t get worse they moved to Virginia to live with their father’s parents who were crazier than hoot owls and meaner than the scorpions that they used to chase. They also found out just how dysfunctional their mean old grandmother was when she was caught fondling their brother. It was quite obvious that their father probably was treated the same as a child. When they told their parents what happened they were the ones taken to task.
Jeannette’s father actually loved them and their mother too in her own weird selfish way. Her father was more enduring, calling Jeanette, his mountain goat. But as his alcoholism progressed he became more abusive and stole the money that they agonizingly saved so their older sister Lori could go to New York.
This is a must read. It is amazing how these children survived. They not only survived they flourished. Jeanette tells this tale with such passion and yet her sense of humor is a breath of fresh air amidst all the horror. The painting the holes in their pants so in would blend in and you wouldn’t see their legs. The shoes falling off their feet. Scraping maggots off of the ham that set out on the counter in the kitchen with the falling in ceiling. The children tried to hard to make the house a home, and it was futile.
They nearly froze to death, had to find their own food and had rags for clothing. Their father couldn’t hold a job and when he had money he spent it on alcohol. He was charismatic and would charm Jeannette to give him what little she made. Welfare was called and the children were afraid of being taken away and being separated. This actually got their mother to go back to teaching for a short period of time. They had to help her grade papers, and physically get her to school so she would work and they could pay the bills.
Finally Lori was able to make it to New York and the world opened up for all of them. You must read this. If you have ever felt self pity, or thought your childhood was bad and you couldn’t make your life better. You need to read this book. You will never find one more inspirational.
I cannot begin to describe all that this story entails. It is a must read. Jeannette is a regular contributor to MSNBC and lives in Virginia with her husband, John Taylor who is also a writer.