Thursday, 19 October 2017

 

 "The Road Back to Hell"

 This is the bittersweet story of growing up in an extremely dysfunctional home in the 1950's and 1960's. As the oldest child of my biological mother, Bonnie, and my adoptive father, Stew, I was the only daughter who benefited from the strong love my parents shared during the early years of their marriage. Shortly after the birth of my first sibling, Judy, their marriage started to crumble.  

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Friday, 15 September 2017 19:34

Inspired by "The Glass Castle"

The other night, I had the pleasure of spending the evening with my delightful friend, Beth Gerg, while enjoying a delicious dinner and watching the movie, "The Glass Castle". Beth introduced me to the book several years ago. I could not put the book down after reading the first sentence―"I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster." At the time, Beth had no idea how much this memoir by Jeanette Walls affected my life.

When Beth first contacted tell me the book had been made into a movie, I immediately looked on the Internet to see where it was playing in our area. Unfortunately, there were no listings of it showing anywhere near us― until Jim sent me a link to the Apollo Theater in St. Marys.  I picked Beth up about 5:00pm on Tuesday and we ventured to that unknown theater. Much to our surprise, we discovered a lovely, restored opera house that had been converted into a small movie theater eight years ago by a local family.

"The Glass Story" is a memoir about the outrageously, dysfunctional upbringing Jeanette and her siblings endured while being raised by their nomadic parents. Her father, Rex was a brilliant man when sober. One Christmas Eve, while lying on the desert sand, he shared his considerable knowledge about the bright shining stars and constellations with his four children. Then he pointed towards the sky and told each of them to select their favorite star and name it. Rex then presented their specially selected star to each of them as a Christmas gift. On another occasion, Jeanette was hanging on to him as she tried to float in a swimming pool for the first time. Suddenly, he threw her into the water and kept pushing her under every time she tried to surface. He did this until she finally learned to swim. Moments like these inspired Jeannette to embrace life fearlessly.

Rex spent most of his life designing his dream home― 'a glass castle' the place where his wife and children could live happily ever after. Unfortunately, as he gradually became more and more addicted to alcohol, that dream was shattered.

Jeannette's mother Rose Mary was a self-centered, want-to-be artist and writer. She was more concerned about completing a painting than preparing meals for her hungry children. One day, when Jeanette was about four-years-old, she complained to her mother that she was hungry. Without taking her eyes off her painting, Rose Mary brusquely told her to go into the kitchen and make some hot dogs. While Jeanette was standing on a stool stirring the boiling pot of hot dogs, her skirt caught on fire. When Rose Mary spotted the flames, she quickly grabbed a rug from the floor and rolled her young daughter in it to extinguish the flames. Although she had burns over a large part of her body, Jeannette soon returned to the stove to cook more hot dogs. Her mother smiled at her approvingly and said, "Good for you. You've got to get right back in the saddle." Proper parenting was not her mother's strong suit.

Rose Mary and Rex moved twenty-seven times in the first five years of marriage and continued this pattern while raising four children. Whenever they fell behind in the rent, they gathered the children, grabbed whatever belongings would fit into their rattletrap cars, and headed for the desert or the mountains. The family finally retreated to the West Virginia town where Rex had grown up. They lived in a ramshackle house without heating or plumbing, infested with rats and snakes. As the dysfunction escalated, Jeannette, her sisters, Lori and Maureen and her brother, Brian had to fend for themselves. They survived by supporting one another as they weathered their parents' betrayals. As soon as each of them found the resources to leave, they did.

Whenever I have watched a movie based on a book I've read, I find I always prefer the book. However, the movie, "The Glass Castle" is the exception.  It was one of the best movies I have ever seen. Brie Larson did an outstanding job portraying the role of Jeannette, while Woody Harrelson brought Rex's charismatic, alcoholic character to life. While watching her chaotic life unwind on the screen, I began to understand the special relationship Jeanette had with her father and how it provided her with the vision and need to succeed in life. 

During the movie, there was not a sound to be heard because all eyes were on the screen. Several times while watching it, I found myself clutching the arms of my seat as I recalled memories of my past. I believe the most compelling scene was the one with Rex being sexually assaulted by his mother. I had forgotten this important part of the story. In retrospect, I feel it is the most poignant part of the book. While researching Jeannette's life, I found an article that described Rex as being bipolar. Combining that with his alcohol addiction, I finally realized why this book and the movie had affected me so much. It was because it reminded me of my mother's life.

At the close of the movie, tears were streaming down my cheeks while I viewed the photographic collage of Jeannette's family. It was the first time I recognized the similarities between Rex's life and my mother's. They had both been exposed to some type of sexual abuse and reared in nomadic, dysfunctional environments. I was mesmerized by this movie and sat there for several minutes after the lights came on, thinking of how I could best deal with my own feelings. Before I stood up, I had my answer.

For over a year, I have been contemplating writing a sequel to my memoir, "The Road Back to Hell." This movie has inspired me to keep digging into my mother's life until I find the answers to her psychological problems as well as what caused them. Once again, I hope while researching her life, I may discover some of the answers my sisters and I are still seeking.

I plan to write a letter to Jeannette Walls, thanking her for the impact her book, and now the movie have had on my life. I would also like to thank my friend Beth, for once again unknowingly sparking my interest in writing.

I encourage anyone who has not read the book, "The Glass Castle" to do so. I also encourage you to see the movie.  You may enjoy her second book; "Half Broke Horses" based on the life of Lily Casey Smith―a non-nonsense, resourceful and spectacularly compelling grandmother.

Please feel free to share comments on some of your favorite books or movies.

 

 

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