LifeStories, Las Vegas, Nevada, 2010. ISBN 978-1-935-04326-3.
Reviewed by Lisa Shirah-Hiers
Posted on 11/11/2010
In The Home for the Friendless, Betty Auchard chronicles her unusual childhood growing up in a series of temporary homes during the Great Depression. Her thrice-married and divorced parents were poor and fought often, leaving Betty to watch over her younger siblings. Betty writes fluently and charmingly in the voices of her younger selves, revealing a quirky and delightful character. My 11-year old daughter howled with laughter when I read out loud the story about Betty's younger brother, Bobby, falling from a second story window. Betty's mother faints and her father is so busy trying to revive his wife that Betty is left to look for her fallen brother. "I stepped over my mother and dashed behind the house, eager to see what [Bobby] looked like all flattened and squashed. When I reached him in our grandmother's weed-patch yard, he was struggling to his feet, bread and peanut butter still in his hand, but crusted with sand. He was bawling his lungs out. I thought he was mad because sand was stuck all over his sandwich, so I hugged him and dried his tears." (p. 31)
Betty and her siblings bounce from one family member to another, eventually winding up in an orphanage called "The Home for the Friendless." There Betty is separated from her brother and sister when they are sent to quarters for the younger children while she moves into the older girls' dorm on the third floor.
At the home, Betty reveals her fearless character, sometimes in frightening ways. She dashes outside to sit on the metal merry-go-round during a lightening storm, terrifying the other children who cower on the porch screaming and crying. Betty saunters back to the safety of the porch just as the caretaker, Mrs. B, comes to find out what the racket is all about. "Is the merry-go-round dangerous?" Betty asks. Mrs. B explains that it's made of cast iron metal which attracts lightening like a magnet and that if it had been hit there'd be "...nothin' left but a melted iron puddle." Betty is horrified. "I had never heard anything so scary in my life. That night I dreamed I was struck by lightening and melted into a puddle of Betty." (p72)
Betty faces her situation with courage and creativity and just enough contempt for the rules to endear her to the reader, sneaking water at night even though she knows she'll wet the bed. She satisfies her sweet-tooth with "toothpaste candy," Pepsodent squirted onto a piece of cardboard and baked on the heater, even though it gives her and the other children cramps and diarrhea.
Betty's tale takes us on a breath-taking journey through the scary Orson Wells' broadcast of The War of the Worlds on the radio Halloween night, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and war years' scrap metal collections and rationing. Whether she's boxing with rough neighborhood kids on a dare or winning the election as Head Girl, Betty will keep you on the edge of your seat, amazed at her resilience, laughing and applauding her triumphant emergence into early adulthood essentially unscathed.
Betty Auchard is the author of two memoirs: her recently published The Home for the Friendless and her first memoir, Dancing in My Nightgown: The Rhythms of Widowhood, which won the IPPY Independent Publishers' award in 2005. She has published stories and essays in the San Jose Mercury News, Today's Senior, and the Chocolate for a Woman's Soul series and is a sought-after public speaker. She lives in Los Gatos, California. For more information visit her website.
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