December 6, 2007
WV Author Jeannette Walls Lecture at UC
I was fortunate enough to attend a free lecture at the University of Charleston by Jeannette Walls, the now famous author of The Glass Castle and former resident of Welch, WV. Ms. Walls spoke at length about how the book has affected her life and her husband John's invariant persistence for her to not only write it, but finish it. She had actually begun writing her memoir in her teens and her 20's but always seemed to throw them away. She thought at first she had to make up some good stories to make it interesting. That was until she saw her mother trifling through a dumpster and later asked her how to write this book. "Just tell the truth," her mom said.
In attendance were many high school students who were probably enticed into coming for a "good grade" but I'm positive they left feeling as though they can accomplish anything in this country. Despite Jeannette growing up dirt "po'" with little to no food, her parents always gave her a belief in herself and a fearless attitude toward life. I guess what she really wanted to drive home was that education and adult encouragement will inevitably bring one success.
While discussing what had become of her brothers and sisters, she told a story of her brother Brian and her taking a trip back down to Welch and looking up old friends. She said Brian always had lots of friends and they ended up seeing one them. "Let's just call him Sam," she said. One day back in 1970's Welch, Jeannette and Brian went to Sam's house and saw that his mother was cooking a huge breakfast while Sam was drawing a horse at the kitchen table. "Why can't I have this kind of home life," Jeannette thought to herself. Then Sam's dad came down the stairs and hit him upside the head and said, "You aren't any kind of artist!" After that, Jeannette knew just how lucky she really was. Her parents had always encouraged her to do what she enjoyed. And when Sam and Brian finally saw each other again after all those years, they gave each other one of those half-hugs that guys always give and Sam asked, "What are you doing now?" "I'm a cop," replied Brian. "Well I'm a criminal!" said Sam. Then they laughed about how they were both in the same business. Brian retired from being a NYC cop and is now a 9th grade teacher. Sam is still a criminal.
Jeannette finally got in contact with her sister Maureen who is still in California. A friend of Maureen's called Ms. Walls after the book was published, gave her the contact info and told her to keep trying - it was difficult to get Maureen to call anyone back, she said. The sisters have talked, though haven't seen each other yet.
Lori is still an artist in NYC and doing well.
Jeannette is now writing an autobiography about her mother's life but has no idea if it will come to fruition. Her mother's abandoned building burnt down last year and she was asked to come live with her and John in Virginia. Her mother refused to be a charity case until she was asked to take care of the horses. She lives in a mobile home on the property and is 73 years old. She still has her land in Texas and it is her own Glass Castle. It was always something that she could hold onto and something that could provide her with a future. The land is worth a million dollars - if it has oil.
It was only until recently that Ms. Walls was able to finally write her memoir. She said she thought it required a certain perspective to be able to write it as truthfully as she saw it. On her book tours she would always get asked how her mother could not provide food and her father drank money away. Yet what she has chosen to do is take the encouragement from her parents and apply to her life rather than expect some of the things they could have done differently. I think we can all take that piece of advice. It is truly what we decide to make of our lives and what we choose to accept about our history.
"We are all very lucky," Ms. Walls said last night. And we are.