In this debut memoir, Runyan describes how she was shaped by her hardscrabble upbringing.
The author was born in the early 1940s in the tiny home of poor tomato farmers in the Red River Valley of Texas. Her father frequently moved the family in his pursuit of better opportunities—from studying at a Bible college in Arkansas to driving a school bus in West Texas to working at a sawmill in Oregon—until his crippling depression made him unable to work. Runyan writes that her harsh, often violent mother did her best to keep the family fed, but there were many times when the kids went without food. The author writes that she was raped by her older sister’s husband when she was young, and not long afterward, at 16, she eloped with a boy from her school and tried to build an adult life—one far removed from poverty and instability. However, the boy she married turned out to be an unreliable husband, and having three kids of her own quickly taught her that life is never easy. Indeed, as she attempted to find lessons about how to be a woman in the world, she looked back on her mother’s behavior with greater understanding. Runyan’s prose is folksy but sharp, particularly when it’s filtered through her perspective as a young girl: “It turned out that Daddy had heard God call on him to preach the Gospel….Did he come right down from heaven, walk into the house, and call out to Daddy to come and listen to him? Maybe he sent an angel down to tell him.” The book’s tone is often cheery despite the subject matter’s bleakness, and several scenes contrast childhood play with grim reality, as when Runyan and her brother found a bullet at an Army base and left it on the kitchen stove—only to have it explode and injure their mother. The author also does an excellent job of documenting mid-20th-century American poverty in a way that feels simultaneously unusual and completely relatable.
A disturbing but inspiring memoir of a difficult childhood and adulthood.