Friday, March 15, 2013

Trusted with Treasure

By Deborah Wilbrink

Sometime after mother’s death I was going through some of her belongings, secretly feeling there would be a clue. I came across a small box. Would it reveal why I had been abandoned by my parents? I carefully lifted the lid on the old letter box tucked away in her trunk.

Thus begins the personal history by Barbara Goodall. Barbara and I were introduced by her daughter, Tami, through a contact form to Writers in the Sky asking about a manuscript evaluation. Its working title is Mother, May I? A Foster Child’s Quest for Home. It has been a meaningful contact for me; Barbara Goodall offers a model of humility and faith. She is inspiring because she emerged from the torments of her youth to become a person who reached out to salvage the lives of many others.
Her manuscript is a treasure! A natural writer, Goodall laments the lack of books, read-alouds, and story-telling in her childhood. Perhaps it was the great stories within the Bible, her one readily available book, which instilled her skills with prose. She states:

This is a true story of four adults who abandoned me, Barbara Louise Nott, twice. Once to the state’s foster care system; and then repeatedly when a teenager, as I was left with strangers or even to fend on my own. I was born in 1940, and my memories begin at five years of age. . . My parents and grandparents, a couple of four, were always together, but there was no room for me.

The “couple of four” once left me, as a five-year-old girl, alone on a sidewalk, and drove away “to see my reaction.” Later, they repeatedly placed me, as a young teen, in boarding situations where I lived without family or friends while my family, unbeknownst to me, collected her wages. It was only when she became seventeen and married that I escaped the emotional abuse and opportunism, and began to experience love.

While Goodall began with the intent of a document for her four children and their children, it has evolved to an inspirational memoir. She writes for foster children who are in the situation now; and for those who are foster alumni, restoring faith in their own abilities to succeed. Goodall, a high school dropout, not only successfully raised four children, but also provided a temporary home for twenty-five foster kids. Without a formal education, she played a leadership role in the public housing services of her Tennessee County, assisting the poor on both an administrative and highly-personal level.

Here is another sample of Goodall’s writing:

It was one of those cold windy autumn days. I pulled my sweater around me wishing I had worn my jacket as I quickly hustled to get inside the next building. My responsibility was to check out the old dilapidated rental units down at the end of the valley in the Red River area of town. I was to post the units as unsafe structures and contact the owner. The owner had to give the city authorization to take the houses down, at no charge. Community Development funds were targeted to do repairs and rebuild in this neighborhood.

I could see flames licking at the sides of the pot-bellied stoves through the cracks of the wooden shotgun shanties. Streets in this part of town were still dirt with ruts deep enough to bury a dog. A few stray dogs were chasing each other in circles while coatless kids were playing in the street. The air was thick with the smell of coal as grates were fired up, mingled with the odor of raw sewage seeping out into the back yards.

Thinking the houses at this end of the street were vacant, I was surprised to hear a weak voice. “Come here, girlie, I need some bread. Will you go get me some?”

Goodall’s deft descriptions allow us to marvel at the characters of her journey. Her life has a natural plot, taking the climactic turn with her marriage. She expresses a theme of abiding faith that a guardian angel hovered nearby. As we reach the publishing stage of Goodall’s memoir, I’m confident that her book will be motivational and inspirational to any reader; and an important addition to the literature about foster care. I was entrusted with a treasure, and for that I’ll always be grateful.

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