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Author: Bonnie E. Virag
Reviewed by fran lewis
The memories that haunt us at an early age sometimes come to light when we are older. Children are impressionable and the thoughts and feelings of incidents that happen to them whether good or traumatic do not always lie dormant in their minds. When Bonnie was four years old she and her sister were taken from her parents, for some unknown reason, put in foster care and forced to live with many strangers. Thinking as most kids do when they are scared or too young to fully understand the rationale behind the system or what happened to them, guilt arises, feelings of having done something wrong alight and some often become docile and quite while others rebellious and hard. After living with so many for so long and thinking about her own story the author decided to share the life, her fears, her joys and her unhappiness living in places no living person should endure, no less young children. What would you do if the only way you could be warm and not freeze were from the heat from a stovepipe? Enter Bonne’s world and find out. This is my review for Stovepipe.
Your whole life is wrapped up and neatly filed in one file cabinet in the basement of the Children’s aid Society. Imagine an entire childhood tucked away and sealed until one day you decide to find out and remember the inner truths behind the torment and the life you once lived. Bonnie walked into the office of the society, up to the manager and asked for her life’s story. Imagine opening this envelope and what it revealed would either haunt you forever, help you remember what you lived or finally come to terms with the reality.
The story begins as many others do with the beginning. Her life was stored inside of her mind and what she shares will bring tears to your eyes and hope that others will not have to endure what she and her siblings did. At four years of age she lived with her mother and family in a poorly furnished home with little food and poor supervision. But, kids love their parents unconditionally and although her mother was not the best, her grandfather often beating her for her actions, her grandmother frightening them all they were still family until that fateful day. A huge black car drives up and someone gets out asking her sister, Maggie aka Muggs where her mother was. Rather than wait to see when and if she returns they round up all of the smaller kids and haul them off in the car. Separating her from the older ones and keeping on Bonnie and her twin sister, Betty together the journey begins in more than one direction. Fear in their hearts they go to live in their first foster home. No one really cared about her feelings. No one asked how he or she was doing. A system so cold and messed up it has not really improved even today. As Bonnie and Betty felt warm and safe at with the social worker at the children’s aid society they were quickly taken to their first home where they would learn the true meanings of abuse and cruelty. A women who looked away from the torment of the two young girls, two brothers who did everything to hurt them and thought it was funny and one brother who was housed there but taken away in the end. Not wanting his sisters to have to endure any more cruelty at the hands of the Sebold’s he ratted them out and they were whisked to the Miller’s home. Not even old enough to go to school and having lived more than most should have in a lifetime. Their journey has just begun and their lives will undergo more traumas before all is said and done. Hoping to be reunited with their brothers and sisters was the only thing that kept them going.
Sent from one foster family to another after settling in Bonnie and Betty learn some really hard lessons that children their age should never have to learn and events that would harden many in different ways. The Millers and the Benders came next where Betty experienced something horrific at the hand of one of their sons and Bonnie tried to save her but could not. When the truth came out things changed again for both girls and going to live with the Benders had many ups and downs until their sisters Joan and Jean were allowed to spend time with them during summer vacation. But, no matter how comfortable they got the threat of change, losing each other hung over their heads. Proper manners, behavior and stiff punishments often followed when they were just being kids. Fear often hangs over the heads of so many children when their parents or guardians inflict pain when they transgress or do anything that deviates from what they deem proper behavior. You hear Bonnie’s voice, feel her pain and frustration and your heart aches for Betty as she is thrown to the lions too many times.
The foster care system did not even check on the welfare of the girls nor did the social worker seem to really care about their welfare once the famous folder of information was handed to the next set of parents. All too often some of these kids get lost not only in the system but find themselves in deeper trouble to either get attention or just to survive. The sad part is I really don’t think it has changed even today. Working with children in the Public Schools for over 30 years I saw evidence of this lack of caring, often reported abuse and hoped that someone eventually would listen and remember to protect the child and not the system. Some parents really did care and others did it for the money. It was not that difficult to tell the difference.
Each family that these girls lived with showed no emotion and never once gave them a hug or told them they loved them. No matter what the reward or punishment it was given in the same manner without any thought to their feelings or benefit. Even in school things were not always great, the teachers tried but to a point. Children’s Aid Society checked up on them but no one realized that they were not properly fed, cared for the right way, clothed and what really bothers me neither did the school take more of an interest in their welfare. This is a compelling story that needs to be told and heard. The Benders although at times gave them things they wanted and needed seemed to use them as slave labor to keep their tobacco business going and allowed their own children to torture, rape and both physically and emotional abuse the girls without any remorse. When they finally came to the Larsen home only Bonnie and Betty were together as Joan and Jean were removed and were lucky not to be with them. When things got difficult Bonnie was sent away again and separated from her sister. The only thing that kept these girls afloat was their hope and to someday be reunited, their love for each other and the inner strength to not let anything destroy them. The fear in their hearts not to be able to express themselves openly and to learn the many things young girls need to learn when growing up really brought tears to my eyes. The sad part is that not very much has changed. Social Services back then did not seem to do a background check on these families and many of them used these kids as labor and took them in for the money. You would think they would have noticed when Mrs. Sanders realized that they did not answer her in complete sentences nor really look her in the eye, or from their poor appearances that something was wrong. The Benders should have been dealt with for abuse and the other families were not much better.
As you read the final chapters and learn where each one wound up you realize the inner strength that Bonnie had and still has in order to tell her story and share her experiences. The sad part is she never really found out why they were removed from their home, nor were they ever given a chance to really reconnect with their parents. Losing so many sisters and brothers must still weigh heavily on her mind and the ones she still connects with are precious no matter where they are and their lifestyle. Losing my sister last year was hard and never really getting that chance to tell her one more time while she could hear me that she was so special and I loved her so much. Bonnie’s story is real. It is happening now to many others and when she finally reached 18 years of age her life began.
A story so graphically, emotionally and well told that each page holds the reader captive as you hear her voice and those of her sisters. You feel the pain inflicted on them and the sadness and stress inflicted on these children by strangers who really never cared about them, went through the motions of pretending to be their parents and one woman who never gave up on herself. Thank you for giving me the honor or reading, reviewing and sharing your story. Warmth should not come from a stovepipe it should come from family, love and hugs.
This book gets: FIVE WARM HUGS
Fran Lewis: reviewer
good to see you.
love and hugs,
Hi there friend. How are you? Have not spoken to you for a long time? Hope to hear from you soon and what about the sequel? Fran