Home for the Friendless: Finding Hope, Love, and Family by Betty (Peal) Auchard is a beautifully written tribute to the shaping of one family in times of trouble and hardship. I loved the voice of Betty within the pages: written as a child might think, with overtones of sad, world-weary pathos and gentle self-deprecating humor. Although I am not of her generation (my parents were born in 1914; my oldest sister, 13 years older than I, was born in 1939), my upbringing included the lessons about the Depression and the importance of family.
The book is charmingly divided into parts that deal with the different aspects of Betty’s growing years; the second part deals specifically with “Life at the Home for the Friendless.” Thus, on page 59, you share with Auchard the unexpected and undesirable placement of herself and her siblings into this children’s home in the winter of 1937. The hardest part was the separation from her sister Patty and brother Bobby. The rules were not onerous, but they were different and confusing. Her mother and grandmother came to visit sometimes, but the upheaval and strain was almost too much to bear. Although “The Home” was not the only children’s facility in which the Peal children lived, it was typical of the times and made a lasting impression.
Auchard’s parents continually left one another, reunited, and then parted ways again. Although there were no diagnosis’s of mental illness in those early days, it seems that Mrs. Peal was bi-polar, and her mood swings and her tempers created a tension in the family that made the times they were together worrisome. Yet Auchard shows her love of her parents in every page of the book, for although there were problems, family was family.
Clever of-the-time photos are at the front of each section, and the last few pages are dedicated to “Betty’s History Lessons.” These cover all the topics of the time that are mentioned in the book - from 1946 Hit Parade to Wonder Woman are delineated, so if you come across something that is beyond your ken, you can look it up here.
I enjoyed reading this, and enjoyed the experience of hearing another woman’s voice speaking of the last Depression (in the 1930s) and the struggles of families to stay together. The lessons that we can learn from her are strong and lifelong – and might stand us in good stead in our own present economic climate.