Faded Pictures From My Backyard
Published By: Ballantine Books
Book Category: Non-Fiction, Biography & Autobiography
Buy From Amazon
Reviewed by Connie Anderson
Faded Pictures From My Backyard is the story of the Carswell family, told by oldest daughter Sue, using an age-appropriate child's voice through the years.
The father is an administrator at the Albany Home for Children. The family lived just this side of the home/orphanage—and they never, ever were allowed to interact with the children. The Carswell children never understood the "why" of this rule, and it was described as another "it's complicated" answer to some questions.
The orphans ranged from 6 to 18 (when they left to make their way in the world). The only parents these children knew were the houseparents paid to care for them. How they must have secretly envied the five Carswell children with both a mother and a father, especially at holidays…and bedtime.
Saturdays the Home's children were dressed in their best hand-me-down clothing to line up and wait for visitors who might be a parent or it might be a new mom and dad come to adopt them. Children were on display every Saturday, and seldom is one selected or even visited.
Some were truly orphans, others relinquished to the home for "adult" reasons, and others became residents because they had mental illness, or considered incorrigible.
The author herself has frequent childhood bouts with anxiety, baseless fears and worry, way beyond a normal child's. We later learn that although her father worked with troubled children—or better said, children with troubles—and the mother was a nurse there, both choose to minimize their daughter's maladies, and not get her treatment.
Her book follows these children and her family as they struggle, learn and grow up. At a 1989 reunion the former Home residents told wonderful stories of hope and love. Some were very successful, others succumb early to depression and misdirection. Some Home children had difficulty when adults because they never learned traditional relationships and what "mother love" is.
The author however has received tremendous "mother love" all her life—and had as one of her fears that her mother Elaine would die when she was young (as her mother had).
The famous quotes used are annotated that each writer also lost one or both parents while young.
The book is a great story as you cheer for them, worry for them, and then grieve with them all. In the 1960s such residential homes still existed. Kind counselors, houseparents and support staff cared for and about these children, and you will too.
Armchair Interviews says Faded Pictures From My Backyard is a very worthwhile read if you want your humanity button pushed a couple dozen times.