The Walls family live a nomadic and deplorable lifestyle. Although Rose Mary Walls (mother) has a teaching license and Rex Walls (father) is completely able bodied; one might even categorize his intelligence as genius, having the ability to construct remarkable inventions without advanced technology, the family members often find themselves sleeping in cardboard boxes, rooting garbage receptacles for scraps of food and lodging in places without proper plumbing or running water. The Glass Castle takes you on an impossible journey complete with battles with alcoholism, child neglect, regret, love and hope deferred.
While reading this book, I couldn’t help reminiscing on my childhood. During reflection, I entertained the thoughts that suggested my childhood might not have been so bad. I mean, sure my parents only bought and drove used cars that always lacked either heat or air-conditioning or both. We lived in a rural area and, being devout Christians, drove to church several times a week about thirty miles away because, according to my mother, that was where the real “truth” was being taught.
In the winter we kids would climb into the car with blankets or quilts in tow to keep us warm on the scenic ride. We usually ate foods that had labels we didn’t recognize from the commercials we watched between our favorite television shows. We wore clothes handed down by older siblings and even older/elderly benevolent strangers. But unlike Rex and Rose Mary Walls, my parents worked hard and accepted governmental assistance to keep the family fed and warm. They even subjected themselves to harmful and unjust labor conditions because they felt it was their responsibility to provide their children a decent livelihood.
I found myself yelling at the parents in this book for not getting off their lazy butts and doing something about the poverty in which they lived. I willed the mother (in my thoughts) out of bed each day and use that degree she had obtained to feed her staving family. I scoffed and rolled my eyes every time the father stumbled in the house completely drunk after having lost yet another job. I nearly cried each time the children were bullied by kids and adults for their unkempt appearance and repulsive smells. I cheered when Child Services knocked on their door in hopes that these children would finally get the chance in life they deserved.
However, it wasn’t until nearly the end of the story that I realized I loved those “worthless, good-for-nothing parents.” Though unorthodox and negligent, they taught and encouraged autonomy, fearlessness, resourcefulness and family loyalty.
I realized labeling your childhood as bad or good isn’t helpful or accurate. It’s just what it is. All circumstances lend consequences both good and bad. So labeling is simply irrelevant. I learned from my childhood how to be resourceful and optimistic. I also learned to stoop to low levels to obtain what I feel is a necessity.
Janette Walls, the author of The Glass Castle and one of the Walls’ kids, expressed in an interview that she neither hates nor resents the parenting she received. She only notes it as the story she has. She willingly accepts the scars and the lessons she received as a result of her parents’ expressed ideals about life.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who thinks he doesn’t or couldn’t enjoy memoirs. It is an easy read. My copy only had 288 pages; a great story with an important message.