From the moment you open up the book and read the beginning author Jennifer Brookins tells her story in a way that is unique to the time period she grew up and to the area and people in her community. The dialect is authentic and the expressions true to life as we meet her as a young child living in the South in the 1930’s and struggling just to be accepted and loved. The author’s voice is heard and most of the story is told in the first person and the dialect fits the area or the South where she grew up. Just wanting to see herself on the wide screen, hoping that she will finally find a place in this world we meet her at a young age, hear the voices of so many that are prejudiced and the color lines that are drawn as the author takes us back in time to the Early Years when it all began.
Tharon Ann is her name and she is smart, funny and abused by those she thought she could trust. With a mother who really paid little attention to her and a father who was killed in a road accident right after she was born, her mother’s coldness and anger shines through as she blames this child for his death. Not caring much for what Tharon wanted yet leaving her with someone called Mama and her closest friend Tessie, she begins to learn the meaning of the word Love and feels safe for the first time. But, times changed, her mother remarried and her stepfather, although kind at first, loses interest in her when her mother is dying in the hospital. Even worse: the people she is sent to stay with – the husband takes advantage of her and threatens her if she tells. The Early years are marked by her moving around, living with different relatives and feeling that she had no place in this world. Dealing with bigotry, prejudice and sad when her best friend dies yet comes to her in a vision, she learns early on to believe in God and the teachings of Jesus and loves going to church. Tessie and her Mama were her family for a long time and having them made life easier until her mother remarried and she moved. Moving from place to place and living with an aunt when her father died and then other relatives did not allow Tharon Ann any time to form real attachments. But, school was her out and the theater and television her passion as the author moves to the next part of book two. Hollywood here she comes but when she finally lands a role the first is meeting Ronald Reagan who takes her under his wing and is really amazing to her. Meeting Lucy was not quite what she pictured or expected but just being in the same room with her would have been great. Working with Walter Matthau and Andy Warhol, meeting Jackie Kennedy and even working on the same stage of Jason Robards or Marilyn Monroe would make most awestruck but somehow Tharon Ann, now renamed Jennifer West, manages to soar. Drinking, smoking joints, with many roles and finding herself smoking more cigarettes than anyone should smoke in a year, she finds herself in Hollywood getting bit parts and at one point a lead in The Dutchman and even other major productions. Her true love is Manhattan and being on live television had to be exhilarating, exciting and somewhat frightening as working with Art Carney would prove quite challenging. As the second section closes we hear Jennifer talk about the many stars she meets, the roles she played and yet she seems alone and not able to find a solid place for herself. All the glitz and glamour are great but sometimes in order to realize who you are you might need to go back to where it all began and that would mean revisiting her past. Meeting the man she finally married and hoping that he would provide security and love in her life she was blindsided by someone self-absorbed who alienated her from her roommate and best friend Lovie who guided her through many situations and was there for her when she fell down to help her pick herself up. She was hard-nosed and did not always see her downfalls coming from drinking, drugs, and smoking. Her marriage to Sperm Donor, as she called him, provided her with her son Rome as well as the responsibility of having to care for his son Willie too. Caring for several children as a single mom is difficult and trying to juggle her own life even harder. Moving in with Aunt Lowee turned out to be an awakening as she began to realize what a toll her smoking and drinking had not only her on her body but her appearance too. Having three children to care for and looking to find her way she is given a book by Mary Blakemore and seems transfixed on learning more about her. Listening about Mary and learning more about her would send red flags to anyone before moving their family to her compound and living by her rules. Moving to a new state and learning how to cope with her situation you wonder why Jennifer would listen to someone she hardly knows and do something drastic.
Mary was a mystic and her spiritual guide, her mentor, her captor and much more. For some reason Jennifer could not properly function without her guidance, meditation classes and understanding that she would now have to fend for herself, fight for her children and live on her own yet by Mary’s rules. Daily lives and spiritual lives were intertwined and jobs that were given to each person living under her roof had to be earned or were taken away. Punctuality was a strong requirement, dressing the right way and proper demeanor all the while knowing that she had to find a way out of just cleaning other people’s living quarters, laundry or front stoops. Tending to Mary’s roses took on a different meaning right before she passed and for some reason even after she passed she had the need to tend to them as well. Meeting Doug Brookins her business partner was quite unique as their relationship started out with coffee, personal critiques and then changed. In the final section titled My New Life she tells about her feelings and endeavors after the death of Mary, the businesses that Mary and Doug started and why they failed and the accounts that were lost. Sometimes putting your trust in the people you think are loyal will not always prove to be the right ones as Doug found out. Just where is she now and what are her new goals? Wanting to visit India and meet with Baba Ji was her lifelong dream. In this final section she describes their meetings, their satsang, her love of India, how Doug invited Baba Ji to America and then finally his teachings of the importance of the satsang, meditation and the spiritual life. The rest dear reader you have to read for yourself, as with all good mysteries to find out where Jennifer is now and why India is so special you will have to read the final two chapters and then the Epilogue. Mary Blakemore, she writes in the Epilogue, dedicated her life to helping others, the path of soul science, understanding that spiritual beings have human experiences rather than the opposite. Mary is always there in her heart and mind and let’s dedicate this review to her memory and to Aunt Lowee who became a follower of Mary’s but never failed Tharon Ann. A compelling and heartwarming memoir that takes readers deep inside the life of a young girl who struggled with her own identity, place in the world and found Jennifer Brookins. This is more than just a memoir about Jennifer, it’s about loyalties, determination, fearlessness and the hope of finding a place for her and her children. As a mother she worked hard and was resourceful when caring for her children. When the judge awarded her full custody I wanted to stand up and applaud. When she decided to take the special step at the end of this amazing journey we have all traveled I realize that Jennifer Brookins is a special woman who never gave up on herself, knew that Mary and others were there for her and proves that life might bring you struggles and hard times but there is a sun at the end or the dark clouds.
Fran Lewis: Just Reviews/MJ magazine