The Stovepipe – Review by Martha A. Cheves, Author of Stir, Laugh, Repeat; A Book and A Dish; Think With Your Taste Buds
…we saw a large, black automobile drive into our lane. It pulled slowly into the backyard and stopped beside the house where we were playing. We all stood frozen. In a poor rural area, it was rare to see an automobile on the road, let alone have one pull into our own yard. Muggs must have know it meant trouble, for she quickly opened the cellar door and herded us all inside. But it was too late, for she had been spotted. No sooner had the door been slammed shut than it was flung open, exposing my sisters and me as we huddled fearfully inside. “Come out,” a man said as he tugged on our arms, pulling us out one by one. As we hurried to Muggs’ side, the man said, “We’d like to speak with your mother.” Muggs shook her head. “I’m sorry, but she ain’t home right now.” At that, without saying another word, he and a woman who had come with him grabbed my sisters and me and pushed us, kicking and screaming, into the backseat of the car. They then rounded up Bobby and shoved him in beside us.
Bonnie Virag was one of 2 sets of twins birthed by her mother Flossie Bell Mudford. Flossie Bell had a total of 18 children of which Bonnie can remembered 14 counting herself. By the time Bonnie and her twin sister Betty, her twin sisters Jean and Joan and her brother Bobby were taken from the home 6 of the older children had already left. Most of the girls’ care was provided by one of her older sisters, Margaret which they fondly called Muggs. But due to Muggs being a child herself, Children’s Service felt they had no choice but to take the younger ones from the home, leaving them all feeling lost and alone.
When I started reading The Stovepipe, I had just finished another autobiography by a lady who, along with her siblings, had been placed in an orphanage. The trials and mistreatment they went through was heartbreaking. I truly thought that children placed in foster homes had to be better. That isn’t necessarily true. Bonnie and her siblings ended up on a Tobacco farm and put to work as if they were mere slaves. They were housed in the attic and not allowed to come into the house except to go to their rooms. Meals were served after the family had finished eating and heating in their attic rooms consisted of The Stovepipe that ran up through the ceiling. Their living conditions, mistreatment by the family members, their lack of love and even their simplest needs were non-existing. It really took some strong willed individuals to survive what these children were forced to suffer through.
As I read The Stovepipe, I grew to admire Bonnie and her siblings. She is a woman I would love to sit down with and simply listen to as she tells stories of her childhood. Some of the stories within her autobiography would have been funny had the consequences for their actions not been so severe. I couldn’t help but laugh when I read about the yard being covered with paper the girls had hidden within the rafters and uncovered when the roofers started work. But I wanted to cry when the foster family punished them for their innocent deed.
I can only hope and pray that things have changed since Bonnie and her siblings were brought up in the system of foster care. No child should ever be inflicted with excessive pain and sorrow, especially after the a child has already been hurt by the loss of their own family or the lack of ever knowing one. These children should be treated as the special people they really are.
The Stovepipe is a book that EVERY parent should read and hopefully stress to their own children, the heartbreak of being in the system. Bonnie and her sisters should be very proud of themselves for being survivors and not allowing their experiences to weaken them but to make them stronger and better people.