Monk's Journey
by Walter (Monk) Reynolds
The DubHouse

"In the meantime, Charlie had another drink and went to bed. How anyone could sleep after committing such a despicable act is beyond understanding."

Every life is a story. Autobiographies and memoirs are vehicles for recording them. While it is true that humans are all basically the same, circumstances, experiences, and how people deal with the world around them is what truly makes individuals different and in a way original. Reynolds story is true and begins in rural Florida, 1939. At first, there is almost the hint of a Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn quality to the life that is about to be shared. However, this is no tall Mark Twain tale being spun. This is the beginning for a boy who will experience fear, and pain, and darkness, not just in the pages of a book, but rather in the real world around him.

Born into a life of poverty in Florida’s swamps and woodlands, Reynolds is constantly shuttled between different family members who take on responsibility for his upbringing. A grandfather imbues him with love and life lessons. An aunt introduces him to responsibility, religion and an ongoing recognition of guardian angels. A homeless man introduces him to kindness. These introductions he internalizes and relies upon when he is sent to live with a stepfather who is the antithesis of them all.

Charlie, Monk’s stepdad, makes his boyhood a miserable ordeal. He has him rise before daybreak (and breakfast) to do farm chores. Immediately returning from school, he has to do more work until the sun sets. Questioning is met with abuse. Tardiness is met with brutality. Discipline is doled out with fists, belts, and wires. The young boy’s only escape from cruelty and maltreatment is found in the hunting and fishing he shares with his sibling, and the love they both share for their faithful dog, Bull. In a drunken rage one night, Charlie inflicts unimaginable vindictiveness upon the pet. It is something Monk never forgets. He even dedicates his book to the dog that he loved.

Eventually readers learn of Monk’s leaving Charlie’s home at the age of sixteen, joining the army a year later, leaving one branch of service for another, and subsequently participating in the Viet Nam war as a member of America’s navy. Reynolds writes of his life unpretentiously. He tells his story in a very matter-of-fact tone. His approach feels more like one friend talking to another, rather than a writer inscribing his memories for strangers. While his style is straightforward, he achieves pathos and emotion when detailing the travails he experienced as a child or the occasional humor he found in life’s strange incidents, such as chickens, dogs, and pigs made drunk and wobbly from corn mash—the byproduct of the family’s white lightening still.

Now a septuagenarian, Reynolds looks back on his life clear-eyed. He realizes the hardships he had to face, yet he never plays the victim. Making a case, in his words, of “making sweet lemonade out of sour lemons,” he extols the virtues of positive rather than negative thinking, and moving forward rather than dwelling in the past. His is an autobiography that reminds everyone there is light at the end of the tunnel—that the most important part of life is not that which lies behind us, but that which lies ahead.

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