Youthful Memories
by Helen J. Bradberry

"We had to carry the water to the house from the windmill for us to drink, Mom to cook with, and all of us to take a bath in. The windmill was two hundred feet from the house."

Helen’s family, like so many in America in the years following the Great Depression, struggled to scratch out a living as best they could. Some of her earliest memories are of being in the fields with her parents and older brothers as they chopped and picked cotton on their own farm. However, the economy was still recovering, making it difficult to put down roots. Her father moved the family many times during her childhood in search of better opportunities, providing her with experiences in Texas, Arizona, and finally in New Mexico, where the majority of her schooling took place. Her unvarnished recollection of these difficult, formative years is the basis for her intriguing memoir.

The best autobiographies avoid sugarcoating the facts, and the author is adept at revealing not only the good but also the darker side of her youth. For example, while there are Helen’s warm memories of events like a family Christmas or school days at Berry Flat with her sister Mary Jo, there are also more painful ones, where she recalls her mother badmouthing her father in front of others, and her grandmother’s nervous breakdown. She is also candid about her family’s clashes with those of other ethnic groups, one of which resulted in them having to move yet again. This unflinching devotion to the truth and a total lack of pretention in her writing combine to make her memoir extremely readable.

Helen’s story is a personal one that, while occasionally referencing key events and people of the time period, still only chronicles the life of her own family. But that tale gives valuable insight into what life was like for many in the American Southwest during those years.

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