For Sycamore resident Beverly Finn, writing her memoir became a matter of great importance to her family, friends, and colleagues.
“My son told me, ‘Mom, you have a sacred duty and a moral obligation to get this written down. You need to write this for our family and for future generations,’” she said.
Finn’s childhood was filled with abuse, poverty and hardship. In her memoir, “You Won’t be Coming Back,” she writes about how she broke the cycle through faith, perseverance and luck.
“I knew from the time I was very young that I did not want to live the way my mother had to, and I vowed to myself many times that my life would not be like that,” Finn said.
The title of the book refers to the time when, at 16, she was removed from her home and placed with a foster family. That became the turning point in her life.
“You Won’t Be Coming Back” is available in hardcover, paperback, and as an e-book from Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, and from the publisher at xlibris.com.
Finn spoke with MidWeek reporter Curtis Clegg about her book, her long career as a speech-language pathologist, and the journey that brought her to Sycamore from her humble beginnings in a log cabin in northern Wisconsin.
MidWeek: Is this your first book?
Beverly Finn: It is. I’m really not much of an author or a writer. I did this to fulfill the request of one of my sons and at the urging of some of my colleagues who wanted me to write this story as an inspiration to other people, young girls especially. …My son knew of my background and the life I came out of, and I succeeded in overcoming some pretty significant hardships.
MW: In what setting does the book take place?
BF: I was born in 1941, and I’m the fourth of nine children. I was born into poverty and my dad was an alcoholic and we had a tough life as kids.
MW: I read that you were born in a log cabin in northern Wisconsin.
BF: I was born in a log cabin, but I grew up in an old, old rickety house. Then we lived in a basement – my mother and my older siblings dug that, and it took four years of digging. After that we lived in a 12-by-24-foot structure that we called “the garage” even though we had no car. I lived there until I was taken away from my family and moved to a foster home.
MW: How and when did you develop the mechanisms to deal with the poverty and abuse?
BF: I read fairy tales all the time. I loved to read before I started school because my sisters would bring books home for me. …I had wonderful teachers in school and I give them credit in my book. School was my salvation, in addition to the books I read.
MW: Was helping others one of your coping mechanisms?
BF: I have always been somebody who thinks about what I can do to make things better for other people.
MW: Did you have other neighbors who lived in cabins, or were you that much poorer than your neighbors?
BF: This was a small town of approximately 700 people, and we lived on the edge of town. There were some people who lived in situations similar to what we were in, but they lived in the country.
MW: Was it therapeutic or traumatic to relive those difficult experiences from your childhood?
BF: Probably therapeutic. In fact, my neighbor across the road is a retired educator, one of the principals from DeKalb, and once asked me if I was ever in therapy. I said, “No, I did things for other people, I garden, I take pleasure in simple daily things.”
MW: What goals did you set and achieve in those years?
BF: I had a number of goals, and they are in my book and I have put an asterisk by the ones I have accomplished. I have always had goals for myself and I didn’t let adversity or problems sway me, and I knew that I wouldn’t live the way my mother had to.
MW: How were you removed from your home at 16?
BF: That’s where I start my book. I sat down one time and I remembered when the turning point in my life was, and it was when I was in my home ec room and the principal came in and said, “Beverly, gather all your things because you won’t be coming back.” That’s where I got the title. …There were four of us taken away at once. I happened to be the oldest one of the siblings still living at home. My mother gave us paper bags to gather our few meager belongings in.
MW: Did you consult with any of your family members when writing your book?
BF: Yes I did, and I have some siblings who said, “I wish you’d write a book about my story.” This book is from my viewpoint, and I don’t know everything that happened in my siblings’ lives. They all knew I was writing a book and that it would be raw and gritty, and they were OK with that.
MW: When did you start writing your book?
BF: I have been writing the book all my life, because I have kept diaries and journals. …I sat down and started writing after the holidays last year. So from January until May of this year I wrote the book, and I delivered the manuscript in mid-May.
MW: Is the book completely autobiographical?
BF: There is no fiction. I do have photos embedded, some of which are vintage. For a while that was one of the options I had with the publisher I’m dealing with, but I said, “No! What’s the point of writing a memoir then?”
MW: What hopes do you have that writing about your own abuse and poverty will help others?
BF: As I wrote the book, it was to help people who find themselves in abusive situations to, as I call it, “get out of the shadows and into the sunlight,” because child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime, and some people never overcome that. …So many people encouraged me to be truthful because maybe my story could help other young girls to get out of whatever bad situations they may be in.
MW: What ages would you say the book is appropriate for?
BF: I would say high school and up because I do talk about some of the abuse some of us endured.
MW: What do you hope a high school student who reads this book takes away from it?
BF: I hope they know that even if someone is in a dire situation and their life is challenging, or they live in poverty, that there is hope for them. Some of us have gotten out of bad situations, and they can, too.
MW: Is there a spiritual aspect?
BF: Yes, in fact I credit divine intervention with helping me to survive an assault. This was before I was taken out of my home. I credit not only my good muscles from all the hard work I had to do, but I credit divine intervention with my not becoming a victim. I considered going into the sisterhood at one time. I looked into becoming a nun because religion was important to me.
MW: What feedback have you gotten so far?
BF: Without even trying, I have pre-sold 100 books. When people hear the story and they see the title and they find out how I got the title, they get very interested in that.
MW: What brought you to the DeKalb area?
BF: I had a federal teaching assistantship, and I came here (to Northern Illinois University) to do speech pathology and audiology. I applied for, and was given, a scholarship here. DeKalb was within a day’s drive of my home area.
MW: How big is your family?
BF: My husband and I have four sons, although unfortunately my oldest son was killed in a plane crash. …We raised all four of our sons here in Sycamore and they went through the Sycamore schools. We have some grandchildren now.
MW: Has it been therapeutic for you to have a career where you help others?
BF: I do tell them what my mother told me: “Get a good education because that’s something nobody can ever take away from you.” I’m a big proponent of education and reading and being a lifelong learner. …Be interested in the things that are important.
MW: Do you have plans to write another book?
BF: One of my friends said, “Bev, I can see this as a Hallmark series or a TV movie.” I have a file in which I have maybe half a dozen titles for possible books in the future if I should live that long, and if my husband will put up with me. I have taken over the dining room as my writing center.