Sometimes, the most colorful bits of a story are the ones you stumble across completely by accident. They’re like brightly-colored wildflowers growing alongside the path you thought you’d take. You can’t help but stop and gaze in their direction and contemplate wandering off course to get a closer look.
Such was the case of Kingdom Arcadia, the Foss family’s little shantyboat home in the novel. Originally, I thought the children in Before We Were Yours might be farm kids, snatched (as were many victims of the Memphis Tennessee Children’s Home Society in real life) from ramshackle, dirt-road homes outside Memphis. Early in the research phase of the novel, I came across an old FSA photo of a shantyboat family:
From this photo, Rill and her five siblings sprang magically to life. They arrived with names and ages and personalities. Four girls and a boy—Rill, Camellia, Lark, Fern, and Gabion. Little stairsteps of twelve, ten, seven, four, and two years old, free-floating down the wide, muddy river, their lives controlled only by water, and wind, and seasons.
Were there really families like the Foss family? Absolutely. During the Great Depression, an estimated 50,000 people lived the drifter’s life on the water, and yes, shantyboat families camped along the waterfront were among those who lost their children to the black market adoption ring run by Georgia Tann and her Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.
In honor of the Foss children and their waterborne home, the Arcadia, I give you the shantyboat people:
It looks like a beautiful life, doesn’t it? It’s the sort of life twelve-year-old Rill speaks of as she describes a perfect day on the Arcadia:
“The sun is warm, and the song sparrows sing, and the fat bass jump out of the water. A flock of white pelicans flies over in a big old arrow pointing north, which means the whole summer’s still ahead of us. There’s not a paddle-wheeler, or a flatboat, or a tug, or an oil barge in sight anywhere. The river is ours. Only ours.”
I’ll leave you there for now, floating along on the Arcadia’s deck with the fat bass jumping and the song sparrows filling the air with river music.
To learn more about Before We Were Yours, read an excerpt, or to order the book CLICK HERE