Many years ago, when I got into book publishing as an editor, I was told time and again by industry insiders that “personal stories” are no longer marketable.
I thought it was absurd then, and think it’s absurd now. Books like Jimmy Wayne’s “Walk to Beautiful: The Power of Love and a Homeless Kid Who Found the Way” provide riveting material that has the ability to teach and enhance the reader’s life.
The country music star is the national spokesman for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), and his moving memoir of a young man moving through the foster home community is frankly extraordinary. Anyone who cares about children and more importantly, wants to advocate for them, should read “Walk to Beautiful.”
(In fairness, we should note that talented writer Ken Abraham helped Wayne craft his story into a fascinatingly-written tale.)
In 2010, Wayne walked from Nashville to Phoenix, to spotlight the plight of kids who fall through the cracks and wind up homeless when they “age out” of the foster care system.
Of course, Wayne’s own tenacity and zest for life and his ambition to succeed are not always common. Many children find themselves in situations so desperate, it’s difficult to ever find their way out. Yet Wayne’s memoir is an important contribution to the effort to give them a helping hand.
Wayne’s story begins with a heart-rending scene: a 13-year-old boy sitting in his room at a county home. His mother and her “fourth or fifth husband” had dumped young Jimmy there; a year before his slightly older sister had been married off to an older abusive man.
Wayne’s music is largely defined by his own experiences, and his advocacy for other kids. In describing his concert at Madison Square Garden, Wayne writes:
Without another word we lit into our second song. We performed “Stay Gone,” my first big hit, then “Kerosene Kid,” a song I wrote about a kid whose life was a lot like my childhood, living in a trailer park, going to school with the smell of kerosene all over my clothes, and being laughed at by the other students. The upbeat tempo of the song masked the message, but the crowd got it.
Wayne’s story is partly horrific, but largely one of triumph, and in reading it, one gets the feeling that he was born to tell this tale. It’s that powerful. The odyssey that took him from dingy temporary rooms and homes to stardom was fueled in part by a tenacity that is as inspiring as anything you’ll ever hear.
In Chapter 26, Wayne gets to the heart of the matter, explaining to the reader that “Every day was a challenge, not to succeed but to survive.” From those lines, Wayne describes a transforming moment in his life: meeting the love of Bea Costner and her husband, Russell.
The Costners ran a North Carolina woodshop. The first job they gave an eager Jimmy Wayne was cutting the grass. He showed up on time, and a relationship was born.
Soon, Bea told Jimmy that she and her husband would like him to move in with them. Something told Jimmy that this time might be different.
The transaction – the invitation and the acceptance of the invitation – that would change my life forever didn’t involve a lease, a contract, or even a handshake. It was a done deal with just Bea’s word. I was moving in with the Costners. I was sixteen; Russell was seventy-nine, and Bea was seventy-five. We had absolutely nothing in common – or so I thought.
The Costners gave Jimmy the stability that had eluded him all his life.
Before succumbing to cancer in 1989, Russell would become the only man in Jimmy’s life who had reached out to him in genuine love, stern though it was. Eventually, the young man found music, and today his career is a tribute to a boy who took a chance on an older couple, and vice versa.
Wayne’s insight into life, and his advocacy for homeless youth, is a story that absolutely should be read widely.
It’s a beautiful walk.