Lucy Tucker is one of the nameless, faceless people who roam America’s streets, seeking shelter wherever they can find it. Lucy’s eightieth birthday is looming and over the years she has slept in dumpsters, under freeways and bridges, in parks, and anywhere else she can take refuge from the cold and dangerous streets of Chicago. But a chance meeting with Gabby Fairbanks lands her in Gabby’s penthouse apartment, much to the dismay and annoyance of Gabby’s husband. Eventually, Gabby transports Lucy to Manna House, a shelter for women. Through a remarkable turn of events, Gabby’s mother and even Gabby herself wind up there, too. And their lives become intertwined with Lucy’s in ways that surprise each of them, but none more than Lucy.
How did an elderly woman like Lucy wind up homeless? How long has she been wandering around Chicago with no place to call her own, wheeling her wire cart containing her few belongings? How does she manage to survive and remain so feisty and scrappy year after year? And how much longer can she manage on her own, especially as her age betrays her and makes her more susceptible to any number of ailments and illnesses?
Lucy began life as Lucinda “Cindy” Tucker. Natives of the Arkansas Dust Bowl, the Great Depression claimed the family’s farm, so Cindy’s father and mother piled their children into the car and began a new life as migrant farm workers, following the crops from town to town. In 1942, as the Tuckers settle into Michigan to complete the beet harvest, Cindy meets James “Bo” Bodeen, an ambitious teenager who is also constantly on the move, along with his father, as a carnival worker. Cindy’s father strikes a deal for her, the eldest Tucker child, to assist the landowner’s pregnant wife, as well as the run the commissary the unscrupulous and repulsive landowner has established as a way to keep the farmworkers indebted to him and retain some of the wages he has promised them. Bo happens along just in time to come to Cindy’s aid, but the two of them end up making a run for it . . . beginning a journey that culminates with Lucy’s 2006 encounter with Gabby.
Will Lucy ever find her way back home?
From the husband and wife writing team of Dave and Neta Jackson comes a story of hardship, loss, redemption, and forgiveness that spans more than sixty years and explains in gripping, often heart-rending detail, precisely how one indomitable old gal named Lucy became a lost soul. Her saga will keep readers enthralled until they learn the answer to the question the Jacksons pose at the outset of the story: will she ever find her way back home, wherever that may be?
The story is told in a unique manner. Lucy’s present-day (2006) story is related via a first-person narrative that pulls readers into her consciousness and exposes her vulnerabilities, fears, insecurities, and dogged determination to retain her independence — literally and in spirit. In alternating chapters, the tale of young Cindy is drafted in the third person and begins in 1942 when she is just fifteen years old. As the story unfolds, the Jacksons reveal Lucy’s current circumstances, heightening reader curiosity about what events and interactions led her to her meeting with Gabby, as well as how her experiences informed her choices, cemented her core characteristics, and rendered her a nomad.
The Tuckers are destitute and homeless when they barely make it to Michigan to complete the beet harvest. All of the children, except the very youngest, must go into the fields and work, and there is often not enough food or milk for all of them. They are provided with nothing more than a shanty that is not large enough to accommodate the entire brood, requiring their parents to fashion a breezeway of shorts between the shack and their vehicle in which some of the children sleep at night. Cindy is both delighted to escape the long days in the fields and terrified by the landowner who hires her to assist his pregnant wife and oversee the commissary. Cindy can neither read nor write because her family has been following the harvests, leaving no time for school. But she is good with numbers and the arrangement seems satisfactory until the landowner reveals his true motives. By that time, Cindy has been befriended by Bo, as well as his faithful stray dog, Jigger. When Bo happens along one afternoon and discovers the landowner taking advantage of Cindy, he does not hesitate to take action. But that sets in motion a series of events that change his life, as well as Cindy’s, in ways neither of them could ever imagine.
As Bo and Cindy continue moving from place to place, they grow closer and learn to care deeply for each other. Both characters have strong characteristics, consistent with what Tom Brokaw dubbed “the Greatest Generation.” They have a sense of honor, pride, and duty. Bo, for instance, insists that if his country is at war, he will not evade serving, even though that means he and Cindy will be parted. And Cindy has an equally significant sense of integrity and honesty which becomes a burden and saddles her with grief, regret, and self-recrimination — for many decades.
Lucy’s parents, particularly her mother, had a strong faith and the lessons she learned as a young girl remain with her as she experiences horrific loss. Her mother read to her children from the Bible, and prayed regularly, asking that her family’s meager surroundings be blessed and a blessing. As the years pass, Lucy frequently recalls the lessons she learned from her mother, who always said that God could fix anything. But even though she has experienced providence from time to time, Lucy has never fully embraced the concept of grace, largely because she has never forgiven herself for her own shortcomings and has not perceived herself as worthy of forgiveness.
The Jacksons deftly and convincingly convey Lucy’s emotional, as well as spiritual, journeys. She is a believable, empathetic character whose voice has the ring of authenticity. Lucy is not a complicated woman, but she lives through remarkable times and misfortunes. Plot twists and surprises come at perfectly timed intervals. The result is an entertaining tale that is uniquely American and deeply compelling. It is a bittersweet story of how fate, coupled with free will, transforms our lives. Lucy’s story is also a reminder to be grateful for all that we have been blessed with because no matter how dire our circumstances, we can always find someone close by who has less and is struggling more.
The experience of reading Lucy Come Home is likely to transform readers — they may never look at a homeless person in the same way again. Having taken Lucy’s journey with her, those anonymous folks pushing shopping carts and huddling in doorways will henceforth inspire more searching curiosity and speculation: what twists and turns did their lives take that ultimately led them to their current predicament? Do they have a family and, if so, do their family members know where they are? Can they ever find their way home?
This was my first experience reading the Jacksons’ work, but it will not be my last. I recommend Lucy Come Home.