Books Saved My Life!
Judy C. Andrews
I've always been inspired by my teachers
to dream big! I always dreamed I'd be a writer, from the time my eighth grade English teacher, Mrs. Abate, returned
my first short story to me. She said it was "Excellent."
Hearing someone use that word and my name in the same sentence exhilarated me because I had never thought
that anything I had ever done in life up until that time, had been excellent. So I was thrilled, and I decided that
day that I would dream big, although, I didn't even know what that meant, and be a writer.
In high school and college I wrote every chance I got, even for free. If you really
love what you do, you don't care that much about the money. Everybody wants to get paid, but what's the point if you
don't love the work you do.
As a former teacher for twenty-six years and a published writer, I believe I have had the best of both worlds, with much more
to come from God! Education saved my life, so did prayer, Jesus Christ, and God! I originally wanted my novel
to be about the foster care system through a child's eyes, but as I continued writing, I found myself with a more personal
The novel, An Ocean of Jewels has a few scenes that are similar to my life, although this book is a
work of fiction. In the novel, the major character, Imani Jewel Henderson, finds herself on a journe to heal from the
scars of foster care.
At age twenty-nine, Imani realizes that her childhood was filled with many family secrets as well as tragedy.
Her biological parents were never nurturing; they were distant and too engrossed in their own pain to tend to Imani's
heartaches. For example, in one scene, Imani must attend her father's funeral and wear a "fabulously fake"
smile to let others believe that she and her father had a beautiful friendship.
Unlike Imani, though, I loved my father,
and I knew that he loved me! At the age of seven, my father told me we were going school-shopping on a warm, September
morning. We ended up at a group home in New York's Bowery neighborhood, on Mulberry Street, named St. Barnabas.
My father left me there to save my life! But I didn't know that then.
I cried myself to sleep for at least a week. As an adult, I learned my mother wanted to leave this world and take me
with her. I recall her standing on a well-known avenue in Brooklyn in the middle of the street as traffic zoomed past
us when I was seven. Terrified onlookers urged me to let go of my mother's hand and run across the street. I did.
I ran into a pizza shop into the
arms of the owner, a horrified woman who had watched the entire scene. I remember being led into a police car with my
mother, and being driven home by policemen, with my mother.
At age nine and a half, I was placed into my first of seven foster
homes. In that first home, I remember being beaten with an ironing cord for wanting a piece of gum from that foster
mother's purse. I took the gum without asking for permission. I was eleven.
being punched in the face and a back-handed slap so hard by the foster parent's husband that I slid from the aparment's living
room all the way into the kitchen for telling the foster mother that the foster father had let his five-year-old granddaughter
drink some of his beer. I was thirteen.
Those are just a few of the memories I recall. Up until the age of twenty-two, when my
biological mother passed away, I had blocked a lot of these memories from my mind. After my mother's death, the memories
returned and I found myself crying a lot. I eventually asked for my records from St. Barnabas and learned much more
about myself, which triggered many more emotions and memories.
At age eight, I remember playing Run, Catch, and Kiss with my friends on a
warm Sunday morning. We ran into a church while service was still going on! Communion was being served, and we
(about five or six of us children) ended up on line.
We had no idea what was going on (As an adult, I learned my biological family
was raised Catholic, although, while in foster care, I grew up in mostly Baptist and non-denominational churches). When
the priest got to me (an African American man), he blessed me by anointing me with oil. He prayed over me.
That blessing has carried me to the amazing
life I have today. I always say, "There but for the grace of God, go I," because I could have ended up another
I never ended up on drugs, pregnant, or in an abusive relationship. God blessed my life and angels watched over
me, guided me, and kept me from danger. Learning how to pray and call on the Lord saved my life My soul knows
this. And I thank Jesus Christ and God every day.