Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Q&A with Beverly J. Armento


Photo by Erin Brauer Photography



Beverly J. Armento is the author of the new book Seeing Eye Girl: A Memoir of Madness, Resilience, and Hope. It focuses on her relationship with her mother. She is Professor Emerita at Georgia State University, and she lives in Atlanta.


Q: What inspired you to write Seeing Eye Girl, and how was the book’s title chosen?


A: I was inspired not only by all my own teachers who empowered me throughout my long educational career but also by all the “Invisible Walking Wounded” I knew along the route of my 50-year career as a teacher.


These were folks like me, who hid their pain from Adverse Childhood Experiences behind their smiles, and who suppressed their emotions and pretended that all was well.


My mother was blind and as the oldest child, I was her Seeing Eye Girl, guiding her around the community as well as through the grocery store. In her Woman’s Home Companion interview, Momma said, “Beverly was my Seeing Eye Girl.” Even though I had many other ideas for titles for the memoir, I kept returning to Seeing Eye Girl as my favorite.


Q: You describe some harrowing experiences in the book—what impact did it have on you to write about them? 


A: The events in the book happened a long time ago and I’ve spent considerable time and reflection processing my life with Momma. Even so, for each turning point in my life, I had to remember and re-live in my mind the scenes, the details, the dialogue, the emotions, the trauma.


Indeed, you can “run away” from home, but the feelings linger in your mind and body over your lifetime. The key is to process these events so that your recollection does not endanger your mental and physical health.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “As it progresses, the memoir will have readers pondering the same things the author questioned for years, such as Momma’s vicious hatred of Armento and her father. But this memorable book, like the author herself, doesn’t have all the answers.” What do you think of that description?  

A: This is an accurate description, and I appreciate the reviewer making this observation. As I tried, for many years, to piece together the complex jigsaw puzzle of my life, I searched old documents, photographs, newspaper articles, and asked many questions of the few still-living relatives who might know clues they’d share with me.


There were some questions that were relatively easy to answer: Did my mother and father ever really get married? After searching the Yonkers, New York, documents only to find nothing, I rather thought that they had not married.


So many of my mother’s relatives had told me that Momma left home on her 18th birthday, January 13, 1940, and had “run away” with Tony Armento, so I came late to the idea of searching the Warsaw, New York, documents. Alas, here was the marriage certificate.


Alett and Tony had to apply, take blood tests, wait for the results, and then appear before a justice of the peace on January 29, 1940, for the actual marriage ceremony. The application even had the address of the rooming house where my dad and mother stayed until they could be married; they were only a few blocks from Momma’s home on Brooklyn Street, but no one in her family ever saw her again in Warsaw.


I was able to answer many of my own questions through extensive research but there were other questions, like understanding my mother’s intent, motivation, or reasons for her behavior or her attitudes were more difficult to ascertain. However, I had hypotheses about many of these questions and did provide clues about my “educated guesses” throughout the book.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book? 


A: I hope that prospective educators, current educators, and others who mentor young people realize the power they have to encourage, support, and empower their students, and the value of creating positive, caring environments in classrooms and anywhere children gather.


For those who have lived through Adverse Childhood Experiences, I hope this story will inspire them to find hope for their own situations.


For all readers, I hope Seeing Eye Girl promotes awareness of and discourse about the prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences in youth and adults and the implications for policy and practice.


Q: What are you working on now?  


A: I’m working on a second memoir, Will Power, the story of my father and his relationship with my sister and me.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Seeing Eye Girl is not a Momma Dearest book, and I don’t want readers to feel sorry for the narrator. Rather, I hope readers empathize with the narrator’s ethical struggles and generalize beyond this story of one person growing up in an abusive, dysfunctional home to the many others who currently are struggling to survive their own traumatic situations.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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