[True North Productions, 336 pages]
Sometimes, things are far different than they seem, and that was certainly the case when it came to most of author Tom North’s childhood. Tom was one of the children from the well-known Beardsley family, on which the 1968 comedy film Yours, Mine and Ours was based.
The film presents the blended family, brought together by Tom’s mother’s second marriage to Frank Beardsley, as one big happy clan. In real life, though, that was far from the case. Now that his mother and stepfather have departed this world, Tom tells the real story of what it was like to grow up in the Beardsley household, including the physical and emotional abuse he and his siblings suffered at the hands of Mr. Beardsley, and later, how transcendental meditation helped him recover from it.
This book will appeal to three (possibly overlapping) groups of people: those who are interested in transcendental meditation, fans of Yours, Mine and Ours and people who have gone through abuse themselves.
We’re first introduced to Tom when he’s living with his mother and biological father, Dick North, for the first few years of his life. We can see a clear contrast between this time period and the one that follows, after Helen North has married the Beardsley patriarch and moved her family into his home. Some of Tom’s descriptions of Frank’s abuse are quite graphic in nature, so they could be a bit unsettling to readers, and the change in Tom’s personality after he begins to experience it is made evident. We follow Tom throughout his descent into drug addiction as an escape and experience his introduction to transcendental meditation, his saviour of sorts, along with him.
The part of Tom’s story that likely will prove most interesting to transcendental meditation enthusiasts is that of the time he spends at Maharishi International University in Iowa (named after Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of the practice). Tom obtains a business degree there, while concurrently learning a great deal more about meditation. As well as educating us on the benefits of transcendental meditation that he receives through attending the school, Tom also reveals meditation’s darker side, mentioning the students who have to leave the program and be taken for psychiatric treatment after their meditative exercises have caused them to take temporary leave of their minds. Tom himself never has to leave involuntarily, though, and the benefits of meditation end up following him throughout the rest of his life. Most importantly, its effects help him resist abusing his own child during a situation that takes him off guard, allowing him to avoid becoming a link in the chain of abuse that is present within many families.
It’s pleasantly surprising that Tom has been able to do as well in life as he has, after getting such a rough start, but without transcendental meditation, he may have become stuck in the trap of snorting cocaine and tripping on acid. True North actually ends somewhat happily overall, with the family getting together for therapy and receiving a shocking apology. Tom’s mother also confesses that she married Frank to save his kids from him, but didn’t realize that she was throwing her own children into a horrible situation at the same time.
Was Helen North just dense? Perhaps not; possibly, she was in such a poor emotional state after Dick died that all she wanted was to be with someone who would be dominant, take care of everything and allow her to fade into the background. During the early ’60s, women were also encouraged to “put up and shut up,” and become almost martyr-like, a role that Helen certainly was able to play well as a Beardsley. Conceivably, putting up a happy front in order to remain a minor celebrity may have made her feel better about the sadness that had occurred within her life, too. However, she does leave Frank a few years before she passes away, not that long after the family therapy, and is actually buried next to her first husband. After her death, Tom changes his name back to North.
No matter what your motivation is for picking up this book, you won’t want to put it down until you’ve reached the very last pages. There are a few spots in which too much detail may be provided about some of Tom’s activities, such as fishing, but you can quickly buzz through these to get to the meat of the story again. Even if you find the abuse scenes a bit disturbing, the dichotomy between appearance and reality is so fascinating, especially if you’ve seen the associated film, that there’s a good chance you’ll want to keep on reading anyways. If you’ve gone through a fair amount of emotional difficulties in your own life, you may even be inspired to try transcendental meditation, which is also still used to treat drug (and alcohol) addictions, yourself.
Read more about Transcendental Meditation in THE CONSCIOUS CONNECTION: An interview with Maharishi Ayurveda practitioner Dr. Nancy Lonsdorf>>