“I looked at the hill behind our house and at the blue sky above. I wanted to reach the other side of the hill and see what was there.”
The impulse that drove René Champion to leave Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1937 at age sixteen kept him on the road for the next four years. René was born to an unwed mother in Paris in 1921. When he was eight months old, his mother placed him in a children's home and emigrated to America. He did not see her again until she sent for him in September 1929. Arriving in the United States on the eve of the Great Depression, René grew up experiencing want and poverty.
I can understand why my mother left me in France. In those days it was scandalous for a woman to be an unmarried mother. But at eight and a half years, I never knew what it was like to grow up with a mother, and my mother didn't know how to raise a child.
I was raised in what would today be called a dysfunctional family. My mother was a high-strung person, strong and demanding. She never realized her ambition to be a fashion designer, which left her frustrated. One result was constant warfare between her and me. I'd never amount to anything, she would say. I was just a 'bum' and a 'no-good.'
My mother let out her anger toward me by hitting me with