The Battered Heiress Blues - By Laurie Van Dermark


A wise man once directed me to the writings of Gustavo Gutierrez, who says in part, “Neighbor is not he whom I find in my path, but rather he in whose path I place myself, he whom I approach and actively seek.” I have met many along the path who have contributed to the work in progress that is Laurie Van Dermark.

First and always, praise and glory to my very patient God.

Thanks to my dear parents for their support and encouragement.

Nothing but love for Michael, my quick-witted brother, for our verbal sparring. Spending time with you is like going on a mind vacation. Thanks for the trips.

My precious children who are so loved. The years have flown by since your adoptions in Guatemala. Your cooperation and humor have made this book a reality.

Jacy, I feel bad that other people don’t have you as a best friend! You are the real deal- selfless and present. No matter the time or request, you are always there- no excuses. You are a rarity in this world.

While living in New Zealand, I was fortunate enough to meet some truly stellar Kiwis. I would like to express a special thank you to Maureen and Daniel Tustin. The kids and I will always be in your debt. You taught me the meaning of Kia Kaha.

Additionally, being in the presence of the following people has enriched my life so greatly: Shane and Jen Waters; The White family; Fr. Gerard Boyce; Hector Bosse for introducing me to humanitarian work; Monsignor Richard Lynch for our chats in Chimbote; The Bookalam family; Donna Estes; and Katie Hallmark.

I met Fr. Jack Davis and Sister Peggy Burne in 2000 when I answered a call to experience the life of the poor in Chimbote, Peru. While our missionary group was bringing tangible goods to help the poorest of the poor, living outside the mission walls, we received far more than we could ever give. Jack and Peggy work tirelessly to try and meet even the simplest needs like food, water, and shelter, which most of us take for granted. Watching a large family crowd into a one-room estera shack with dirt floors, no roof, food, running water, or bathroom facilities is appalling. Not only do these heroes of humanity struggle to give the poor the dignity and care that is their God given right, they also work to raise funds for healthcare and education; without which, the next generation doesn’t stand a chance for a better life. Every time I travel to Chimbote, I leave a piece of my heart there. Please visit to help.

John Tinney, my legal representation, for dealing with the distractions.

I am blessed.


Sissy was the smallest black woman I’d ever laid my eyes on. What she lacked in stature, she far made up for in gumption. Her bark wasn’t worse than her bite. Her words, spewed forth with clear fervor, made white men tremble, but the bite- well my father shed more than one tear on her account. My nana often called her the greatest gift she’d ever given my mama, as if Sissy was of the character to stay where it didn’t please her most emphatically. She was four feet ten inches of pure stubborn power with micro braids down the length of her back. In so much as John Spencer felt he was the head of his own household, Sissy worked for Nana and no other. Father worked diligently to have her dismissed, but she never departed the mansion and never left my mama’s side for a second. Where one went, the other followed. When I came along, she became my devoted guardian, hiding me beneath her protective wings from John’s indifference to the birth of a daughter. In Sissy’s eyes, I was the grandest and most treasured gift she had. This shelter continued as my mama bore John a son- my brother, Thomas.

Mama had grown tired and slept for stretches of time. Sissy made excuses, but I knew that all was not well. My father began making time in his busy schedule to take her on multiple shopping trips to Atlanta. I was young and naïve, but not stupid. Mama hadn’t been well since she turned up pregnant with Tommy. For all of Sissy’s convincing and her infinite planning to keep me busy, I saw Mama wither like a delicate rose on the vine at the end of a glorious season. Though she became a prisoner to her carved wooden bed, she seemed at any moment to