Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Real American Inspiration

     The best stories are the ones that stay with us after we read them -- motivating, inspiring, and maybe even making us change for the better. We all have people who have come into our lives and left an indelible imprint on whatever followed. Over the last few years I've had the pleasure of interviewing a man numerous times who has taken his incredible story of overcoming hardship and turned it into a shining beacon of hope for a new generation.

     Jim Furney was born in 1929 in Utica, N.Y., thrust into the poverty of the Great Depression. He endured a constant battle to thrive and survive as he became one of a group of several young "Brothers of the Streets," living homeless by the time he was 10 years old. He joined the Marine Corps just after World War II, and even spent some time in prison in his young adult years, but today Furney has taken the turmoil of his early days and created what he hopes will be a tome of inspiration for today's youth -- his autobiography "Uncertain Roads."

     Furney is quick to admit he isn't a professional writer; he's simply a man wishing to share the story of his own trials as an example for others. The lack of writing skill actually makes the book that much more engaging. It is obviously a heart-felt and honest remembrance of times Furney might be more apt to try to forget if he wasn't trying to use his bad times to make good times for others.

     Life was tough during the Depression, and Furney graphically portrays the era with blunt honesty. Once when he was still living with his mother they were given a loaf of bread and were heading home, only to have a man jump out from behind a tree and snatch their dinner away from them. His brother one time went off in search of sweet treats at the local dump, digging up old cough drops. And one tragic morning, Furney stopped by a young friend's house to pick her up for the walk to school, only to have her father come to the door to say she passed away from malnutrition during the night.

     Furney is frank about his incarceration on theft charges -- and that part of the tale is where his biggest moment of inspiration comes. When he feels totally spent, and in frustration resigns himself to taking his own life, he suddenly talks to God and asks for a sign that there really is a higher power watching over him. Furney wants to see the light in his cell put out, as evidence of God's presence in his life, and there is a thunder clap and the light bulb blows. He sees a vision, the Hebrew symbol for "I am," the same response God gave when Moses asked for his name in Exodus 3:14. Suddenly, Furney knew that even in the darkest recesses of his prison cell, God was there with him. That knowledge leads him to change his ways, now leading a life on the straight and narrow with wife Virginia and son Frank in Central New York, and finally to the composition of "Uncertain Roads" and its sequel "The Road Back."

     "I want my books to be an example for the young people of today, so they don't follow the same path I took," Furney said of those uncertain -- and undesirable -- roads he has traveled. At 81, he continues to promote his self-published books, traveling to book stores, libraries, farmers' markets, and book signing events all over the area with his message encouraging youth to avoid following in his footsteps. It's a voice of experience the youngsters of today can't afford to ignore.

     To get in touch with Furney, drop him an e-mail at unc123@live.com and tell him Hot Scoops sent you!

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