As a descendent of the Cornelius Vanderbilt dynasty, Wendy Burden was guaranteed a life of money and privilege. But with that, she also had to endure a childhood full of bad parenting, indulgent and unprepared grandparents, her father’s suicide, her brothers’ drug abuse and alcoholism, her mother’s poor choices in partners and a life spent shuttling back and forth between family members, none of whom had any practical knowledge of how to raise children.
In Dead End Gene Pool, Burden relates her childhood with self-deprecating humor and a clear-eyed view of her parents’ and grandparents’ limitations as caregivers. After her father’s suicide, when Wendy was six, her mother just basically packed up and left her and her two brothers with their paternal grandparents—Gaga and Popsie Burden. Of course the siblings daily lives were really handled by the servants, which Popsie insisted one could never have enough of. All three children were constantly shuttled from pillar to post, Fifth Avenue, to Maine, to Florida, boarding schools and back again as the senior Burdens resided in their many seasonal homes.