Yesterday, as I approached the end of excerpting my father’s 600 letters from WWII—the last of the siblings to return from Europe—I felt anticipatory jitters in my gut, the same ones I imagine he and my mother felt seventy-four years ago. Excitement with him as the time to start home draws near—although he doesn’t know exactly when? Or for me, about to complete this first phase of my epic 1500-letter family history project.
Some of these letters (my father’s, mother’s, Helen’s, and Melvyn’s) I’m reading for the second time. Ruth’s and Joe’s (aka Walt) and Donald’s and Lena’s, I’ve just read for the first time. They were all such good writers, I have felt I was there with them as they described their lives and surroundings, the passing seasons, their longings. And yet not. I’m standing outside their circle, a voyeur watching their lives unfold; knowing the rest of the story that is still mystery to them. Hearing their dreams and knowing which ones will be fulfilled and which ones not. Knowing what takes the place of fantasies left behind, imagined in the midst of life interrupted. Knowing I will never know how the decisions were made—or if they were merely forgotten in the business of real life.
Personal, U.S., and world history is alive and current for me through this project. I began with the goal of producing a book for my family, present and future. As I get deeper into it, though, I feel a soft nudge to think of it as something of interest to a broader audience. Too bad it isn’t ready for publication now, as the 75th anniversary of VE Day approaches (in May), VJ Day in August, and this week the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Russians. Maybe it will be completed for the 75th anniversary of my parents’ reunion in , which would be much sooner than I anticipated finishing!
The excerpts—including some letter-writers’ background information I’ve written or they have, some personal thoughts, and some history gleaned from the internet—come in with a word count of 286,381. Not even half (though close) of Tolstoy’s War and Peace! Next phase is to weave the six files, currently divided by author, into one chronological document. Pure tedium. And then come the creative parts: first cutting the word count by at least two-thirds, then writing around the letters. And always, research. Stay tuned!
(You can follow my progress—and also that of my memoir, in editorial process—on my Facebook author page here.)