Here’s what so wonderful about writing memoirs: I get to sit down with an “ordinary” person who has lived an extraordinary life. I listen to stories about ancestors and adventures, laugh at the funny moments and mourn the sad parts, and chart the milestones of their lives.

Then I capture these memories on paper, give them some historical perspective, weave in family photos and documents, and then produce a book for each family member.

Memoir writing is a magical journey. Every person I’ve worked for starts out telling me they “haven’t done anything worth writing about,” and by the time we are finished they hold in their hands proof that it has been, indeed, a wonderful life.

Each of them occupies a permanent place in my mind—and a forever place in my heart.

Here are some excerpts.

memoir1 We have just celebrated my 90th birthday in Aspen. Whenever I come here in the summer I like to hike, so on my birthday we went for a walk at the top of Aspen Mountain. I also enjoy attending the Aspen Music Festival, so we have gone to a concert almost every day.In the winter my daughter-in-law and I go cross-country skiing, and wherever I am I’ll swim, walk or exercise daily. I like good food and good wine—so it’s splendid to have a son who is both a master chef and an oenophile. I continue to volunteer, weave and needlepoint, and travel as much as possible.I do not have perfect sight, and my hearing has been failing for years, but I do not let either stop me from going to the museum, watching a good film or reading The New York Times. Descartes said it’s not enough to have a good mind—the most important thing is to use it well. I try to use mine every day.

I have lived through two world wars, a civil war in Germany, the Korean conflict, the war in Vietnam, bombings in the Balkans and now a “war on terrorism.” War resolves nothing, and I continue to be an ardent pacifist.

I was a German in the times of kings, chancellors and the madman. I have been an American through the best and the worst of eleven presidencies. I still find politics invigorating, yet am appalled by the lack of leadership in the world today.

I have been a scientist during earth-changing discoveries, a professional in the time preceding the women’s movement, and a Jew in the time of Hitler.

I made a home, raised a family, saw the world and loved a man unlike any other.

It’s been quite a good life.

Please note: Edith Bloch Fehr’s Memoirs are now available through CreateSpace


memoir2 There is a ridge on a hill northeast of Dallas that blooms so bright with blue blossoms that the people came to call it Blue Ridge.The lifts in the land are linked by the rich soil of creek bottoms, where just the right amount of rain falls to make this a good spot to grow cotton. In fact, before the Boll Weevil came through, J.R. said, “If you were a cotton farmer here you wouldn’t want to be a cotton farmer anywhere else.”
Large families lived on hilltops, creating communities that were bigger than some towns. Audie Murphy, who was a hero in World War II, was born in nearby Kingston, and after he was orphaned he lived with various relatives throughout the area. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were known to travel along the dirt roads of Collin County in their heyday.One of the communities three miles east of Blue Ridge sent their children to Dixon School, which was renamed “Frog Not” because they stopped dissecting frogs in biology class. Not far away is the community of Arnold and the locals called their school “Free Grass,” but no one remembers how it got that name.
J.R. never started school with his classmates. From the time he left fourth grade he would miss the first six weeks because it was time to harvest the cotton crop. So instead of going to Frog Not to sit down at a desk, he went into the fields and bent over the rows. The horns on cotton bolls are sharp as daggers, and the more he picked the heavier his sack grew, and one can only imagine how long and hard the workday was.

Once the harvest was over he could then join his classmates in school, but by then he was well behind everyone else. “It was hard to go in when it was so late. Mack would hide in the cemetery so he wouldn’t have to go to school.

“One year, we had worked and saved enough money to buy our clothes, so we were ready to go to school. Now, some people had taken Pete in to live with them, but then one day they brought him back home and just left him there. So we came in and he was there, and he didn’t have any clothes—he had on a pair of short pants and a tee-shirt, and he had one other change in a little box—but that was all. Jay was gone, and it was just my mother, and she looked at me and said, ‘He’s got to have some clothes.’ So we went back to the rows and stayed out of school another week so we could earn the money to get him some clothes.”

When he finally got to school it was in full swing. His classmates started the year by sitting down at desks with workbooks and pencils. He was behind and bewildered, and without a workbook and pencil. In fifth grade he didn’t even get a desk; there were fifty students in the class and all that was left was a chair. The teachers weren’t especially sensitive to his predicament either, and they often grew frustrated with the quiet young boy who was struggling to catch up. “It just got so I didn’t want to go to school.”

J.R. once missed school for a week in February because he got a job setting out onions in Kirby Bottom. Sometimes a neighbor would give him work to do when he really didn’t need the help. Sometimes the government gave the family food.

The situation was so desperate that it forever shaped J.R.’s view of the world. He says to this day, “In my mind, I’ll always be poor.”


memoir3 In the summer of 1924 America was in the midst of the Roaring Twenties—a decade marked by the Model T, flappers and bathtub gin. The growing optimism was matched by increasing cynicism: it was an era known for the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and Al Capone. The life expectancy of a man was 53 years of age, the average annual income was $2,196, and New Yorkers were paying twenty cents for a gallon of gasoline.It was the period between the two World Wars, and Isolationist America could not imagine the dictators, warfare and weaponry that soon would follow.
Calvin Coolidge was one year into his presidency, having assumed office after Warren G. Harding died suddenly of a stroke.In August 1924 Lenin died of a cerebral hemorrhage, drowning the very new Soviet Union in grief and setting the stage for the rise of Joseph Stalin. Adolph Hitler was sitting in a Munich prison, dictating Mein Kampf to Rudolph Hess. Hirohito had just married a commoner and was preparing for his rise to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

On Tuesday August 26, 1924, a hurricane was raging off the North Carolina coast. In New York the weather was much milder, and while the temperature hovered in the high 70s and the sun peeked through the clouds, Babe Ruth stepped up to the plate and hit his 40th home run of the season.

It must have had an impact on the baby girl who was born that day to Lillian and Paul. She was their first child. She would have a lifelong love of baseball. They named her Doris.


memoir4 For years the Catholic schools in America would collect money from school children to buy “Pagan Babies.” Kids dropped their coins into little boxes with slots in the top, and when the box was filled they’d take it to school and “adopt” a child in some exotic place like China; they also got to give the child a Christian name. The money was used to fund the missionaries’ work and ostensibly buy food, milk and clothes for the new converts to Catholicism.There was a certain amount of pride in buying a pagan baby, and kids would brag about how many they adopted. Conversely, one bore a measure of shame when they had failed to buy a pagan baby, and failure to come up with the money put a child in a rather bad light with the nuns.The family’s circumstances were so dire that Sully could not afford to go along with this program, and the kids taunted him for being so poor. As for the nuns, this put yet another log on the fire. “I hated them and they hated me.”

Sully was in fourth grade at St. Margaret’s when got into a fight with another boy, and even though he was in the right, the nuns took the other boy’s side. Punishment was meted out with the “rattan,” a piece of rattan cane that they used to beat the children.

“Sister Andrew Cosini told me she was going to get the rattan and then they were going to throw me out of school. I thought, ‘I’ve had enough of this’ and decided I wasn’t going back anyway. When they gave me a discharge card, all the kids started singing, ‘You’re discharged, you’re discharged.’ I brought the card home and slipped it underneath some things in my mother’s hope chest.

“Instead of going to school every morning, I’d go down to the subway. I could slide through the turnstiles, get on the train for free and go off to see Boston. I rode to places like Revere and Nantucket. I went to Filene’s, which is a department store that was located in an area downtown where the wealthy people shopped. Then at noon I’d go home and feed Paul and Ed, and then I’d take off again. This went on for ten weeks, and Paul covered for me.

“Well, one day my mother went into her hope chest and found the card. Oh did she get upset with me. She went to the convent to talk to the nuns, and then she came home and told my father. Sure enough he flew into a rage and I knew what was coming, so I shot under the bed for cover. Whenever dad would take off after us we’d escape him by hiding under the bed where he couldn’t reach us. This usually worked.

“But not that day. First he pulled the mattress off. Then off came the bed springs and I thought, ‘oh-oh.’ Mom started screaming at him, ‘Oh, God. Oh, no” and I thought, ‘Jesus, she’s the one who told him!’ She knew what was going to happen and that it was going to be bad. And it was. He beat the daylights out of me.

“The next day my mother took me to Uncle Broadway’s house, and he could see how bad I was. He said ‘Here’s what we’re going to do—we’re going back to your house.’ I looked at him like he was crazy. I believed my father was going to kill me. So we took a streetcar over to my house and when we got there my dad was home, and Uncle Broadway went over to him and grabbed him and said, ‘Don’t you ever touch him again. If you do I’ll beat the hell out of you.’ And that was that.”