A memory

When I began writing I had no idea how to find other writers. None of my friends or family wrote, and I had studied science in school. I went on-line and I looked up writing groups in my area. I found one that met once a month in a library close to my home.

I was the youngest person there, by far. They were retired men and women who gathered to write and read to each other. I remember feeling so awkward, so out-of-place. I was young, in my twenties, what had I lived through to tell to these people? But, I returned again and again for almost a good year.

There was one older lady in her late seventies or early eighties that I remember in particular who always patted the seat next to hers if there was one, or gestured me into the room with a big wave of the arm. I think of her periodically, her effort to make me feel welcome. And how the little interaction I had with her inspired me not only in writing but in life.

Her name was Susan Romvary. The first time I entered the large conference room in the library, she sat near the doorway in a large cushioned chair separated from the group. She didn’t look up when I came in the room, in fact for a time I thought maybe she slept, or was incoherent; her head dangled forward and I was never able to see her face. People were reading, and I thought didn’t she heard them.

“Susan, will you read?” the organizer said.

She looked up, and I was shocked. She was stunning, her eyes dancing, her expression one that inhaled and released energy in a profound way. I could tell in an instant that she loved life and she lived it fully.

Some time after I met her a short story came to me, a sort of vignette that brought three people into one person’s life. It is fiction, but it is inspired by her and the words she spoke that night. She passed away in late December, and when I received the news I immediately thought that our little planet lost one terrific person, even though I hadn’t seen her in years, and only knew her through a few meetings. I remembered this story I wrote, and found it on a stick drive. Here is a portion of it, just the way it was written, because to edit it now would change it to who I am now, and not what I saw then. Perhaps you’ll see a little of her in it.

Vera sat across from me. Her name was scrawled in nearly illegible handwriting on a name tag stuck just above her left breast. Her vest was red, vivid in the dim room. Her head was bowed; she had not raised it, not even when I entered. Her hair was thinning, and dyed auburn. I wondered at her presence. Had she heard the others speak? Was she coherent? Suddenly, she lifted her head, and I realized it was her turn to read. Her eyes dazzled, and met each of ours in turn.

“I love humour,” Vera said. Her voice was inflected with life, and thickly accented. “I grew up in Hungary, escaped to France when I was a girl, and now, I live in a nursing home. Humour has saved me. I have had one published novel. It is, of course, humoresque. It was featured on CBC radio. Nothing more. I’m writing my second. It’s about my new residence.”

 I realized I was part of something. Would I be accepted, or would I be judged for my youth, as I had judged them for their age?

“I write in English,” Vera said. “But, it is not my first language. Nor is it my second. French is. I came to Canada as an adult, so naturally, I chose Quebec. I write in English because it is a simple language. If I can teach myself to speak it, I can teach myself to write it.”

 I listened to Vera, as I had not to the others. I had been too self-absorbed, worried about how my own work would be received. It was my first time in a writing circle.

“I had a husband, two children. My husband is gone. My children are gone. I tell you this not so that you will feel sad, or pity me, but so that you will know humour is healing. I have survived the holocaust, I have survived famine. I have lived alone in foreign countries, not understanding a word of the people around me. I struggle to retain the images of my family. Yet, I am glad to have gone through it. Otherwise, I would not be alive. I will read you an excerpt. I hope you will laugh. I expect you will laugh.”

And we did laugh.


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19 thoughts on “A memory

  1. That is a beautiful memory, Jennifer–I agree with Vera re: the power of humour, but that didn’t keep your lovely little glimpse into a wise soul from bringing a near-tears heat behind my eyes.

  2. Thank you for sharing your memory. I can see why she made such an impression on you. We’re always attracted to those who seem the most alive, aren’t we? I think it takes a lot of living to truly awaken to life, and yet most of us tend to take the easy road, avoiding the experiences that might wake us up. Or maybe that’s just me. 😦

    • Sometimes we have no choice of which road we take. I think the sad part is those given easy roads and they have no way to appreciate it. I see that with my kids so far- they’re young, I know- but I wonder sometimes if they appreciate what they have? HArd to teach that I think.

  3. Wow! I’m breathless. The story is so moving, filled with shades of red, the color of blood and of life. And these profound words spoken by a…character? It is truly amazing how reality enters into our fiction and our fiction becomes real. Hand in hand, inseparable.
    Laugh, yes. But know too the salty bitterness of tears, the tingling exhilaration of something new and different and scary, the smile of fond remembrance.
    Continue to be that busy mother, too tired to get any writing done, wanting to, and doing so. You’ve talked so often of your life and yet, here you are, sharing wonderful anecdotes.
    Continue. For yourself and for us as well.

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