By. Elsie K. Neufeld. Yesterday, I received a copy of my latest personal historian work: “Forget-Me-Not And Violet: the letters of….” TRANSLATED AND FIRST EDITING by Elsie K. Neufeld.
In June, 2010, I was invited to peruse the penpal letters of Edith & Herta, whose correspondence began in October 1931, and ended with Edith’s death in 1997. Herta, 13, of Wilhelmsburg, Germany, had placed an ad in a periodical for an English-speaking penpal, which Edith, 14, in Saskatchewan, read, and responded to.
Edith, who had immigrated to Canada in 1926, from the Ukraine, was a German-speaking Mennonite, who’d learned English in Canadian public school. The two would meet in person in the ’70s for the first time. Although Edith wrote in English to Herta initially, and Herta attempted to reply in English, their correspondence quickly reverted to German as well.
My involvement with the book was to transcribe and translate 66 years of letters from German into English, and then to distill those letters which filled well over 600 pages. After I’d reduced the text to 450 pages, Edith’s family (she had 9 children; Hertha never married nor had children) copy-edited, formatted, added photos, and designed the cover, and had copies printed.
Although I’d urged the family to donate the letters to the Mennonite archives, and to seek commercial publishing, they have decided, at this time, to keep the book within their now 100+ family circle. It is an often riveting account of two women’s lives, their friendship and respective life challenges, all of it told in real time, with reference to world events, such as WWII, the Holocaust, the flood of 1948 in the Fraser Valley, aging, etc.
The ordinary and the extraordinary. What a privilege it was to be involved in the making of this book. As the family members with whom I had regular contact said: you got to know our family better than we know ourselves. And formed a relationship with our mother, too!
The script on the front and back cover is the writing of Edith. The postage stamp and envelopes are photocopies of the original. Both women, without knowing it, had saved all the correspondence, and after Edith died, Hertha mailed Edith’s letters to Edith’s children in Vancouver.
This month, one of Edith’s daughters visited Hertha, who continues to live in Hamburg, Germany. She is 96, and legally blind, but has a “magnifying reader” so she will be able to read at least parts of the book. Both Edith and Hertha were avid readers, and often mailed one another books. They also exchanged sheet music.
This is the 16th book I have “mid-wifed” into being. Each one unique, and the work rewarding.
You can find Elsie on her Facebook page.