My grandfather had an amazing life story. His Russian-born parents, seeking to escape the country’s growing antisemitism, came to the United States in 1903. They settled in New York and began looking for work. But good jobs were hard to find and they missed the financial security they had enjoyed in Russia. After four years of struggling, they returned to their homeland in 1907 – this time making the trip with their newborn son, my grandfather.
Back in Russia, my great grandparents had two more children. My grandfather was one of very few Jews admitted into the public high school, and he worked hard. His life centered on his studies, his friends, his family, and his religion.
But when my grandfather graduated from high school, he was at a crossroads. It was 1920 and antisemitism was swelling. His parents feared for their future but there was little they could do. My grandfather, however, had an out. He had been born in New York and, by law, was a U.S. citizen.
Grandpa set off for America when he was 17, leaving his parents, brother, and sister behind. He never saw his family again. They were all killed in the Pogroms a few years later.
In New York, my grandfather continued his education, got married, and had two children. He opened a children’s clothing store and became a successful business owner.
An amazing story, right?
My grandfather, a kind and gentle man, wrote his autobiography when he was 68. It was just after his 45-year marriage had ended and his feelings of anger were, understandably, raw. He had harsh words to say about his ex-wife, my grandmother, and he focused much of his book on the wrongs he attributed to her. His fascinating childhood and triumphant adulthood got overshadowed by his resentment.
In retrospect, I wish he had allowed more time to pass before embarking on his memoirs. Had he allowed his heart to heal, I now believe, his book ultimately would have conveyed a sense of understanding and peace. And, today, his children and grandchildren would be able to read his typed pages and remember the happiness that he enjoyed in the final years of his life. Because that's how his story ended - in happiness.
When you write your memoirs, think about the overarching themes you wish to leave behind. Your life story, once written, will last forever. What do you want your forever to be?