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This blog was featured on 04/09/2020
Honoring A Loved One’s Life Through Writing
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
April 2020
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
April 2020

Today's guest post is from author Myra Goodman whose memoir about her father, Quest for Eternal Sunshine: A Holocaust Survivor's Journey from Darkness to Light, comes out April 14, 2020.

I grew up the daughter of two immigrants, both of them Holocaust survivors. My mother’s first language was Hungarian; my father’s was Yiddish. Both had heavy accents and their English vocabularies were limited. In our home, television was the entertainment of choice, and I wasn’t particularly drawn to the written word.

In college, I churned out the required papers on my manual typewriter, but they were always covered with tiny White-Out paint strokes – I’d inherited a touch of dyslexia from my brilliant father.

In 1984, fresh out of college, I moved onto a 2½ acre raspberry farm in Carmel Valley, California with my soon-to-be husband, Drew. We named our little start-up business Earthbound Farm and began growing gourmet baby lettuces for local chefs. When we decided to try selling our prewashed greens, “Earthbound Farm Salad Bags,” to grocery stores, my inventor father, Mendek Rubin, jumped right in to help.

My dad created our first washing and bagging equipment, using odds and ends he salvaged at the local junkyard. He turned the living room of our little 800 square foot house into an efficient mini salad packing factory, teaching us how to scale up and think like professional manufacturers. Earthbound Farm quickly grew to become the largest grower of organic produce in the world, largely because we were the first company to successfully market packaged salads for retail sale.

Initially, writing marketing copy fell to me, and I became proficient at extolling the many benefits of choosing organic food. Although I barely registered it at the time, my father was simultaneously working on a manuscript entitled In Quest of the Eternal Sunshine.

Writing wasn’t easy for my father, especially in English, but he had an intense drive to document the discoveries that had enabled him to emerge from decades of unrelenting depression and emotional isolation into a world of joy, peace and beauty. After having survived three horrendous years in Nazi slave labor concentration camps while almost his entire family was murdered in Auschwitz, my father managed to become the happiest person I’ve ever known.

At one point, my dad gave me a folder of his philosophical writings to edit. I tried for a couple of days, but it needed so much work and I was stretched so thin, I advised him to find a professional editor. Then I completely forgot about it.

Even though my father and I had worked side by side for many years, we’d never once had a deeply personal conversation. I knew virtually nothing about his life before he met my mother, not even how many siblings he’d had. He never liked to talk about the past, and by the time my life slowed down enough to even think to ask, he was already in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

I’d missed my chance.

When my father died in 2012, I grieved more than I imagined possible. He’d always been there for me—the parent who tucked me in at night, brought laughter into our somber household, and helped me launch my business. When my first cookbook came out in 2006 and he was in the early stages of his disease, every time he saw it, he was seeing it for the first time. I got to bask in his huge delight over and over again.

 A few months after his death, while sorting through his possessions, I discovered his forgotten manuscript. This time, I was hungry for every detail and savored each word.

My father had compiled a free-flowing collection of his observations, revelations, short memoir essays, and poems. The main focus was his philosophy about the human mind—why we, as a species, have been trapped in endless cycles of suffering, and how we can break free.

His manuscript was rich in wisdom, but it was almost entirely devoid of names and dates, and it skipped over full decades of his life. After reading it, I was left with more questions than answers.

To honor the man I loved so much, and to share his remarkable story and wisdom with the world, I devoted myself to fulfilling my father’s dream: making the publication of his book a reality. We’d recently sold our company, so I had time to devote to the project, but I had no idea that I was beginning a long odyssey that would change my life.

Working closely with my father’s sole surviving sibling, my aunt Bronia, I was able to piece together his early life. I interviewed everyone who had known him and discovered an extended family with photos, letters, and postcards to share. I hired a researcher in Poland and procured documents from the International Tracing Service in Germany. Much of this new content came from audio and video recordings my sister had made, and from my children’s school reports about their grandpa. I often used tidbits from multiple sources to create a single sentence.

My father had written his philosophy in a third-person authoritative tone that was very different from his gentle personality. After much experimentation, I chose to write the entire book in the first person—in my father’s voice—mirroring his intimate memoir-style while simultaneously weaving his philosophy into his life story. Seeing the world through his eyes while trying to seamlessly blend our words made me feel closer to him than ever before.

For my father, the nightmares that had plagued him since the war only ended when he wrote his story. For me, working to articulate and communicate my father’s insights and wisdom is teaching me to feel happy and safe living in an uncertain world where so much suffering occurs.

It feels as if my father is still helping me from another dimension. Because of Quest for Eternal Sunshine, and my ongoing efforts to spread his story and messages, I have found myself with a new and unexpectedly enriching and fulfilling second career. I can finally say what I have never said before this very moment: I am a writer. 

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Comments
  • Truly enjoyed hearing this moving piece about your father. He sounds like a wonderful man. Congrats on getting this book published and also on all the other books you have written and published for us to read.

  • Rose CG Writing

    Hi, I enjoyed your article. I was wondering if you know why many of us are unable to connect with She Writes to write new articles?