Saturday, September 5, 2020


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***The CRC Blog welcomes submissions from published and unpublished memoir writers for THE MAGNIFICATION OF ONE MEMORY IN MEMOIR. Contact CRC Blog via email at or personal Facebook messaging at

****Ruth Weinstein’s BACK TO THE LAND:  ALLIANCE COLONY TO THE OZARKS IN FOUR GENERATIONS is #006 in the never-ending series called THE MAGNIFICATION OF ONE MEMORY IN MEMOIR. All THE MAGNIFICATION OF ONE MEMORY IN MEMOIR links are at the end of this piece. 

Name of memoir? And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us? BACK TO THE LAND:  ALLIANCE COLONY TO THE OZARKS IN FOUR GENERATIONS.  My first choice for a title was even longer, something like FROM THE SHTETLS OF KIEV TO THE ARKANSAS OZARKS IN FOUR GNERATIONS:  A SUMMER KID’S LOVE LETTER TO THE ALLIANCE COLONY. My cousin Bob, also a writer, urged a shorter title while I might have foolishly gone on for another sentence to convey the whole breadth of the book in the title.

Has this been published?  If yes, what publisher and what publication date? The book was published by the South Jersey Culture & History Center Regional Press for the Alliance Heritage Center at Stockton University in Galloway, New Jersey in February 2020.  Very unfortunate timing—launching right at the beginning of the pandemic!

What is the description of this memoir? BACK TO THE LAND is a hybrid genre with memoir at its core. It is part history—both of Jewish immigration to the United States and my mother’s family history. The peak period of Jewish immigration to the United States occurred from about 1880 to 1920, when Jews of the Russian Empire, also known as the Pale of Settlement, fled Czarist pogroms in huge numbers. 
          Early in that wave of emigration, my mother’s paternal and maternal grandparents left what was really Ukraine and settled in rural Southern New Jersey.  My grandfather’s parents came in 1882 and, along with forty-two other Russian-Jewish immigrant families, established The Alliance Colony (,
which has ever since been known as America’s first successful Jewish agricultural community.  My grandmother came as a teenager with her parents around the turn of the century.  My grandfather was born in 1883 and became an all-American country boy. 

          I call the book a memoir because after summarizing the historical background, I connect the dots for the reader to see how I hearkened back to my mother’s family’s rural roots, when in 1976, my husband and I moved, as hippie back-to-the-landers, to the Arkansas Ozarks, where we have lived ever since on the same forty-acre piece of land. My summers in that community. from my birth in 1941 to 1959. imprinted me with an indelible ink and “wrote” countless memories that helped to shape who I have become.

What is the date you began writing this memoir and the date when you completed the memoir? I consider the summer of 2012 the formal beginning of this memoir though in one way or another I have been writing parts of it nearly my entire life (elementary school compositions on “how I spent my summer vacation,” poems over the years, an attempt at an autobiographical novel in the 1980s—I still have this and cannot bring myself to use the handwritten pages as fire starters).     

           My beloved older brother—indeed my sole sibling—died in the spring of 2012, seven years after a bicycling accident turned him instantly into a tetraplegic (the linguistically and medically correct term for what most of us call a quadriplegic).  Throughout his illness and after his death I kept a small photograph from the summer of 1943 by my bedside.  At that time, I wrote about this photo as my personal family and spiritual icon. In the photo I am a two-year old child in the center of the composition, surrounded by relatives and family friends, all of us either in or hanging onto a huge truck tire inner tube floating in the shallow waters of the Maurice (pronounced Morris) River in southern New Jersey. My brother, Mickey—seven years older than I—is piloting the tube.
     During this period, however, I wrote sporadically, desultorily—with no image in my mind of a fully formed memoir. In the summer of 2018, I returned to the community of my ancestors and my youthful summers for the 136th reunion of the founding of the community.  Upon receiving the invitation to the reunion, I made a commitment to myself to pull together the disparate pieces I had already written and to complete a cohesive memoir within a year and a half.
       I completed the first draft, I believe, in early in 2019 and sent it to my editor, Thomas Kinsella, professor of literature, the Samuel and Elizabeth Levin Director of the Alliance Heritage Center, and the Director of the South Jersey Culture & History Center Regional Press at Stockton University.  We—Tom, his student interns, the graphic arts designer there, and I—had an edited, formatted first edition of it, complete with photographs later that same year. 

Where did you do most of your writing for this memoir?  And please describe in detail.  In the summers and early autumns of 2018 and 2019, I wrote at the table on our screened-in porch where large white oak trees and a bamboo grove shelter the house and porch from the western sun and where a breeze usually blows.  I can gaze out at our kitchen garden in a forest clearing.  Birds sing from pre-dawn until past dusk.  My laptop stays on the table until shared mealtime when I move it. If I am having breakfast alone, I leave it in place and maybe write a bit.  Mostly I manage to write in the evenings and often into the summer nights listening to the whippoorwills, while sipping on a cool drink.  

          As summer winds on and the weather becomes unpleasantly hot, the air becomes drought-dusty and my gardening chores are a little less demanding, sometimes in the late afternoon, I get time to do yoga on the porch and go back and forth between my yoga mat and the laptop. Somehow, if I fully submit to the power of yoga to quiet my mind and relax my body, a particular phrase, sentence or even more developed idea will pop into my head. As I am writing the answer to this question—in July of 2020, it is 8 p.m., and I am hearing the most amazing birdsongs and calls as the birds settle in their nests—on branches and the interwoven bamboo branch perches—and twitter themselves to sleep.
However, when the weather turns cold, I write at the dining table in our open-floor plan main room, warmed by the wood stove.  If it’s very cold, I might carry the laptop to the sleeping loft, which is now our guest “room,” and write there.
What were your writing habits while writing this memoir- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? When I was doing a lot of research about previous attempts to establish Jewish farming communities or the Alliance Colony history and writing the historical sections of the book, I wrote my notes on paper, so summer or winter I had pieces of paper, tablets, notebooks, textbooks everywhere, outside in the summer, inside in the winter.
          When I write prose, it’s strictly on my laptop although I do write phrases or notes as they occur to me on scraps of paper or in notebooks.  This somewhat depends upon how close I am to my laptop or what is most convenient at the moment. I’ve already discussed location and times when I can find moments or hours for writing. 

          My other writing habits also vary with the seasons. In cold weather, if I can tune in classical music on the radio, I will listen to it as I write and maybe sip some red wine or hot herbal tea.  If I can’t get the classical station to come in clearly, I sometimes turn on the public television CREATE channel and pay subliminal attention to the cooking shows—a sort of non-caloric, comfort-food-binge, which helps me to keep track of time for purposes of medication and feeding our sourdough starter or other domestic chores that require a schedule.  My husband works four days a week with two overnights and gets home late at night the other two nights, so this is the quietest time for me to write.

How do you define a memoir?  And what makes a memoir different from an autobiography? This is such a juicy question. To me, an autobiography is a whole life story written by someone of significance who lived that particularly significant life and includes the first-hand factoids of that recorded life.  On the other hand, a memoir is as much about the processes of remembering and a specific, precipitous event or cluster of events that compel the writer to want or to need to write about the significance of those events, factors, periods of time, or places that have shaped the writer’s subsequent life.  However, I have read one or two of what I considered autobiographies published and sold as memoirs that left me wanting, probably because they contained, for me, too many details across the whole life and too little reflection and cogitation about the active process of memory, the part which really interests me.
     Some memoirs focus on difficult, painful experiences and how the authors overcome enormous challenges. This is not my genre, neither to read nor to write, and so I resisted writing memoir for a long time. My memoir contains a few events that for a different writer, a different person may have assumed such a looming presence that they could have been made into turning points in that person’s life, but even the seemingly traumatic episodes in my first eighteen years neither scarred me nor shaped my life into something that required great courage to overcome. 
     Recent research into brain science sheds light on how memory works and how told memories change with each telling. This blending of memory with recreation and storytelling fascinates me.  In the acknowledgments of my memoir, I apologize to any cousins whose memories of the time and shared experiences may have been different.  I say that it is neither a work of fiction nor a lab report. Also, as I poet, I exist a lot of the time in my senses.  Olfactory, auditory, kinesthetic-tactile, and visual stimuli awaken memory for me.  So, at least in my hybrid-genre memoir these qualities are often what evoke memories and what makes them rich and valuable.

Out of all the specific memories you write about in this memoir, which ONE MEMORY was the most emotional for you to write about? And can you share that specific excerpt with us here.  The excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer, and please provide page numbers as reference. This is the hardest question I have ever had to answer in reference to my writing.  I have written at least two full answers and considered several others before deciding what really was the most emotional. I think it depends upon what kind of emotion; joyous memories are joyful to write about. 
          Since all my memories of that time and place are held within the photograph/personal talisman that I mentioned above, I have to talk about it a little more.  The photo is a prism through which all those memories are refracted into a full spectrum of light. I do not, of course, remember that day because I was only two years old, but the photograph is endowed with countless formative memories for me.  While it is a prism, it is also a magnifying lens, enlarging, casting light upon, bringing into focus so many memories of my time in that community as a child and teenager that I cannot simply and easily extract one. It is as if all my memories of then and there are condensed into one perfect crystalline drop.  It is also a matryoshka doll, opening into another and another version of the teenager and child held within the main pictorial memory.
     The span of human emotions captured in the picture and encapsulated in my memoir is vast: all the wonderful emotions of joy, love, security, curiosity, exploration, and happiness are wrapped up in the photo and book.  You will also find anxiety, fear, pain, sorrow, loss, confusion, teenage sexual desire and awkwardness—all the universal emotions packaged in long passages of what my readers consider good writing. Even the difficult parts, however, were a delight to write, in a sense.                          
          In the end, I chose a memory that is almost a cliché—or very universal—only the reader can judge that. The most emotional memory for me to write about was the disillusionment of young love which transpired via several incidents. I could have written about several aspects of my life during those years that left me with visceral, emotional memories. There is a two-page piece about my first kiss, which was so horribly embarrassing and humiliating at the time, but also after only a few years, funny.  In my old age I see it as a stand-alone short story as hilarious as any contemporary teen rom com.  It was fun to compose, but events with a different boy the next two summers can still make my heart ache more than sixty years after they occurred.  I write about my awkward relationship—if it can even be called that with “The Boy”—in the context of coming of age in that little close-knit community that remains a special time and place to many, many people who spent significant parts of their lives there. I chronicle my history with “The Boy” throughout seventeen pages, from page 166 to page 183. So many events are braided tightly together, and many evoke excitement, nervousness, bewilderment over the powerful attraction he exerted over me, but the events that contributed to my disillusionment appear in pages 180 to 183.   
The process of writing about it has also allowed me to finally develop a very mature sense of tenderness towards both that boy, with his Svengali ways, and poor teenaged me as the mesmerized, helpless Trilby. The raw and painful emotions that I felt when the particular interactions in which his unkind nature took place can still hit me in the pit of my stomach, tighten my chest, and bring tears to my eyes if I am in a fragile emotional state. I still think of him in the summertime when most of our “relationship” took place. In the interests of brevity, I will set the scenes and then quote short sections, but I describe this series of events in the passages between the last paragraph on the bottom of page 180 to the middle of the second of page 183.
In the fall of 1957, I had teacher in-service days off from school and my parents and I visited my grandfather so that they could help him with some official business and medical appointments.  We had made arrangements with my cousin’s high school principal for me to attend classes with her.

(pp 80-81)
In the physical education class, a mixed volleyball game was in process, and both he (“The Boy”) and his girlfriend, whom my cousin had introduced me to in one their common classes, were playing.  She was friendly and nice. He greeted me but minus the warmth of our summer greetings at the beach.  I was not a good volleyball player and was a little worried about getting hit in the face with the ball and having my eyeglasses broken, which had happened during a gym class game at my own high school.  BAM!  Suddenly the ball he served hit me in the chest, knocking the wind out of me.  I faked a quick, slick recovery, but the emotional pain, more than the physical sensation, was sharp, deep and cruel.

By my seventeenth summer, he came to the beach less frequently because he had a part-time job.  His girlfriend was never at the beach, and I don’t remember her at parties.  We danced together still but not as we had the previous summer.  He was not at parties as frequently, and it seemed that the parties at Hirsch’s Hotel were also a less regular treat.  I got other rides back to Pop’s after night-time events and stuck around the house more, reading my way through my English class’ summer reading list and extra books.  The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, which fascinated me with its vivid descriptions of intrigue-ridden Renaissance Italy, was one I particularly remember from that time. The attitude of ambiguous belligerence the boy had developed toward me was not a constant, but it flared now and then and because there had never really developed a relationship with definable qualities between us, I could not ask him what was wrong.  I got a glimmer of an idea at the beach one day that summer.

(pp 81-82)
From the center of the beach where the mass of kids congregated, I saw him talking to two girls who had spread their beach blanket off to the side.  They were not known to anyone, but as I peered at them from my vantage point, I recognized them.  They were friends from my high school in Philadelphia; we were classmates together in algebra class.  So it was completely natural for me to walk over and say hi to them.  The Boy, as I approached their blanket, asked what I was doing, why I was following him.  His response angered me, and I told him not to flatter himself, that I had come over to greet my friends from school. I did not know that Joan and Bonnie had connections with Norma and was happy to see them, eager to introduce them, and to make plans for that night that would include them. … I still liked The Boy and felt the same powerful attraction, and given the chance, I probably would have been ready for more physical intimacy that summer, but suddenly there was a side of him that I did not like.

It was not that easy to shed my attachment to this powerful crush I had on him, and the feelings persisted for another year even though he gave me little enough upon which to pin my hopes. I sent him anonymous, sarcastic Valentine cards to vent my emotions.  The last time I saw him in Norma was the summer of 1959 at the pavilion at the beach. I had graduated from high school in January of 1959 and had a job as a file clerk in a center-city insurance company until September when I matriculated at Temple University’s Teachers College. He graduated in June of 1959. … Nothing was the same.  I was there with a cousin from Philadelphia to attend our Levin Cousins’ Club picnic.  The Boy seemed pleased to see me.  We talked for a while, danced there one last time, and then my cousin and I left.

I would never again spend time there in the same way that I had.  Everything I knew and loved and identified as the framework of my life was coming to an end.  My childhood summers in a twentieth-century, post-war, Jewish Acadia were over.  A world of adult responsibilities awaited me.  My summer romance had budded, bloomed, and withered but never bore fruit, leaving me no better prepared for the sexual revolution of the next decade than I had been for my teen years. Within a couple more years, my grandfather’s failing health and the need to sell his property to finance his last years cut me off forever from what I viewed as my personal, ancestral homeland.  An amorphous, frightening world of multiple unknowns loomed ahead. I returned there in the 1960s for a couple of Levin Cousins Club picnics and my grandfather’s funeral in 1966.  My father was buried in 1970, my mother in 1979.  The unveiling of their headstones within the years of their respective deaths necessitated  additional trips to the Alliance Cemetery where they are buried.  In the 1990s returning from the New Jersey shore to their home in Maryland, my brother and sister-in-law and I made a side trip there to visit our family’s graves, drive past Pop’s place, and see the river.  Until my pilgrimage in August of 2018, I did not return.  By writing this memoir, I am actively engaging in laying most of my ghosts to rest.                                                               

Can you describe the step-by-step process of writing about this ONE MEMORY? Although there are probably inaccuracies to all my memories—from my childhood and teen years—I think I possess rather intact recollection of most of the events that occurred over those years.  The organization of the memories of my personal story in the community known as Alliance/Norma, New Jersey was bound to be organized in a chronological and straight forward manner. Since my brother was seven years older than I, the anticipation of becoming a teenager and the social framework which I would enter was apparent and defined.  I remember meeting The Boy and so many of our interactions as if it were yesterday.  Writing about it, as I suggested, allows me to feel a tenderness towards both of us at the distance of all these years.  Whereas other experiences and events, such as my first kiss, which I wrote about and titled “The Debacle on the Screen Porch,” required a fair amount of rewriting because I could see them—specifically “The Debacle on the Screen Porch”—as something I might submit to a publication as a stand-alone piece of writing, the ending of my romance with The Boy was simply the sad conclusion of an exciting, bewildering but very normal period in my life.  Everyone has to be heartbroken in order to move on in life.

Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? There was no additional material in this passage of my memoir. It’s a brief passage describing a sad and confused transitional period of my life, similar to events and emotions felt by many girls and young women, even in today’s world.  Although I did wind up having a relationship with him about six years later, I chose not to include it in the memoir because the relationship, which lasted about six months was mostly a long distance one sustained by letter writing (he was a great writer) and did not fall into the period covered by the memoir.  The relationship in our mid-twenties ended unhappily as well.  No one alive now whom we knew then ever knew about our affair.

Other works you have published? A couple of my poems have been published but thus far no other books.

Anything you would like to add? I would like to let your readers know how they can purchase my memoir, BACK TO THE LAND:  ALLIANCE COLONY TO THE OZARKS IN FOUR GENERATIONS. While it is available through Amazon, I want to explain the unique arrangement Stockton University Press has with its authors.  Because it is a small regional press, they have not paid me for the book; nor do they pay royalties; yet this is not a self-published book.  Stockton provided all the editorial and publishing services that any commercial press supplies:  a professional editor, a professional graphic artist, all the proof reading, editing, formatting and designing services.  Had COVID-19 not have shut down the world in March of 2020, I would have gone to New Jersey on an all-expense paid (with generous honorarium) book tour.  They were prepared to supply me with a certain number of books and have me keep all profits from the sales. Because that was cancelled due to COVID, we have made other arrangements. But I make no money through Amazon sales.
       I, however, sell the book through my email address through which you can order copies of the book and pay via PayPal or credit or debit cards.  The book is $17 per copy.  Shipping is $4 per book.  You can decide whether to get free Amazon Prime shipping and make Jeff Bezos richer or to support an independent writer and receive a signed copy.  If you choose to order through my email address, make sure you include your name and address and the name(s) of the person(s) to whom you want me to inscribe the book.  Thank you for your consideration of purchasing directly from me.

       In a long-ago former life, Ruth Weinstein taught high school English in the Philadelphia public school system.  She has also taught English as a Foreign Language in Japan two different times and taught English as a Second Language at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.  Her favorite outside work was as a VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) in her local community, teaching adult literacy, family literacy and English as a Second Language.  In between two terms of service in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, she received grant funding to develop an early childhood literacy program which she administered through two local county public health units.
       As a textile artist she has worked since the mid-1970s in various media:  hand weaving, quilting, clothing design, and painted floor cloths.  She was a recipient of an Arkansas Arts Council Traditional Artisan Teaching Grant in the 1980s.  As a writer and historian in the mid-1990s, Ruth received an Arkansas Humanities Council grant to research and write a first draft monograph on the theme of cultures in contact about the in-migration of the back-to-the land movement in several Ozark counties.  Recent academic publications still quote from this work.
       The most important aspect of Ruth’s life since the early 1970s, however, has been organic gardening.  She sees this as a matrix for every other creative endeavor in her life. She and her husband have lived on forty acres of Ozark woodland since 1976.  Although they now expend their energy strictly on gardening, in the past they also raised dairy goats and chickens and plowed their garden with a burro.  Thanks to a community of younger friends and neighbors who value Ruth and her husband as caring, supportive elders, she is confident that they will be able to live out their days on the land where they have transplanted themselves and grown deep roots.

Contact link for you?
       Although I am attempting to develop a website, that is on the rear burner.  For now, you can reach me (Ruth Weinstein) at


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