It’s no wonder that driving across the Sunshine state with a stack of Needle in the Bone in the passenger seat makes me miss Lou and Maura. The book, which tells the entwined stories of Lou, a Holocaust survivor, and Jarek, a Polish resistance fighter, also weaves in the stories of their wives, Jane (Lou) and Maura (Jarek). When I started it was inconceivable to me that by the time the books came out, two of these four people would be dead.
Last night at the reading at Ellen (daughter of Jarek) and Marek’s home, people repeatedly asked me how I met Lou, Jane, Jarek and Maura, and I had to answer that I don’t know. We were just in the same community, led to each other by the humor and holidays we enjoyed together, the mutual friends or family in between and the great swirling of the big tossed salad that is Lawrence, Kansas. Like many people you can know for years with only hearing glimpses of their stories — Jarek’s uncle was president of the Polish underground, Maura was Irish and lost her mother at a young age, Lou survived many concentration camps, Jane practiced law and loves literature like nobody’s business — it wasn’t until I began interviewing everyone that the glimpses turned into coherent and multi-layered narratives.
Part of those layers were the memories we were making together simply through the interviewing process. I sat at Jarek’s dining room table while Maura, in her bathrobe because she wasn’t feeling well that day, put her hands on my shoulders and told me how thrilled she was that I was doing this book. Years later, Maura gone six months from a sudden death due to arrithythmia, we were in Jarek’s living room, in the middle of toasting Jarek with shots of vodka all around for his birthday. Lou, standing beside me, kissed the top of my head. Years before, I sat for hours with Lou in his sun room, visiting many Tuesday afternoons, laughing hard at Lou laughing hard as he told me some of the most outrageous turns of living through the Holocaust.I wish so much that I could place the beautiful copy of the book into Lou’s hands and laugh with him about how it’s finally done, it’s finally out, and here it is. I wish I could point to the photos of Maura getting married with her and tell her that she was utterly gorgeous, in spirit and appearance, her whole life. Yet I am blessed beyond blessed to have been given all their stories to share, and not just because of how much hard stories put life into perspective. The time with these four people is now part of my own story.