The gifted Harlem Renaissance writer, Zora Neale Hurston once remarked that the worst thing is to have a story and not be able to tell it.Peter Breyer, a health care professional and son of German immigrants has a story to tell and he came to the Write Stuff Conference in Allentown, PA on a recent Saturday, looking for help to get that story into the hands of readers. Peter's wife, Mildred, shared this with me after I spotted her reading in the conference hotel lobby and out of curiosity interrupted to find out what was on her Kindle. The Dovekeepers, she told me and in no time we were talking about her husband and his story. "You see, Peter spent most of his life thinking he was an only child."
But then one day, out-of-the blue, Peter's sense of family and of himself changed. Dramatically. He was not an only child. He had a sister. His father's daughter with his first wife. By the time Peter's mother, his father's second wife, broke the silence about the other child, Alzheimers had begun stealing her memory. She could give him no details, only the suggestion of a name. But that was enough to send Peter searching for his sister and digging into the past of his long-deceased father.
"Peter always felt that there was something standing between him and his father," Mildred continued, describing the gulf that closed for Peter as new revelations led him to a deeper understanding of his father's struggles and estrangements amid the horrors of Nazi Germany. Peter worked on his story for years. He visited aged immigrant friends of both his parents. He tried anything that might let him feel what life was like for his father during and after the war. He took a crash course in German so that in case he ever found his sister he could speak to her in that language.
I imagine Mildred knows Peter's story in every detail. She has probably heard every word of it many times, through every draft of the writing. "This happens every time, I talk about it," she said and brushed tears away as she recalled one of her husband's visits to his father's grave-site. Peter has turned his story into a book. "And he came to this conference to see if he could interest an agent in it," Mildred said. I asked if she was also a writer. No, she was quick to answer, only Peter is.
When he joined Mildred and me right after his agent interview, we exchanged contact information. I was still thinking about the New Jersey couple a few days later when I found in my mailbox a copy of Peter's book: My Sister A Journey to Myself.
The Zora Neale Hurston quote begins the preface to Peter's book. If as Hurston says, not being able to tell our story is the worst thing, then maybe the best thing as writers is to be blessed with our own Mildred (or Milton), someone who has our back, who not only listens to the words but hears what we may be desperately struggling to say, someone who is honest yet mindful, never hurtful in critiquing our efforts. Someone who will share our journey no matter how many writers' conferences and agent meetings it takes.
With luck and plenty of perseverance, Peter will find the right agent and his book will find its readers. His story of a secret sibling certainly sparked my imagination as a writer and a reader. It had me turning over in my mind that tantalizing two-word question that can get any writer's juices flowing: "What if?....".