A discussion of Always an Olivia came up on my Facebook page this morning and made me realize how much context surrounds my family story. The book tells the story when the plot is clear, but it took me 40 years to put together the parts. Although my Great Grandmother Olivia told me of my family’s Jewish heritage when I was 9, the story was so fantastic (Barbary pirates, journeys from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Libya, Georgia Sea Islands) – I thought it was a fairy tale. I grew up Baptist. I was a professor at Mt. Holyoke College when my urge to be Jewish became so strong that I started the conversion process. My parents visited me in Massachusetts, and when my father heard my Jewish prayer over the Shabbat candles he said, “My mother always prayed that prayer.” I was stunned. He was telling me that my Christian Methodist Grandmother recited Jewish prayers. I had dismissed and forgotten the amazing story my Great Grandmother told me. My father’s words took me back 40 years to the clear memory of my Great Grandmother Olivia’s story. That began my journey to piece together the story I record in “Always An Olivia”.
So one discussion question could be, What does it take to make a general story your own story? This story was in my head for 40 years but it took my father’s memory to help me turn it into my own family story. I had to believe it before I could narrate it. Are there stories in your life that need your belief before they can be well told?