Blind Luck

by Beth Finke (Chicago, Illinois)

Every Wednesday, my Seeing-Eye dog, Hanni, leads me to the Chicago Cultural Center to teach a memoir-writing class for senior citizens.

Eighteen women with great names–Myrna, Sybil, Eldoris, Bea–who grew up on the South Side, in the suburbs, in Italy, in West Rogers Park. Some earned Masters degrees. One finished her undergraduate degree at seventy-three. Many were teachers. A few taught in the Chicago Public Schools. Their stories are fascinating.

Each week I assign these writers a topic. They go home, write 500-word essays, and then bring them back the next week to read aloud. After weeks, months, years of hearing their stories, I’ve come to know a lot of them pretty well.

The oldest student in class this session is Hannah. She’s eighty-eight years old.

Hannah grew up in Germany. Her family was Jewish. A determined and adventurous woman, Hannah escaped on her own in 1940. She was only twenty when she arrived alone in the US. Others in her family didn’t make it out in time.

“I’ll tell you this,” she says. “I’ve always been very, very lucky.”

Economic news lately prompted me to ask these writers to put something down on paper about the Great Depression.

“I’m wondering how it compares to what you see going on now.”

Many of them returned with essays about their parents’ views of the Great Depression. Hannah was one of the only ones old enough to have lived through it.

The story she read aloud was so moving that after class I contacted my “connections” at Chicago Public Radio and asked them if they’d be interested in recording Hannah’s story.

WBEZ said yes. The producer had planned on using Hannah’s story for a three or four minute segment, but ended up spending more than an hour in the studio interviewing her. Hannah’s radio piece ended up being five or six minutes long.

Here’s a description of the interview from the Chicago Public Radio website:

“In part two of our look back at the Great Depression through the stories of those who were there, we hear from Hannah Bradman – a Jewish woman who came of age in Germany at this time.”

It’s a privilege to know Hannah.

You can listen to her story online athttp://www.wbez.org/Content.aspx?audioID=29833 and you’ll see – that is, hear – what I mean.

Beth Fink is the author of Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound, winner of the ASPCA’s Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award.

For more information about Beth, you can visit her website:www.bethfinke.com

Or take a look at her blog:www.bethfinke.wordpress.com

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