[Alyson Kuhn] Margarete Aust McNeice celebrated her 87th birthday last week, on March 27. She has wanted to write about her life for a very long time. And now, thanks to a skilled ghostwriter, a generous husband and an on-demand publishing platform, Margarete has a beautiful book to give her two daughters Gabi and Margarete Anne, her grandchildren, and her sister Charlotte, who will turn 90 in a few weeks.
Designer Elles Gianocostas found this image to complement the reminiscence that ghostwriter Lucy Sholley selected to begin the family history.
In theory, I could have written about this book from a paper and publishing angle (Pearl proPhoto paper, which we wrote about here, is made by Mohawk for Blurb’s ProLine) without actually reading it. Happily for me, Margarete McNeice was comfortable with my borrowing a copy, which I have savored page by page, from her early childhood memories, through World War II, to the dangerous refugee years and, ultimately, to Wollaston, Mass., and a new life.
Left: Margarete worked at the snack bar on an Allied military base in Austria. Right: Charlotte remembers sitting for this photo. “Oh, yes, I was waiting for my boyfriend. The dress was blue with red and a little pocket here with a little handkerchief.”
The day I finished reading the 90-page book, I enjoyed virtual coffee and homemade stollen via phone (Margarete credits German coffee as one of her charms) and heard how Margarete finally got her book — and a new friend in the process. She met memoirist Lucy Sholley last year at the hairdresser. They got to talking, and the rest is … family history.
Lucy included voices in addition to Margarete’s — a few wonderful, lengthy recollections from Charlotte and Gabi, and pithier comments from Jack, such as, “I didn’t always have a pass when I took the train to see Margarete. To keep from getting arrested, I would stay in the men’s room with the door locked for the entire trip.” Fittingly, he ultimately proposed to her at the train station.
Elles Gianocostas enthuses over the reproduction of the old family photos, “which weren’t great to start with, and were also somewhat the worse for wear. The paper [7.5 pt medium-gloss Pearl] is so thick and creamy. The photos sparkle. And for a short book — it’s 90 pages — the thickness of the paper makes it seem more substantial.”
Gabi, Margarete’s older daughter, had started taping her mother’s stories about 20 years ago but never transcribed them. (Sadly, the tapes didn’t age as gracefully as Margarete and had to be discarded.) Lucy also used a recorder, and Gabi enjoyed Lucy’s process, which she describes as “Getting together once a week over coffee. Even though we had just met Lucy, it was like chatting with a friend. Sometimes we sat around the kitchen table, sometimes we sat by the pool. I’ve heard my mother’s stories about my life … my whole life.”
Gabi and Margarete. Gabi comments, “I never felt mine was a difficult life. I knew I was loved. I never looked at my life as hard — it was just life. My youngest, when I talk about it, feels very sad for me.”
Lucy observes, “I think the ghostwriting of memoirs is a nascent industry. I describe myself as a personal historian, and I sense that there are a lot of us in this business — along with a growing appetite for memoirs and oral histories. In this era of social media, people are much less shy about sharing. Lots of boomers feel they’ve already led very rich lives and want a memoir, or they commission a book for their parents. They understand that they’re creating legacies for future generations.”
Jack ordered soft-cover copies for friends at Boston College, of which he is a long-time benefactor. He simply says, “They love it!”
Mutti: My Life and TImes is a wonderful example of what Blurb founder Eileen Gittins calls “social publishing.” I am honored to have had the chance to read Margarete McNeice’s story. Elles Gianocostas adds that she put a bit of her own grandmother into the cover design: “I grew up in The Netherlands myself. I wasn’t alive during the ’40s, but I have photos of my grandmother wearing dresses made of fabric with the pattern I used on the cover. It reminded me of that period.” Lucy concludes, “I’ve always been sad that I have so few memories of my grandparents, so I feel good about helping others preserve their family histories.”