Jeanne Englander was a client I saw weekly. I met her in a coffee shop one dreary December day in 2014, as I pinned my flyer to the cafe’s notice board. My flyer gave details of my life writing service.
Jeanne was talking to her wheelchair-bound husband and asked him if he wanted to watch the new film based on Stephen Hawkin’s life story. I heard the words ‘life story’ and took my chance. ‘Hello,’ I interrupted, ‘I apologise for interrupting but I couldn’t help overhearing; if you’re interested in life stories, I help people turn their life stories into literature’.
Jeanne kindly replied, ‘What a strange coincidence. I am currently writing my family’s life story and I’m looking for someone to help me type it.’
This is how it started and it ended with Jeanne completing the book a year later and what a remarkable tale she tells. The story spans three generations and recounts both her family and her husband’s family story of survival during the two world wars.
When Jeanne describes scenes, she cuts from her family in Leicester to her husband’s family in Poland. She describes the anguish of her grandmother upon learning her underage son (Jeanne’s father) had enlisted in the army of his own accord and sent to fight in WWI.
Jeanne also gives us real life scenes of both her husband’s escape from Nazi-controlled Berlin and his father’s escape from an invaded Poland. Both families share one major trait – surviving and escaping danger. The reader is left wondering, ‘Was it luck? or was it sheer determination?’ Whatever it was, it was, ‘Against All Odds, The Englanders Survived’.
It was an honour and privilege working with Jeanne. At 84-years of age, writing over 800 words a day, I so admired her determination. In time, as I learnt more about her family, I came to understand exactly where she got her resolve.
Her husband Freddy was never far away during my Tuesday afternoons at Jeanne’s. His story, building up a factory from scratch, employing 100s of people, yet loving his wife and sons above anything else, really touched my heart.