“It is never possible,” writes Fayetteville’s Oda Mulloy in the introduction to her just-published memoir, “it is never possible to close out the past.” Far from closing it out, that memoir, “I Grew Up in a Castle” (Will Hall Books, 2012), opens the past up for author and reader alike, a past from the 1930s of war-time Germany, to the 1950s of Eisenhower’s America. In language that is both clean and intimate, Mulloy tells what it was like to be a child and young adult in those very different times and places.
Oda Mulloy will read from “I Grew Up in a Castle” as the Featured Writer at the July meeting of the Ozarks Poets and Writers Collective, July 30, 7 p.m., at Nightbird Books on Dickson Street in Fayetteville. There is no charge and all are welcome.
Mulloy does not write fiction, or rarely anyway, though she admits (as most memoirists do, if they’re honest) to filling in her memories, completing the puzzle of the past, as it were. She is a teller of tales, true, but the tales are of her own quite remarkable life. By the time she writes the story down, she says, it is already there.
Mulloy’s stories, as with life itself then, are full of contradictions: her father, a physician who delivers babies, becomes increasingly a doctor to the Jews, the communists, the homosexuals who are the victims of Nazi beatings. (“Winters of Discontent”) The boarding school ritual of lining one’s shoes just so by the bed at night becomes important during the scramble of an Allied air raid. (“The Shoes”) Her mother, who loves nice clothes, trades black-market coffee for new dresses, dresses that the daughter, Oda, hates wearing because of the very flamboyance her mother loves. (“The Dressmaker”)
A childhood lived as Mulloy’s was, in war-time Germany, must be full of such contradictions. Or, of course, much worse. But, she insists that each of us possesses what she calls “the treasure of pleasant memories.” “In front of a still-burning house stood a solitary nun stirring a huge kettle of pea soup. She had built a fire underneath the kettle and kept the flames alive with broken furniture. She smiled and waved at passersby: Come, eat.” (“Flight”) Or a trip to the opera with her friend Ingrid. “Ingrid and I hoped there would be no air raid just yet, and finally we held in our hands the tickets for a matinee performance, standing room only … We lined up early at the back door … We had done this before; we were veterans. (“Opera”)
In the midst of war, a little peace. In times of everyday sadnesses, a bit of joy. In a life of impossible stress, a respite. Hunger, but a nun with soup. Air raids, but Mozart. A shared chocolate on the train back to Germany. (“War Zone”) Warm potato salad in a crowded, bomb-wrecked apartment building. (“Tante Friedal”) These are in Oda Mulloy’s treasury of pleasant memories.
Join the OPWC Tuesday, July 30 at 7 p.m. at Nightbird to hear Oda Mulloy read from “I Grew Up in a Castle.” Before and after her reading there will be an open microphone for local writers to share four minutes of poetry, prose, memoirs or stories. New readers and new listeners are especially welcome.