My 21st Century Pen Pal

I visited London twice. The first time my husband and I did not venture beyond the boundaries of the city, while the second time we explored Southampton and Gillingham. Both times we left longing to return because of our new-found love for the country and the people we met—two in particular both named Sarah.

The first Sarah was a librarian in Gillingham, who graciously hosted a group of six travelers from Ireland and two Americans, who were invited to visit the display of an Irish inventor named Louis Brennan. (An 82 Year Old Wrong Finally Corrected)


The second Sarah was a traveler from New Zealand whose blog I had been following as she traveled across Russia and places beyond and then coincidentally met on that second trip. (The Stars Were Aligned in London.)

Now I have written my book, and I have a new friend from the UK named Ellie, who I never met but is my new cyber friend. She found me and recommended this blog for an award several months ago. We have been corresponding ever since.

Ellie’s blog, And Then What, has wonderful tips for the aspiring writer. She blogs twice a week, once “about a broad range of subjects and once on Thursdays on a writing related topic.” I highly recommend her blog.

Ellie read my book and I read hers—a delightful romance set in the English countryside. Although not a reader of romance novels of late, The Flower Seller was different because it had the element of mystery that kept someone like me reading to the end. Also, I admit to being attracted to books and movies set in areas I have visited, so this book was a win-win for me. Try it, you will not be disappointed!


She and I have been communicating via email and Twitter, and Ellie has given me wonderful suggestions regarding how to promote my book. She has blogged and tweeted about Do Svidanya Dad and has honored me by her lovely reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

Ellie has boosted my confidence in my book because there is nothing in it for her. She did not read it out of obligation because she is a close friend or relative. This has been such a wonderful act of kindness from a stranger from across the pond. I have even seen several purchases in the UK of my book, all of which I attribute to Ellie.

As she points out to me “Cyber friends are 21st century version of the pen friends of old.” Thank you Ellie Holmes!

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How It All Began

I have mentioned on several occasions that this book began as a letter to my children which I eventually assembled into a fifty page story. At some point, I learned that “there were too many documents at the National Archives for us to send them to you,” so I traveled to Maryland, where I was blown away with what I discovered.  That was when I decided that maybe this was a bigger project than I had ever envisioned. Thus, a book was born. Here is the original letter:

 Dear Girls,

We all remember how Grandpa loved to shuffle into his room and return with evidence of his history and recount snippets about his early life in Russia and the United States.    I admit I was always skeptical of these stories, because many involved assassination stories and World War II conspiracy tales, as well as accounts of his father serving as a palace guard to a Russian czar. These were the stories of spy novels and movies. They don’t happen to real people, especially my dad—your grandpa.

Then several months later, while I listened to President Obama’s Inauguration speech, he made statements that made me think of Grandpa. The President spoke of the hard journey our ancestors had endured coming to America seeking a better life. “For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life…They did not know what to expect, but somehow they knew that, despite the hardships getting here, life would be better. Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life.”

I heard your annual complaints about the repetitiveness and monotony of your history lessons, which rarely excited any of you. It was only during the fifth grade trip to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, and your trips to Washington, DC that history became more than words in a textbook or term paper.

Shortly before he died, we all saw the video which was made twenty years ago when Grandpa’s memories were sharper. You saw the old photograph album which chronicled his life from childhood through World War II. After his death, I found countless letters to the State Department and American Embassy in Moscow, which detailed his relentless attempts to repatriate his family from Russia over a time period of sixteen years. I discovered two diaries from his sister, Helen, which gave me some insight into the early lives of his family.

I read the letters and the diaries, viewed the video over and over, and decided to go on a journey of discovery on Grandpa’s history. I wanted to understand exactly why his father abandoned his hopes and dreams of living in freedom here in America to migrate to a country with decreasing personal freedoms for its citizens.

I stumbled upon a book which answered some of these questions and even mentioned his sisters by name. Uncle Dave and I contacted the author of that book.

I located a Russian history professor at the University of South Carolina who has answered many of my questions about Soviet History during his years there. I visited several libraries, surfed the internet, and even contacted the FBI to try to obtain his file from them.

Many of his stories involved events which could be verified historically, so I was able to fill in some of the holes that existed in his stories. Certain liberties were taken as I wrote his story in which I added my own interpretation as I imagined what may have happened. But most of the story is factual, down to the weather on any days where a specific date is mentioned.

We all have our own memories of him, but I want you to know the saga of your grandfather. His early life was that of adventure, love, mystery, and sacrifice. It was filled with heartache and loss. That I could verify. The tales involving clandestine gatherings to plot an assassination, Pearl Harbor cover-ups, and meetings with the FBI were much more difficult to authenticate because there is little documentation. But a lot of history is the result of storytelling and diaries, so all we can do is choose which story to believe and which to question their validity.

Reading his letters, listening to him talk and doing research has provided me with the reasons that Grandpa was so content to sit in his chair for hours on end, with no desire whatsoever to venture beyond the confines of the modest three bedroom home where he proudly raised his five children. He had been around the world, so he was happy to conclude the final chapter of his life at home. He left with his family, on the first leg of his journey to his parents’ homeland of Russia during the Great Depression at the age of twelve-a trip over 5000 miles in length. He completed the final 14000 miles ten years later, this time alone, as World War II was spreading throughout the globe.

My journey made me regret that I had doubted his stories and had not learned more details about his early life. I decided that I wanted to share all that I learned with you because his history belongs to all of us.  

 My discoveries about him made me appreciate my life in a way that is hard to put into words. After reading about him, I hope that the next time you think, “I can’t do this” or “I shouldn’t ask that”, you should stop and think about how those thoughts never crossed Grandpa’s mind.  For him, his persistence and positive attitude was not a choice, but, instead, the only way to survive.

Grandpa and his family were one of the many families that President Obama spoke of in his inaugural address. For Grandpa, his family, and all the early immigrants like them who took “the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom”, this story is intended to inspire you to be strong, persistent, and goal-oriented in your life, even when you think life is just too hard.



 COVER 5  diary



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I Had to Pick Up the Phone

I did something this week, and after the tasks were completed, I thought to myself, “You did this because of Dad.” I even spoke to my mother and told her that I did something that reminded me of him.

What I did I don’t think my father ever would have done because it was politically-oriented, and Dad had said that his father had told him to never join anything. My grandfather was particularly fearful of being associated with any political parties, so that is why I believe what I did was an action which my father would have avoided as well.

However, since Dad loved to pick up the phone, and Mom pointed out that he especially loved controversy, I think that it is because of his blood coursing through my veins that I made two telephone calls earlier this week.

I made a call to the offices of my Senator and Congressman who are up for reelection this year. Like my father, I never considered myself to be affiliated with any political party. I admit I never understood all the specific differences between them. I just voted for the candidate whose beliefs aligned with my own at the time—Democratic some years and Republican others. Dad’s reasons, however, were rooted in his years living in the Soviet Union, where he had to fear being thrown in jail—or worse—for speaking against the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin.

Now I have the time, and as the world knows, this is not a typical election, so because of my genes, I picked up the telephone. I needed to know if my representatives had changed their endorsements of our orange-faced presidential candidate, and I explained to the person on the phone that my vote was contingent on their answer. Apparently I was not the only one asking the question, I was told by the young man on the other end of the line of the Congressional candidate.

My question was answered, but I still felt the need to explain why—hoping there was a slim chance that my reasons mattered. So now, because I may be out of town on Election Day, I have cast my vote. Not voting has never been an option to me. Thank goodness I live in a country where this is my right, and thank goodness I don’t have to worry about being imprisoned for disagreeing with my president—I hope!


Lenin -Stalin

Statue of Liberty

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I Can Take It- Really I Can

When I was asked to join a book club several years ago, I initially rejected the idea thinking that no one was going to dictate what I read. I had my favorites—John Grisham, Steve Martini, Patricia Cornwell, and Janet Evanovich—which kept me a happy reader for years. The years of assigned reading were long behind me. I savored the freedom of choosing the books to read. Don’t tell me what to read!

It was finally the social aspect of becoming a member of a book club that convinced me to accept, and I have never been disappointed. I was exposed to a world of books that I would never have considered, so being “forced” to read a new author every month has been good.

However, when my book was chosen as our October book club selection, I thought back to my negative feelings about obligatory reading assignments and balked at the idea of forcing my book on my friends. If they hated it, I knew they were too polite to tell me. Would they talk among themselves and perhaps have a secret meeting to discuss how to let me down gently, or would they just feel sorry for me?

So I told them to make another selection. It was just too awkward.  I just could not do it! The response by one member of the group was that if we could not read my book she was quitting, so I reluctantly agreed. I could do it. I was tough! I had been through childbirth three times.

The meeting was last week, and I must admit, it was not as painful as I had imagined. As I expected, I got no negative feedback, but the positive comments which were offered  were about choices I had purposely made in my writing.

As one example, while I tried to paint a picture of a scene accurately, I purposely avoided rambling on and on for pages just to set a scene. While I enjoy the use of beautiful words to describe a person or a setting, I often get impatient when it takes too long to get to the point. I often skip ahead when encountering rambling descriptions of what I perceive to be unnecessary wordiness.

So when I was describing the scene when my father’s hopes of becoming a doctor ended—the very first paragraph of my book—I tried to be descriptive but concise.

 Marty’s dreams of becoming a doctor were shattered by the sound of a loud knock on the classroom door. No one spoke. Each student was fearful of being snatched from the classroom by the uniformed officer of the secret police who interrupted the lesson. One minute Marty was peering through the eye of his microscope in biology class, and the next, he was pulled from class and issued an ultimatum: renounce your American citizenship and become a Soviet citizen or leave school.

I did not see the need for further words to describe the feelings of anxiety when that secret policeman burst into that classroom, so I was happy when the subject of my lack of wordiness was broached in our book-club discussion without me asking the question.

They told me how sad they were when… Oops! I can’t elaborate, because to do so will be a spoiler for potential readers out there in the blogosphere.

Having survived the book club review, I will say that it was actually pleasant. I highly recommend it. You will be glad you did.

If you want to try  Do Svidanya Dad for your book club, it’s okay with me. Then tell me what you think. I can take it.


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Writing and My Aching Neck

Writing a book takes endurance, patience, and lots of time. I knew that. What I did not realize was that it could be hazardous to my health. That has been an awful lesson to learn, which has curtailed my time spent at my computer and playing with my grandchildren.

While it is possible that the neck pain and tingling in my arms and legs could be the result of some insidious illness, my Internet searches and postings on writers’ forums validates my theory that my book has caused my troubles. (Note that insidious is defined as “proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects.”)

That is precisely how it happened. The pain crept its cruel way into my life ever so slowly until Bam—I am now propping myself up with pillows and popping pain pills and muscle relaxers prescribed by my doctor. My daughter suggested yoga and acupuncture, and my fellow writers offered ideas regarding how to better position myself at my computer by raising the monitor, lowering the keyboard, extending my arms, and getting a foot rest. Additionally, I should be taking frequent breaks and stretching often.

Rum was also suggested, although I prefer a nice glass of Zinfandel! So I will try to implement these suggestions and hope I am back to my former pain-free self soon.

Don’t make the same mistake that I did!


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Packing up Your Past

My daughter is an elementary school teacher who loves meeting authors at local book signings. Her most recent meet-and-greet was with Jamie Lee Curtis, whose children’s books sit on the shelf of her classroom bookcase.

Ms. Curtis’ most recent publication, This is Me: A Story of Who We Are and Where We Came From, is of particular interest to me since it asks children what personal treasures they would bring if they were faced with moving to a faraway land. I have thought about this topic many times as I wrote my father’s story, Do Svidanya Dad.

His was a family of six children ranging in age from ten to seventeen. When faced with their parents’ decision to move them to Russia, what were they permitted to bring? Like the children in Ms. Curtis’ book, did they pack a favorite necklace, book, toy, or a camera?

I am guessing that my grandparents’ suitcases were stuffed cash, because they knew the advantages of possessing foreign currency in the Soviet Union. Perhaps some of this money was from the sale of the contents of their home.

Dad’s sister Anna brought a diary to record the events of her journey when she left New Jersey with their uncle six months before the rest of the family. Anna later sent that same diary home so that her sisters could write of their similar trip later that year.


The photograph album which sits on my desk is evidence that they packed some treasured pictures of their lives in New Jersey, and those pictures traveled home with my father ten years later across the Soviet Union, then onward to Japan, Honolulu, San Francisco, New Jersey, and finally, eighty-five years later, to my home in South Carolina.

Dads family Marty Wardamasky-Rockaway,NJ







Was their room for any other mementos of their past? If there were, most were likely abandoned when they were forced to flee once the German invasion began and they spent the next five months on the run.

As we sit in our heated and air-conditioned homes, complaining when we lose power during a storm or get annoyed by a noisy neighborhood dog or traffic on the way to work, it all seems so trivial. We have no real reason to complain.

I bought this book about immigrant children moving to another land today. My motives were selfish, since I hope that by reading it to my grandchildren now, it will spark an interest in them to someday read my book and learn about what their great grandfather and his family brought with them when they emigrated from the United States.

Thank you Jamie Lee Curtis!

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Check it Out

When you ask your elderly parent or grandparent a question about their past or to identify a loved-one in a photo and they say, “I just don’t remember,” what do you do and how do you feel? For me, that was the moment I knew I made a terrible mistake in waiting so long to sit down and have a chat with my dad. I felt sick, and could blame no one but myself. I feared I would never know his story.  But I don’t give up easily!

After he died, I decided I owed it to him to try to learn the tale of his past. It took a lot of work and years of research, but I was able to find the answers to my questions by becoming a genealogist, snooping in my father’s dresser drawers, and visiting the National Archives.

I spoke to people who lived where he lived and followed a blog of a woman who was traveling a similar route as he did over seventy years ago (Bumblebee Trails). I read books covering the history of the time period in which he grew up, which helped me understand how his family was reacting to the current events of the time—The Great Depression, life under the regime of Joseph Stalin, World War II, and the era of McCarthyism here in the United States.

I assembled all this information together and was finally able to understand what made Dad tick—why he was satisfied living in a small house with our large family, why he had no interest in accompanying us on a family cruise, and why he was always writing letters or picking up the phone to voice a complaint of offer advice to anyone.

After assembling all this data, I decided to write it all down and was surprised to see I had written a book. When I began to tell my father’s story to people outside my family, I realized there was interest beyond just my relatives.

This is a story for amateur genealogists and lovers of history.  It is a tale of persistence and overcoming adversity again and again. As one of the reviewers of my book stated, it is a true account of a “family’s struggles to search for justice and freedom.”

If I have piqued your interest, I hope you will consider reading Do Svidanya Dad. Check out my new website for details:



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