From time to time I have written about real people that I have known. Sometimes it’s an essay on a former student who has accomplished something grand. Other times I recall the lives of friends and family members who have died. I always enjoy celebrating my grandchildren and boasting of their accomplishments as well. I find it easier to compose blogs about individuals I have known than to editorialize or attempt humor. There is literally nothing more interesting to me than my fellow humans.
If I were to actually write a biography of someone, it would be a person with whom I have interacted, an ordinary soul. I’ll leave the rich and famous to more professional authors. I love stories about the guy next door, the woman down the street, the co-worker or the long time friend. There are so many wonderful individuals in the world who are nameless, whose stories are worth hearing, but never are.
When I was still a college student a professor asked everyone in our class to write an essay about someone that we knew who seemed to have an interesting background. I chose my husband Mike’s best friend, Egon Osterloh. Mike and Egon had met each other at the University of Houston through Egon’s uncle Dr. S. Henry Monsen, a professor of Sociology. Egon had come from Bremen, Germany to study and knew few people at the time, so he and Mike struck up a friendship very quickly.
I learned that Egon was the son of a German father and Norwegian mother. His father had been a soldier with the German army when they occupied Norway, and that is when he met his future bride. After the war they settled in Bremen and had one child. Egon told us that his birth city had been battered by bombs during the war. He shared tales of playing in the concrete and brick rubble of the buildings. Since healthy food was sometimes scarce he developed scurvy like many other German children in his town. Eventually things got sorted out and he went to school where his teachers discovered that he was an exceptional student. He went to the Gymnasium which was a college bound learning track. After fulfilling his obligatory military service he enrolled at the University of Houston so that he might have a place to stay with his uncle and benefit from his guidance.
I wrote about Egon in greater detail for my assignment. I only knew of his story up to that that time when he was still quite young. My professor was fascinated by his story and urged me to find someone who might be interested in publishing the brief bio. I was too busy and lacking in contacts to follow through on his suggestion, but I agree that Egon’s story and that of his parents was truly the stuff of a Hollywood screenplay. The rest of his life would be no less so. He would indeed be worthy of a long biography, but then who would be curious enough to pick up a copy of a book about an unknown?
A few years back I took a course at Rice University that was designed to help fledging writers learn how to publish and sell their work. In many ways the class was more discouraging than helpful. The teacher admitted that the world of writing had changed drastically over time. She bemoaned the reality that publishing houses were dying. She further complained that the easiest route to getting a company to accept a book idea was to already be famous. She insisted that the days of a writer being discovered and introduced to the public were all but gone. So we find ourselves in the world of self publishing and blogging and self promoting.
I have been blessed in knowing some of the most remarkable people. I can think of several of my friends and acquaintances who who be excellent subjects for biographies that would be exceedingly thought provoking. I’ve even considered writing a collection of short essays about some of the more interesting people that I have known. The world is filled with stories that inspire and some that demonstrate the sadness of a life gone wrong. We can learn from any of them.
I’d like to write more often about people rather than ideas. We humans are after all at the heart of everything. Each of us is unique and so our views of the world vary in individual ways that make even the seemingly most ordinary among us interesting.
I suppose I’ve been quietly watching people for all of my life. My mother used to chide me for staring at the folks that I observed wherever I went. I have always been fascinated by our humanity and I have watched and learned from it. Some of my most favorite essays have been from Humans of New York, little snippets of life as it really is. Perhaps one day I’ll do something similar to showcase the amazing people who have passed my way.