Author and memoirist mines tough reflection


Author and memoirist Gloria VanDemmeltraadt outside her Oakdale home with a title from her murder mystery fiction series. (Solomon Gustavo/Review)

Even when writing a memoir, there is a line. 

“I decided my kids didn’t need to know all of this,” says Gloria VanDemmeltraadt of her first book, “Musing and Munching,” a memoir on her life. 

The 77-year-old, who also goes by Gloria Van, had just retired and her children wanted her to write her own history. It was a life full of wondrous highs and gratefully placid times, like living on a St. Cloud hobby farm with her family, or getting to quit all three of her jobs, living a life of little sleep.

There were also tough times, like when her first husband left her while she was pregnant with their third child. Vandemmeltradt worked at an insurance company by day and served drinks and sang at a bar at night. She tried to go on welfare but was denied. Tips kept her family alive. 

“At the time, it was getting through it, feeding my kids everyday,” says VanDemmeltraadt.

At first, untangling the tough and the fun times was difficult for her. Then, after deciding to keep some details for herself, she began channeling earlier days by remembering meals she learned to cook on the fly to feed her kids. 

“Musings and Munchings,” self-published in 2009, is part memoir, part cookbook. 

VanDemmeltraadt, who currently lives in Oakdale with her husband, Onno, finds a way to keep pursuing fulfillment, even in rough times. Regardless of circumstance, she always found ways to satisfy her creative proclivity toward music and acting, by writing and performing singing telegrams for extra money or joining theater troupes for fun. Then, shortly after turning 50, she began to lose her hearing. 

“I can’t sing anymore,” she says, precluding her from solos for the church choir and performing musicals. She dove into writing. “A door shuts, another one opens.”

After digging up her own history, she wrote a history of Lake Elmo. “Memories of Lake Elmo,” self-published, as are all of her books, is a collection of testimonies from residents. 

VanDemmeltraadt spent many long nights flipping through dusty books and reading old newspaper articles on microfilm for the local history. She interviewed 120 people, many of whom were in their 80s and 90s.  

“One woman was 100 years old when I interviewed her,” she says of a lady who worked at Twin Point Tavern seven days a week for 60 years. 

Now considering herself a full-fledged writer, VanDemmeltraadtf was on the hunt for her next wealth of memory to mine. 

One day, relaxing at home, her husband started talking about his early days living in Japanese-occupied Indonesia during World War II.

VanDemmeltraadt had him wait a second so she could grab her recorder. 

She published her husband’s life story, “Darkness in Paradise,” in 2015. The VanDemmeltraadt catalogue also includes a murder mystery fiction series and a book on writing memoirs.

The instructional book, “Capturing Your Story,” is a companion piece to the memoir class she teaches to Maplewood-North St. Paul-Oakdale school district community ed groups, church and luncheon groups, and book clubs. 

 

–Solomon Gustavo can be reached at sgustavo@lillienews.com or 651-748-7815.

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