Eye on KELOLAND: An author’s family memoir

Eye on KELOLAND

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — All families have histories. Sometimes they are written down and preserved; sometimes information and stories are lost when people pass away. A Sioux Falls writer who taught at South Dakota State University has worked to preserve those stories in a family memoir. Jim Smorada wrote “Between the Lines,” but he notes that its composition wasn’t a solo effort.

“I did. Well, that’s partially true,” Smorada said. “My uncles, my aunts, wrote a part of the text ’cause they circulated letters during World War II, I used that, my mom and dad took Kodachrome slides during the period of the narrative, 1940, 1945.”

It focuses on a community just west of Fargo in eastern North Dakota.

“It’s a portrait limited in space and time to Fingal, North Dakota, 1940, 1945, World War II, and it’s a narrative of Austrian immigrant parents who send two of their sons back to Europe to fight the Nazis,” Smorada said. “So in a sense the tension of the whole set of stories is ‘I lost my kids, they’re gone, what’s going to happen to them.'”

His parents Gus and Liz Smorada are part of the memoir.

“And my feed on that was, they’re my uncles, so I’m concerned,” Smorada said. “Two of them go ashore at Normandy, day three, both of them come home without bullet wounds.”

Dan Santella: Is it kind of a love letter?

“It is a love letter, yeah, it’s a love letter but it has an edge to it,” Smorada said. “I’m not going around kissing everybody and saying you’re just perfect.”

Phil Sietstra of Sioux Falls who has read “Between the Lines” describes himself as a good friend of Smorada.

“It was a really nice way to honor his parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, all those people who helped raise him, he did a nice job of remembering them, something not all of us get a chance to do,” Sietstra said.

Smorada uses an example featuring his grandmother to show how he can share something he didn’t witness.

“She’s looking at the shelves to see how much sauerkraut she will have to get her through ’til June, checking the beets, checking the beans, in other words doing inventory during a time when you can’t go to the store ’cause there isn’t that,” Smorada said. “I didn’t see her do that, alright, but in order for me to tell a reader that this is how she fed the family, I set up a scene that’s very likely true, but I didn’t see it.”

The 78-year-old Smorada wrote this because he has the ability.

“Probably because I could, it starts there, I mean I had had enough practice doing this for a lifetime as an editor, editorializing, as a reporter, reporting, writing a master’s thesis,” Smorada said.

This memoir is his family’s, but it’s also his own.

“This is a genesis story,” Smorada said. “How did I get this way, how did I get interested in making things, how did I get interested in tools and wood, and how did I get interested in culture that was different than I was growing up with.”

“Between the Lines” isn’t unique to him and his family, though.

“This is a common story, I mean, I’m not picking up and saying, ‘This is unique and herculean and wonderful,'” Smorada said. “No, this, everyone that is about my age has a version of this story.”

The immigrants of small Midwestern communities have helped shape the past, present and future.

“There are stories in probably a lot of the viewers right now, that they have a parallel,” Smorada said.

History can slip away if it isn’t documented.

“My concern is that a lot of people with great stories are going to die because when you’re 77, 78, 79, 80, you don’t have a lot of time to mess around,” Smorada said. “And so if there is that one good story in you, which I believe is true of everybody, you better get at it, and that urgency drove writing the book.”

He has advice for someone near his age.

“If you’re 80 years old, start talking on paper, that’s what writing is, anyhow, start talking, not a time to be shy, not a time to say, ‘Geez, I don’t remember that,'” Smorada said. “Work at it, because there’s nothing left when you go, ’cause there’s not going to be a story left, you’re going to take it with you.”

You can purchase the book online at Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com. You can also reach out to Smorada; if you’d like to contact him, send Dan an email and he can put you in touch.

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