Laura Dean Bennett
Dunmore resident and author Elke Neumann Taylor’s long and winding life journey has taken her from her childhood home in Hamburg, Germany, to places she never would have dreamed possible.
Taylor, the author of two memoirs, has an excellent memory.
In her first book, Elke’s Memoirs of Hamburg 1941 – published in 2006 – Taylor describes the deprivations and horror of war-torn Germany during World War II as seen through the eyes of a very young child.
At the age of three, Elke experienced the death of her father, followed by the bombing of Hamburg and her home –which left her, her mother and grandparents, refugees in their own country.
How the little family survived starvation and harsh living conditions is not for the rom com club.
The subject might seem like tough sledding for readers, but Taylor’s spare, non-sentimental writing style – reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway – gives readers an almost breezy tour of what some might call a nightmarish childhood.
“Mama always told me that I should write our story; that people should know how it was for us,” Taylor said.
“To me it is a story of the resilience, strength, courage and bravery of my parents and grandparents. I wanted to publish the book so my mama could read it, but, her health was failing, and I was too late,” she related sadly.
“At least I finally wrote the book, and my work was done.”
Or so she thought.
So well written and compelling was her first effort in putting pen to paper that readers clamored for a sequel.
“What I did not count on was that I got so many calls to write another one,” Taylor explained.
“Everyone was wanting to know more. So I wrote the sequel. I wrote two books in two years.”
Her second memoir, Passport to the Orient – published in 2007 – was the continuation of memories of her growing-up years, and it takes readers to Taylor’s time in Japan, and young womanhood in America.
And now, almost 15 years later, Taylor still receives mail from readers wanting to know more about her life’s adventures.
Included in those adventures was meeting and marrying a young Air Force jet mechanic and plane captain from Pocahontas County, named Jerry Taylor, son of Emmett and Georgia Taylor.
“We were married for 60 glorious years,” Taylor said.
The couple met in Riverside, California, where Jerry was stationed at March Air Force base – the same base where Elke’s American step-father was stationed.
Jerry had been stationed in Guam, Japan and Okinawa when the young couple met on a blind date.
“I was raised in a military family, and Jerry was the most patriotic man I ever met,” she remembered. We met on a blind date, and it was fate – it was love at first sight.
“When I opened the door to a knock that evening, he took my breath away.
“I like to say we were married on our first date.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Jerry had a Triumph motorcycle when he was in the service, and the couple took many trips together, touring around California.
“We got married in Richmond, Virginia, in 1962, and Jerry worked as a truck driver.
You can take the boy out of West Virginia, but you can’t take West Virginia out of the boy.
Saying his dad needed him on the farm in Dunmore, Jerry moved them back to Pocahontas County, and built the couple a house within walking distance of his parents’ home.
Taylor recalls arriving in Pocahontas County in February 1961, “during a blizzard even worse than the one we just had [Sunday].”
Jerry got a job with the U.S. Forest Service in Marlinton, and he and Elke raised their two sons, Jeffrey and Randy.
“After Jerry retired from the Forest Service, he joined the Pocahontas County Honor Corps, an organization he was so proud to serve,” Taylor said.
Sadly, the couple had to part in 2020. Jerry passed away, a result of a heart attack, but Taylor has remained in their family home.
She is extremely gifted and fills her days with a variety of hobbies.
In addition to writing, she enjoys painting, hand-work, gardening – raising exotic and unusual plants – and reading mysteries.
And like a lot of Pocahontas Countians, she’s a dab hand at baking.
She is very philosophical about her life – then and now.
“Germany was home to me, and no matter the hardships, it was a time of living in adverse conditions while making the best of things and believing in the good that lives in our hearts,” Taylor said.
“Even with all the difficulties, I can say I enjoyed my childhood to the fullest,” she added.
“And as for living in Japan, I loved every minute of it.
“What I like most about living here in Pocahontas County is the beauty, and sometimes the solitude, and especially the gracious friends I’ve made, who accepted me right from the beginning. Most people here have never met a stranger.”
Her readers might be surprised to learn that Taylor came close to never publishing a single word.
During high school in Japan, after turning in what she thought was a very good writing assignment, she was shocked to receive a C from her English teacher.
“I approached the teacher asking why my grade was so low, and she replied, ‘you know the answer – you copied this from a book.’
“No matter what I said, she did not believe me.
“In hindsight it showed how good my writing was, but she damaged my self-esteem. I quit writing – for fifty years.
“Who knows, I might have been a really famous author if the person who should have been there to mentor me had not destroyed my will to write.”
“So, to young people I would say, set your goals in life and follow your instincts.
“Believe in yourself with pride and self-respect.
“Don’t let anyone put you down.”
Like a lot of successful authors, Taylor admits to struggling with a huge case of writer’s block, but with her readers clamoring for “the rest of the story,” she is planning to finish a “third chapter” of her memoirs.
“One thing I’d like readers to take away from my books is the importance of perseverance,” she said.
“In difficult situations, your adrenaline goes into overdrive and there’s this basic will to hang on and live another day – because tomorrow will be better.”
Elke Neumann Taylor’s memoirs, Elke’s Memoirs of Hamburg 1941 and Passport to the Orient may be found at various online book outlets and at libraries in Pocahontas County.