Lyn­da Schus­ter, author of Dirty Wars and Pol­ished Sil­ver, has been guest blog­ging for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series.

One of the epigraphs at the begin­ning of my mem­oir, Dirty Wars and Pol­ished Sil­ver, is tak­en from Joachim Fest’s haunt­ing book, Not I. Fest’s com­ing-of-age mem­oir is set against the back­drop of the Third Reich in Ger­many and his father’s implaca­ble oppo­si­tion to the Nazis. When I came across this pas­sage while writ­ing my own mem­oir, it seemed an excel­lent encap­su­la­tion of the genre:

One does not, in ret­ro­spect, record what one has

expe­ri­enced, but what time — with its increas­ing shifts

in per­spec­tive, with one’s own will to shape the chaos

of half-buried expe­ri­ences — has made of it. By and large,

one records less how it actu­al­ly was than how one

became who one is. 

It also per­fect­ly described the prob­lem I had as a for­mer jour­nal­ist writ­ing a mem­oir. Besides a near-Pavlov­ian aver­sion to first per­son pro­nouns — instilled in most print reporters on their first day of jour­nal­ism school — I had to grap­ple with the even more bizarre con­cept of report­ing out a sto­ry about myself. To say noth­ing of check­ing and recheck­ing those facts. (Although a writer friend, by way of explain­ing the craft, said: You know, they don’t call it cre­ative non­fic­tion for nothing.”)

My mem­oir chron­i­cles my time as a for­eign cor­re­spon­dent for the Wall Street Jour­nal and as the wife of an Amer­i­can ambas­sador. That meant try­ing to ver­i­fy more than twen­ty years of events. The book begins in Israel: reject­ing my mother’s staid, Mid­west­ern life and in search of adven­ture, I fled my home at age sev­en­teen for a kib­butz in the Upper Galilee. (Because nice Jew­ish girls don’t run away to join the cir­cus, they join a kib­butz.) The Yom Kip­pur War broke out almost imme­di­ate­ly upon my arrival — a sem­i­nal event that set me on the path that would define my per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al life for decades.

As part of the first chap­ter, I wrote a scene about a Sat­ur­day din­ner at the house of my kib­butz moth­er, Sim­cha, just after the war end­ed. Most peo­ple didn’t eat in the din­ing hall on Sat­ur­day nights; Sim, a gift­ed cook, always man­aged to make some­thing dif­fer­ent from the usu­al kib­butz fare in her micro­scop­ic kitchen. On that evening, as usu­al, she put me to work slic­ing pep­pers while she made a hash from bits of left­over chick­en. Her daugh­ters, Anat and Orly, bick­ered over who would set the table. They were still going at it when we final­ly sat down to eat: Anat com­plain­ing that Orly had been both­er­ing her all day; Orly claim­ing the same of Anat. Sim­cha remind­ed them the country’s war had end­ed and it would be nice to have peace in the house as well, then left the table to answer a knock at the front door.

Anat peered around the arch­way to ensure her moth­er was out of sight. Care­ful­ly bal­anc­ing a slice of toma­to on her fork, she sud­den­ly launched it at Orly as if on a cat­a­pult. Not to be out­done, Orly picked up a toma­to piece and hurled it from the end of her fork to her sister’s side of the table. And then it was off to the races: toma­to slices fly­ing fast and furi­ous­ly; both girls laugh­ing uproar­i­ous­ly; Orly shriek­ing, Milchemet Haag­van­iot” (The War of the Toma­toes!); me think­ing that I nev­er want­ed to leave the place.

I did leave, though. Sim had seen dozens of sim­i­lar­ly star­ry-eyed young­sters wash up on her shores, eager to jet­ti­son their for­mer lives. She wasn’t hav­ing any of my idylls. Go study, she said. Which is how I became a jour­nal­ist, cov­er­ing for­eign conflicts.

After writ­ing the din­ner scene, I sent it to Sim for ver­i­fi­ca­tion. She infor­mal­ly adopt­ed me many years ago and has remained a sig­nif­i­cant fig­ure in my life. Sim for­ward­ed it to her daugh­ters. They didn’t remem­ber the inci­dent. Noth­ing. Nada. Zip.

How could this be? How could some­thing so redo­lent to me of the time and place, some­thing so for­ma­tive to my young life, not be imprint­ed on their brains as well? Even now, I can remem­ber the chill autum­nal wind that blew through the slight­ly opened win­dow; the tiny lights danc­ing across the recap­tured Golan Heights; the soft splosh of toma­toes mis­siles hit­ting the din­ing room table; the girl­ish squeals of my kib­butz sis­ters. Maybe I had imag­ined the scene in all its sen­so­ry detail. Or — more like­ly — what was a quo­tid­i­an, for­get­table event for them became, for me, emblem­at­ic of the romance of start­ing out on one’s journey.

In the end, it didn’t mat­ter. The scene wound up on the cut­ting room floor; ulti­mate­ly, it didn’t fit with the chapter’s nar­ra­tive flow. Nonethe­less, it’s still exists, part of who I became and memo­ri­al­ized for­ev­er in my mind — if not in my book.

Check back on Thurs­day to read more from Lyn­da Schuster. 

Lyn­da Schus­ter is a for­mer for­eign cor­re­spon­dent for the Wall Street Jour­nal and Chris­t­ian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor. She report­ed from Cen­tral and South Amer­i­ca Mex­i­co the Mid­dle East and Africa. Her writ­ing has appeared in the New York Times Sun­day Mag­a­zine, The Atlantic, Gran­ta, and Utne Read­er. She is also the author of A Burn­ing Hunger: One Family’s Strug­gle Against Apartheid.