Former South Hagerstown HIgh School teacher writes memoir

November 16, 2012
  • Retired teacher Roger P. Engle wrote a memoir telling the story of growing up in a working-class family during self-sufficient times.
Submitted photo

Name: Roger P. Engle

Age: 64

City in which you reside: Martinsburg, W.Va.

Day job: Retired after 30 years of teaching at South Hagerstown High School

Book title: "Stories From A Small Town: Remembering My Childhood In Hedgesville, West Virginia"

Genre: Memoir

Quick synopsis of book: "Stories from a Small Town" is a memoir set in Hedgesville between 1948 and 1964, following a boy's adventures around his neighborhood, local businesses and the surrounding wilderness. The book provides an unfettered and amusing view of growing up in a working-class family during self-sufficient times.

Publisher: Girls on Press, an imprint of SEDO

Price: $19.95


You wrote that Earl Hamner's, "The Homecoming," reminded you of your own childhood. Did this inspire you to write your own childhood memories?

I very much enjoy the style Mr. Hamner used in telling his stories, but he was not the inspiration for my stories. The gap of years between his experiences and mine was some 20 years but many similarities existed between his childhood and mine. The closeness of the community, an extended family living under one roof and the makeup of the town showed many parallels.

Your book is a collection of really quick memories and stories of growing up in Hedgesville, W.Va. Is that how you wanted to approach the book from the start? And why did you want to just have quick snippets?

The stories are written as pieces of a mosaic that made up my world. They may appear as isolated events, but were not. The events were ever changing and all equally important in my childhood. There was no preset idea of how long each story would be. The length of the story does not equate to its significance.

How did you write this book? Was it based on journals or more recent writings?

Most everyone has a moment when something triggers a memory. It could be a word, sight or smell. We dismiss most of the memories and they disappear as quickly as they came.

About eight years ago, I started having a flood of such memories. There were so many that I began writing them down — just three or four words — enough to keep the thought alive. I had legal pads at many places in our home that were filled with short entries. I decided to begin elaborating on those thoughts.

I planned to write these memories down for my children, Chuck and Stephanie, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. As I began writing, I was amazed at the detail I was able to recall. Some of the stories triggered other memories and more stories. Stories were then entered into our computer.

Several years ago, our daughter found out about this project and put a few of the stories into a small, handmade book and presented it to me as a gift. Upon finding out there were many more stories, she suggested they should be published and shared with more than family. She has a design business and offered to do just that. We all agreed and the book was released in August 2012.

It's been a family affair. Our youngest grandson, Edward, is on the cover of the book.

Are there other established authors whose styles are similar to yours?

Earl Hamner Jr. and Jean Shepherd, who wrote, "A Christmas Story." It's also similar to Sam Clemmons — sort of that "storytelling" style.

Contrary to the typical autobiography, in your book there are often many points of view — yours and then the others who experience it along with you. Was that hard for you when writing?

No, I didn't view this as an autobiography, but rather a snapshot of a period of time. I was absolutely positive that everything I was writing was true. The few times I questioned a story or event, I spoke with those who I'd grown up with to verify my story. I sat down and asked a question without leading them to a predetermined response. I was amazed with the accuracy of my stories.

Did you learn anything about yourself while writing this book?

I learned that my stories are not unique but rather unique to me. We all have them — mine are not better or worse — only different. In sharing my stories, I have been able to relive them in my mind and have reconnected with others in the community. I have seen people I had not seen for 50 years. We have laughed and shared experiences that had almost been forgotten.

What do you want readers to take away from this book"?

Everyone should realize they all have stories that could be a book. It's called your life. At our book signings we've given a pencil with the book title imprinted on it, and I tell people to begin writing their own stories. Giving these stories to my children was my first goal. Getting others to document their own stories was the second goal. Feedback has indicated that many have been inspired to do just that.

What do you want people to know about your childhood?

Many have shared that when reading my book, it's as if I am sitting there narrating it to them. The book was designed to describe my childhood through day-to-day events.

All of our childhoods spanned a period of change. My childhood took place at a time when your small community was your world. We were taught traditional values by our families as well as by the entire community. There were not locked doors, and parents didn't have to be concerned about your safety as much as today. We watched Sputnik fly overhead as we were snapping beans and gathering eggs. It was a time of innocence and a time of exploration.

To me, Hedgesville in the 1950s was a wonderful time to be a child and a great location in which to have lived.

Are you working on another writing project?

Yes. My book ends in 1964, the year I turned 16 and got my driver's license. It opened up a whole new world for me. My second book will begin at this period of my life.

Is your book available in the Tri-State area? Where? If not, how can a reader buy a copy of the book?

The book is available at The Four Seasons Bookstore and Shepherd University Bookstore, both in Shepherdstown, W.Va.; Patterson's Drug Store and the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention & Visitors Bureau, both in downtown Martinsburg; and at the Bank of Charles Town-Hedgesville Branch. It has also been accepted through a juried system into Tamarak in Beckley, W.Va.

Anyone wanting to order a book can email to request an order form.

—  Crystal Schelle, Lifestyle editor

Submitted photo

Retired teacher Roger P. Engle wrote a memoir telling the story of growing up in a working-class family during self-sufficient times.

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