REXFORD — Friends and neighbors of author Maria Beurmann are starting to realize that they don’t know the half of who Beurmann really is.
After one close friend read “The Odyssey of a War Orphan,” Beurmann’s recently released memoir, she exclaimed, “Maria, I don’t even know you.”
It’s certainly tough to keep up with Beurmann. She has an incredible story, from growing up in Italy in World War II, to making her way to the United States, to becoming an ADK46er, to teaching, to traveling the world. It’s (almost) all recorded in her memoir, which she wrote after being treated for brain cancer.
“ ‘The Odyssey of a War Orphan’ was intended to be cathartic. . . . It was not my intent to search for clarity through this work; however, I was able to air some issues for myself,” Beurmann wrote, “This memoir allowed me to vent, and it will probably prove to be less expensive than paying an analyst or a psychiatrist.”
The memoir starts out with her earliest memories of hunger and pain after she was brought to an orphanage in Italy.
“The orphanage was getting bombed. I was starving, we all were starving,” Beurmann said in a recent interview with The Gazette. “It was chaos.”
Many of the nuns and others working in the orphanage were harsh disciplinarians. Beurmann said her head is riddled with scars because of it.
Thankfully, her time in the orphanage came to an end when a teacher in Fredonia (in western New York’s Chautauqua County) asked to adopt her. But there was a bit of a miscommunication. Her adoptive mother was told that Maria would be able to help her around the house and be a servant. Beurmann was too rebellious for that and shortly after she arrived, that notion was squelched.
“I was set in my ways and I tended to be stubborn. Also, I had all [those] terrible experiences behind me,” Beurmann said.
Surprisingly, in the memoir, Beurmann quickly moves on from her childhood years. As Beurmann puts it, she really didn’t bloom until later in life.
After struggling to learn English (especially the idioms), Beurmann worked to become an English teacher and reading educator and worked in both the Niskayuna and Scotia-Glenville school districts, along with the state Division for Youth and eventually Sylvan Learning Center.
Although she has fellow teachers to thank for her writing career and for her start climbing mountains, her work in education was only a fraction of her story.
Beurmann published several books of poetry over the years, including “In Celebration . . . Adirondack Visions,” after a few teachers read her work and encouraged her to publish. It was also her students and a fellow teacher that got her into hiking, as she was asked to help with Niskayuna High School’s outdoors club. They climbed some of the Adirondack high peaks and she became a dedicated hiker, eventually becoming an ADK46er.
“I get bored easily,” Beurmann said.
It’s partly why her memoir is written in short vignettes.
“This is set up for an easy read, Beurmann said, “These are interesting stories with plot twists.”
The stories aren’t told in chronological order; she jumps into different sections of her teenage years, her years spent teaching, etc.
But there is a progression of identity.
Each chapter starts out with a different iteration of the phrase “My name is Maria Beurmann.” It starts with “Mi chiama Marietta Fatichenti,” then it becomes “My name is Maria Fatichenti,” and after a few iterations, it ends with “My name is Maria Beurmann.”
“[Throughout my life, I changed] my name and became who I am now,” Beurmann said.
Beurmann’s identity is one that she worked hard to make. Although she documents her successes, she wasn’t afraid to get into some of the trials of her life in “The Odyssey of a War Orphan.”
Beurmann details how she was raped as a teenager (and her mother’s incidental role in it), how she went through a painful divorce, her struggles with various students and her struggle to protect her daughter, who she calls Julia, as a single mother.
When her daughter was a teen, a boy who wanted her attention kept vandalizing their home and Beurmann became worried he would do something worse. So, in true Beurmann fashion, she did something about it. At 36 years old she began practicing karate, eventually working her way up to a seventh-degree black belt.
“I was one of the first women to be an active force in the studio,” Beurmann said, “I was a fighter.” She taught classes for 30 years and competed for several years.
It’s a lesson that she hopes others take away from the book: that there’s always something you can strive for.
“If I can impact a few people and give them a goal to strive for, something that makes them say ‘I could be that type of person,’ to me that’s vital,” Beurmann said.
At the end of the memoir, and the interview with the Gazette, Beurmann makes it clear that “The Odyssey of a War Orphan,” will not be her last work.
“I’m not done yet,” Beurmann said.
“The Odyssey of a War Orphan” is available on Amazon.com. To learn more about Beurmann’s other works visit hawkresources.net.