Self-portrait: Mayer and his mother, father, and three brothers
They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland Before the Holocaust arises from a forty-year conversation between a father and a daughter. When I began interviewing my father in 1967, it was with the intention of both salvaging what he could remember of his life Poland and documenting his immigrant experiences. He was born in Opatów (Apt) in 1916 and came to Canada in 1934.
Starting to paint
Over the years, as I continued to interview him, it occurred to me that someone whose memory was so visual should be painting what he remembered: whenever he would explain how to bridle a horse or how to make a shoe, he would make a quick sketch to show me what he meant. Finally, in 1990, after a decade of coaxing, he began to paint at the age of seventy-three.
With the paintings in hand, the interviewing intensified and the idea for a book that would integrate images and words emerged. But what kind of book would it be? As I began to compile the manuscript from the transcribed interviews and Mayer’s pithy writings, I decided that the text for They Called Me Mayer July would be entirely in Mayer’s voice and that its structure would arise from an internal logic, yet to be discovered, in the tangled network of stories and images that he had created.