Drema Hall Berkheimer

This is a shout out to any of you who write, maybe a little, scribbling in a notebook or you tap out some thoughts on your screen.  You have a secret hope of producing a book or publishing short stories. Maybe you think you are too old, spent too much time on the rest of life, oh, you know, raising a family, working, volunteering, studying: living.

Well, you’re not too old and it’s not too late.

Drema Hall Berkheimer would be 80 years old this month.  

I first met Drema on paper. I was on the committee to read the applications for CAMP, that is, Community and Mentorship Program, a Writer’s Garret program that ran for many years.

I was tasked, with others, to read and evaluate the applications and decide Yea or Nay, and, if Yea, then which of the two groups to place them. The Artist level was for those new to writing and the Professional level was for experienced and more polished writers.

After I read Drema’s application and writing sample, I looked to her resume to see if she had an MFA in Creative Writing or some similar credential. Nope. The only writing experience our Drema had was business writing for her job. 

The sample of writing attached to her application was polished, charming, at turns hilarious and touching. There was no doubt that Drema belonged in the Professional level of CAMP.

She joined the WG after she retired. Her hope was to have a small batch of stories for her children and grandchildren so they could  know something of their family history. Drema grew up in WW II America in Appalachia West Virginia. Her father was killed in a coal mine when she was an infant, so her mother took the children and moved back into her parents’ home. Drema’s mother was one of the first Rosie the Riveters. With her Mom off doing her bit to win the war Grandma and Grandpa were left with the challenge and delight of raising a charming and rascally little girl.

Running on Red Dog Road was the result of Drema’s little dream to have some stories to pass on to her descendants. I’ll share some of the endorsements and enthusiasms for her book.

Time and again I have been carried away by these stories, by the observations of a very shrewd little girl of her elders, both wise and foolish. But don’t let the sly humor fool you. Like the West Virginia coal country she writes about so affectionately there is always something going on here just beneath the surface, something grave, firmly rooted, even eternal…

RRDR is an American treasure. Echoes of Mark Twain resonate in Ms. Berkheimer’s tales of life in West Virginia….

The voice is masterful. Berkheimer layers into a perceptive child narrator and understated love of her family, a sassy streak that dodges consequences and a precocious questioning of … society…

Drema’s talent was not only writing memoir. She was quite the poet.  Here’s a sampling.

Some men

He’s rawboned and roughsawn

Yet he has a way about him

That makes you think he’s

Thoroughbred bred from blooded 

Stock but if you told him that

He would never believe you

Though it’s the gospel truth

Grace sets on his shoulders

Like a purple mantle

He’s courtly as gentry

Come to meet the king

Noblesse oblige yes m’am

He says how’do and puts his

  Hand across his waist

And bows and you would think

He was to the manor born

That’s what some men are like 

Back home from where I come from

How about one more?

That boy

That boy come swarping along

Like he’s somebody’s birthday prize

Yellow headed and peach fuzzed

Still pink around the gills

My eyes ache from the dazzle

While his eyes glue to Delvina

Ringing and twisting by but she

Don’t pay him no mind

It’s me and him in Snyder’s barn

An owl stirring

Something whirred

Lace spiderwebs trail off my

Head like a wedding veil as

We laid down on moldy hay oh

Lord love a sinner I’m going to hell

I do not care I do not i

Gulp his smell into my lungs

Hold it like weed and get high

As a kite on that boy who’s 

Wishing I was Delvina

Drema is not here to celebrate her 80th birthday with us, but, oh what a legacy she left. Happy Birthday, my friend.