Memoirs and Personal Connections

Abigail McCarthy wrote that “every memoir reminds us of the faraway and long ago, of loss and change, of persons and places beyond recall." But sometimes a memoir has the special quality of transcending both space and time, bridging cultures across history, inspiring readers toward the creation of a more loving, caring, and understanding world.

Such memoirs will fulfill the H&W mission of “Publishing with a Purpose™” – making a difference by sharing stories of exceptional friendship, love, and life experience. H&W will donate a portion of the proceeds it generates to organizations promoting friendship and multi-cultural relationships worldwide.

Before​ email or Facetime, when snail mail was the only way to communicate across oceans, the author's mother and her French pen pal created a family legacy. Their writings to one another, starting when they were teenagers and ending in their 80’s, preserve a precious time in the past, while inspiring generations of the future.

This is the inspiring opening of the book that author Judith Umlas wrote, based on the packet of letters given to her by her mother’s French pen pal - letters that were written by her mother, between the ages of 15 – 27. In this moving memoir, Umlas describes her reaction to the details of many of the letters and expresses her profound gratitude to her mother’s pen pal, who gave them to her as part of her own and her mother’s legacy.

Few grown women have the good fortune and the honor of getting to know their mothers in the way Judith gets to know hers, as a young girl from the age of 15 and on. She expresses her fascination at this sparkling, undiscovered (to her) person, as she learns of her mother’s deepest feelings, her passions and interests -- including boxing and baseball! Never had Judith gotten any inkling of these while her mother was alive, and she relates with poignancy and regret how the emotional impact of this.

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"What could be more beautiful than the story of an enduring friendship lasting close to 70 years, between two people who, when it began, didn't even know each other? This friendship is passed on from one generation to another, from mother to daughter, and centers around two women living on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Using her story-telling experience and great affection for her mother and her « French parents », Judith Umlas recounts a real adventure – nothing added, nothing embroidered. Through the writing of this book, Judy has accomplished a real, precious, and difficult piece of historical research in trying to reconstruct as much as possible about the 70 years of uninterrupted friendship. She has brought together and arranged everything that she collected in the USA and in France to tell the story of these two friends, inseparable until severe illness and death."

- LE RECTEUR ALAIN BOUVIER

Professeur associé à l'université de Sherbrooke
Co-directeur de la collection Profession cadre Service public

“This book is a thoroughly touching, and at many times humorous, tribute to a mother, a friendship, and a time past. In the form of letters written between her mother and French pen pal, the author received the unique inheritance of insight into a period of her parent’s life of which she would have otherwise been unaware. How rare it is for a grown daughter to be given a life-altering glimpse into the hopes, challenges, and thoughts on culture and current events of her mother’s formative years. In turn, she passes this gift, along with an appreciation for the French language and culture, on to the reader. The thoughtful inclusion of photos, a selection of letters, the “Cast of Characters”, and other supporting artwork adds a certain “je ne sais quoi” to an already artfully laid out story. Part personal memoir, part history lesson, this book is an entirely enjoyable as well as valuable exploration.”

- ANYA BERG

Adult Services Librarian
Valley Cottage Library

“I feel honored to know Judith in a whole new and deeply gratifying way, through her latest book, Soulmates & Strangers. As a sounding board and feedback giver to Judith as she developed and wrote ground-breaking business books, including The Power of Acknowledgment and Grateful Leadership, I thought I knew her well. However, Soulmates & Strangers gave me a whole new and intimate look into her life, her relationship with her mother, and other family members. The treasured letters from her mother to her French pen pal featured in the book are a priceless gift from a young girl to her future daughter and they provided Judith with an unprecedented glimpse into her mother's life, her hopes, and her dreams as a young woman. Told through the eyes of those who witnessed the challenges of the 20th century, including a World War, food shortages, and the pain of entire neighborhoods giving up their sons, the pen pal’s heartfelt letters provide insight into the similarities between cultures, across time and space.”

- E. LAVERNE JOHNSON

Founder, President & CEO
International Institute for Learning, Inc.

Legacy of letters: Relationship begins as pen pals, grows to family bond

“The letters were so packed with personal information and their loves and hates and the movie stars of the day,” Judith said, adding that she sobbed the first time she read some of the letters.

Soulmates & Strangers Book Launch

Watch the March 23, 2022 Soulmates & Strangers Book Launch at the Palisades Free Library, in Palisades, N.Y. The event was hosted by Emly Nevill, Adult Services Librarian, and led by author Judith Umlas.

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"My children and grandchildren will get to know my grandmother and the incredible woman she was."

-Stefanie Armstrong
Daughter of Judith Umlas
Author of Soulmates & Strangers

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