How could a skinny “border brat” raised in a tiny one-store town on the U.S.-Canada border in the depths of the Great Depression ever become a writer? No money for college, and, at 15, a case of pneumonia that kept her home from school for a year to look after her baby brother?
But when you’re born of an Irish beauty of a mother who sent her five kids upstairs to sleep every night to the sound of her clicking away at her Remington typewriter, writing scripts for the then infant CBC radio — and to watch the Governor General of Canada pin the Order of Canada on her elegant gown for her contribution of 20 fine books of Young Adult literature, how could anyone not become a writer?
Life goes on. I marry, live in New York in the 1960s, and when my visiting writer mom and I see the sea of counterculture hippies filling Greenwich Village’s streets, we write a book. I make up for missing college by researching and writing the history of human clothing, from the naked sculpture of the Venus of Willendorf to the bell-bottoms and stringy long hair of the hippies. We co-author “Figleafing Through History” and the rest, as they say, is history.
I’d been known as a kid as a scaredy-cat, but my life as author of eight books of journalistic nonfiction were adventuresome beyond anything I’d dreamed of — an aviation disaster, the exclusive story of Princess Diana’s death, and the light-hearted National Geographic photo of Moira and Margrit shiny black in the mudbaths of Calistoga in the May 1979 Geographic story on Napa Valley; it’s still a collector’s item.
I close, though, with an insight into the risk and violence that can also hit a writer, her child — or anyone: the night of Oct. 29, 1971 in San Francisco, as I sat in bed reading a book on the eve of the birth of my daughter, a cadre of Iranian UC Berkeley students threw a plastic bomb into the Iranian consulate across the street, and blew me out of my home.
My 5-year-old son unscathed, I spent the night at a neighbor’s writing my very first piece of journalism: a brief essay on the horror of this night in peaceful Presidio Heights; the night I discovered terrorism — and would never shy away from tough, honest reportage for the rest of my writing life.
My late beloved husband Dr. Alvin Lee Block had loved my being a writer, and would welcome my being back in the saddle again. It feels good.
Editor’s note: Moira Johnston Block, a Napa-based journalist and key founder of Friends of The Napa River, is working on a memoir of her colorful life. She and California State Librarian Greg Lucas will present a talk on the creative process of writing powerful nonfiction and the process by which libraries support the work of authors at the Napa County Library main branch at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 30 in the community meeting room. Napa County Library Director Danis Kreimeier will moderate.