M/clear
43°
M/clear
Hi 60° | Lo 42°

Jaffrey

Memoir recounts journey to U.S.

Former Jaffrey woman to talk about book

  • Irene M. Miller, a former Jaffrey resident, discusses her latest book "Walk on Wings" and plays the cello at her home in Harrisville on Tuesday afternoon.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Irene M. Miller, a former Jaffrey resident, discusses her latest book "Walk on Wings" and plays the cello at her home in Harrisville on Tuesday afternoon.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Irene M. Miller, a former Jaffrey resident, discusses her latest book "Walk on Wings" and plays the cello at her home in Harrisville on Tuesday afternoon.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Irene M. Miller, a former Jaffrey resident, discusses her latest book "Walk on Wings" and plays the cello at her home in Harrisville on Tuesday afternoon.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Irene M. Miller, a former Jaffrey resident, discusses her latest book "Walk on Wings" and plays the cello at her home in Harrisville on Tuesday afternoon.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Irene M. Miller, a former Jaffrey resident, discusses her latest book "Walk on Wings" and plays the cello at her home in Harrisville on Tuesday afternoon.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Irene M. Miller, a former Jaffrey resident, discusses her latest book "Walk on Wings" and plays the cello at her home in Harrisville on Tuesday afternoon.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Irene M. Miller, a former Jaffrey resident, discusses her latest book "Walk on Wings" and plays the cello at her home in Harrisville on Tuesday afternoon.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Irene M. Miller, a former Jaffrey resident, discusses her latest book "Walk on Wings" and plays the cello at her home in Harrisville on Tuesday afternoon.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Irene M. Miller, a former Jaffrey resident, discusses her latest book "Walk on Wings" and plays the cello at her home in Harrisville on Tuesday afternoon.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Irene M. Miller, a former Jaffrey resident, discusses her latest book "Walk on Wings" and plays the cello at her home in Harrisville on Tuesday afternoon.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Irene M. Miller, a former Jaffrey resident, discusses her latest book "Walk on Wings" and plays the cello at her home in Harrisville on Tuesday afternoon.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Irene M. Miller, a former Jaffrey resident, discusses her latest book "Walk on Wings" and plays the cello at her home in Harrisville on Tuesday afternoon.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Irene M. Miller, a former Jaffrey resident, discusses her latest book "Walk on Wings" and plays the cello at her home in Harrisville on Tuesday afternoon.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Irene M. Miller, a former Jaffrey resident, discusses her latest book "Walk on Wings" and plays the cello at her home in Harrisville on Tuesday afternoon.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

HARRISVILLE — At just 16 years old, Irene M. Miller made the solo journey to America, where she sought freedom and new opportunities to further her education outside of war-torn Europe. Born in Berlin in the late 1930s, Miller grew up behind the Iron Curtain, where her family endured great hardships and witnessed political persecution on a daily basis.

“When you face death and are surrounded by war, you don’t quiver over the little things much,” Miller said in an interview at her home in Harrisville on Tuesday. “At the age of 16, I wasn’t afraid of anything.”

In her 2013 memoir “Walk on Wings,” Miller — who lived in Jaffrey for nearly 20 years before moving to Harrisville in the mid-2000s — shares scenes from throughout her life, including her childhood in East Germany, her family’s escape to West Berlin and her time practicing medicine in the U.S., China and Uganda as an adult. Miller will talk about the book at the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough on Saturday at 11 a.m.

Having documented her day-to-day experiences in America in letters home to family since the age of 16, Miller said writing has been a constant in her life.

In the book’s opening pages, Miller discusses how she caught a glimpse of freedom when her family escaped East Germany and Russian persecution to find refuge in West Berlin in 1949. But Miller writes that her western schoolmates hated people from East Germany, ridiculing their regional accent and calling them stupid.

When her father, a doctor on the Russian front, was away during the Second World War , Miller recalled how her mother remained incredibly strong. But when he returned, she said her parents’ love began to unravel, with her mother attempting suicide. “She was depleted of her love, and under those circumstances going to America was a wonderful solution for me,” Miller said Tuesday, noting she took the journey alone.

Growing up in East Germany, Miller said she realized how important medicine and medical knowledge is to a country’s people. One meal a day was common for grade school children, who would sometimes faint in school and be sent home. Medicine and antibiotics for the sick were slim to none, she said.

Miller came to America as a visitor, but in order to stay she knew she needed a permanent visa. Unable to get into medical school right away, Miller decided to pursue a scholarship in music, relying on the strength of her cello playing. And it worked.

“I played in orchestras, eventually got married and raised three children,” Miller said. But in those years, she never forgot about her dream to obtain her medical license and to help those in need.

In her 40s, Miller was accepted into the physician assistant program at Hahnemann University in Philadelphia. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she was accepted into Yale University’s prestigious surgical residency program. After that, she said, “It really made life easier. Everywhere I applied, I got a job.”

Among those places was the Jaffrey Clinic, where Miller worked for Drs. Lisa and Ross Ramey for two years doing what she loves most: practicing family medicine as a physician assistant. But tragically, her time with the Rameys was cut short. Just three days after Miller returned from a vacation in China, where she was practicing medicine, she sustained a cerebral hemorrhage, which left her in a comma for a month and unable to speak.

For Miller the hemorrhage could have ended her career in medicine. “But my philosophy in life has always been you don’t let something stop you; when you lose something, you must look elsewhere,” she said.

Prior to her retirement, Miller worked for the U.S. State Department as a medical officer for Uganda and spent two years practicing medicine there. But no matter where her profession has taken her, Miller has long called the Monadnock region home.

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.

There are no comments yet. Be the first!
Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.