Feb. 19—MIDDLEPORT — Jean Lichtenthal wrote her first piece of literature in 2017, a children's book about a horse that lost its way in a cornfield. The unknown story behind "Bridget, the Little Lost Filly" is that Bridget's plight was derived from Lichtenthal's real-life experience getting lost in a cornfield when she was a child.
Lichtenthal, 78, says writing helps keep her mind sharp. That's something she values greatly since being diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer's disease five years ago.
"Writing is helping me a lot to keep my memory a little bit better that it would, I think, if I wasn't writing," she said. "I feel pretty confident. Things are happening slowly, but I feel good about it."
"I'm proud of it (having Alzheimer's) too, because I want to inspire people who have mental difficulties not to give up on life."
Lichtenthal writes under her maiden name, Jean Condren, to keep the surname name in play since her brother, James "Duke" Condren, died in a car accident.
The book she's working on now is titled "Kim the Horse Nurse" and the main character, a little girl, is based on her neighbor who once gave a horse some medicine.
"She inspired me to put that in the story," Lichtenthal said. "I've done several things like that with horses, (too), so I've put them all in this little girl's repertoire."
Becoming a published writer at the age of 75 puts Lichtenthal at a curious crossroads. She said she starts writing as soon as she has a bit of time each day and sometimes will write well into the night. She joked that the COVID-19 pandemic has given her the chance to write her latest story simply because there's nothing else to do. However, she is facing challenges.
"It takes a long time; it took about a year for each book," she said. "But I've become a little less obsessive, because I fell and broke my thumb. My right hand, of course. I've been less motivated (to write), because it's rather painful."
A retired art teacher, Lichtenthal has master's degrees in art education and theology. She's drawing on knowledge in both fields to create her works.
Of Kim the horse nurse, Lichtenthal said, "She's mad at God. (And) that's life experience, because I was, when our barn burnt down when I was kid and all the horses were killed."
Lichtenthal illustrates her own stories, first drawing, and then painting, the characters.
She's proud to say that she's received letters from children who said her books got them more motivated to read. That's exactly what she aimed to do.
"I'm going for the Grandma Moses of children's books. ... All my life I've been interested in writing," Lichtenthal said. "When I was little I used to do cartoons and write stories. I've always been making stories up and writing."
Lichtenthal's prior titles are "Bridget, the Little Lost Filly," "The Happy Horse Show" and "The Land of Horse Laughs." They can all be found at Amazon.com.