Sunday, August 4, 2019
The End is in Sight . . . Finally!
It's taken me nearly two months—and even then, I can't say I've reached the end. But I've promised myself a coffee date with my book and faithfully kept that date for, well, almost all of those days. Some days, reading just takes longer.
The two months started in early June when, prompted by a suggestion from reader Lisa, who had recommended a book which mentioned some of my ancestors, I actually followed through, ordered the journal and finally started reading. Now, practically two months later, I am within twenty pages of the final sentence in the Reconstruction-era journals of one Emmala Reed of Anderson, South Carolina, A Faithful Heart.
Don't think those twenty pages will breeze by quickly. As Lisa had mentioned to me in conversation over this book, the diarist's entries are hard to read. Emmala Reed wrote in spurts, dashing out phrases about her subject matter, rather than complete sentences. While many of us may speak in that fashion in everyday conversations, having to construct meaning from those phrases, when reading them absent of inflection or pauses, can be confusing; which phrase signifies the end of one thought versus the beginning of the next?
In addition to that unexpected challenge, the editor of the journals, recently-retired history instructor at Coastal Carolina University Robert T. Oliver, provided ample guidance in interpreting not only the steady supply of references to names and incidents, but additional resources for further information through the footnotes on almost every page. Some of the pages were taken up nearly halfway by the footnotes. While I love the many references—you can be sure they are adding to my future reading list—I found myself jumping back and forth between Emmala Reed's journal entries and the footnotes, trying to align the names with the notes.
I might, on some days, sit at my coffee spot for a solid hour of reading, yet barely cover a small section of the book. A twenty page day was a rare event. I finally had to mark the last page with a red flag to give me incentive to keep pushing on.
The constant theme of the journals—basically Emmala Reed's yearlong harangue over her former beau and his abrupt end to their relationship—began to wear on me, as well. It wasn't exactly a gracefully-completed story arc, with any crescendo to a climax, followed by a satisfactory denouement, just the continual drip of commentary about how that unfortunate resolution was immovably a part of her future.
While that theme did wear on me, the pages of her journal treated me to insight on the day to day life of people who turned out to be my relatives—everyone from my third great-grandfather Ozey Broyles, to his disappointment of a son Robert (who incidentally was older brother to my direct line ancestor), to other residents of the town whose names I recognized from my very extended family tree as distant cousins. Robert Oliver's footnotes filled me in on the mesh of relationships and the resources he used to track down further information on each one of those individuals.
Those editorially-provided resources, incidentally, now add to my growing reading list, showing me that it is indeed possible to learn about one's ancestors by immersion in written material about a town, or about a segment of society—like Confederate soldiers from South Carolina, or Reconstruction-era state legislators, or early women of the post-Civil War South. Some of these books I've already purchased and they are awaiting their turn on that growing pile of reading to do; others are, thankfully, available online as public domain territory, saving me a few pennies on that reading budget.
It will take me one more coffee date with Emmala's journals to safely say I've completed the journey. I can't say I've learned much about my second great-grandfather, the younger brother of the jilting Robert Broyles, other than his few cameo appearances as a rather pleasant incidental to the social occasions of that town's history, but I get the distinct impression that the Broyles family as a whole was, in the end, seen through a fairly bitter lens. Of course, I'd love to delve further into whatever behind-the-scenes issues contributed to the rift between the two families—who happened to be relatives, incidentally—and perhaps those reasons will be uncovered by the other recommended resources. But then I need to balance my need to know with a healthy respect for time used versus knowledge to be gleaned by such an investment.
Still, it was interesting to gain a glimpse of the day-to-day life of these relatives, both distant and direct, through the chance rescuing of this set of journals from a garage sale. For me, the time invested in those book-and-coffee getaways was well worth the effort, though I can't say the same for anyone not personally related to the people in the book, other than for curiosity regarding the place or time period.