Sunday, January 8, 2017

Getting serious about writing ORNERY PEOPLE

For decades, since the early 1960s, I have gotten far along on a project and had to drop it for another then at some later time pick up the earlier one and work myself back into control of it. Now I have done everything I set out to do plus a good deal more that, along the way, I saw had to be done. I still, at some indeterminate time in the next weeks or months, will have to drop everything to proof the 3rd Norton Critical Edition of MOBY-DICK. But at 81 I have at last begun thinking hard about shaping ORNERY PEOPLE: WHO THE DEPRESSION OKIES WERE or ORNERY PEOPLE: WHO WERE THE DEPRESSION OKIES? or some slightly variant subtitle. It's a very personal book with me as representative Okie--showing the sort of history you might get from any mainly white Okie whose family got to Indian Territory in the 1800s or even, like the Costners, got into Oklahoma Territory just before statehood. Scratch a Leflore County Okie and get a similar story. (Neighbors out north of Wister were Heflins, for example, some generations away from the actor and the senator and the late great Melville scholar, Wilson Heflin, for whose dust jacket I composed my best blurb.) I had no idea that I would find words spoken and written by remote ancestors and that I would discover many stunning stories: Who Would Have Thought That Such a Thing Could Happen! And do the stories tell anything about us who are living still?  I started totally ignorant and did a lot of digging. I am, after all, a scholar, and recently I have used newspaper databases and other resources that others would not always have access to or skills at using. My job will be to tell the stories when they are short enough and describe the archival evidence when it is enormous, as it is in the case of the Cokers of Arkansas. I have 5 or 6 linear feet of documents now, in envelopes with different family names on them (many of them my paternal names, of course, not of interest to my Mississippi cousins). I have copies of Cousin Lois Gore's research (there's a rich inch-thick file of information, much of it on the Tindalls) and copies of my dear late Cousin Ben's Tindall files (there's half an inch) and some revealing State of South Carolina Tindall files I bought recently. I have computer files with hundreds of documents on different ancestors, right now 57.5 megabytes on our Knox family (with some new DNA information which flat out corrects a cautious conclusion about the Steele Creek family made by our resourceful Cousin Peggy!), 85.5 on our Costners, 136 MB on the Dellingers, 771 BM on the Bells. The Bell file is so big because, among other things, I found a great deal about cousins who came to California in the Gold Rush days and afterwards and then made contact with living cousins who had documents and photographs. I am arranging that Robbie and Guy get my computer files. They would not want the Parker side of the research, but one of my grandchildren might want the whole thing plus the computer files--one big flash drive for the whole thing nowadays? Anyhow, I am for the first time able to focus on shaping the book so that it is entertaining as well as enlightening. My intention is to keep double cousins such as Bonnie McMullan and Cathy Stone and James Keith Head up a night or two reading. With luck I will not have to drop the project in the next week or two, when I am at the shaping phase. But I can drop it and pick it up if I have to, one last time. I am trying now to make enough notes that I can pick it up without much loss of time and thought. This is how I will avoid all political news for the indefinite future.

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