Only a few people in the United States (I think the number might be 2) hold a degree in library science AND have a genealogy certificate. I spent my morning with one of these experts today.
There are details about my grandfather's life that I need to confirm. One of the possibilities is mind-boggling and amazing, but unlikely. One of the others is downright scary. It's kind of the 11th hour. I've known that I need to nail down these pieces for some time now. I have to finish this book, ideally by the end of the year, so I'm running out of time. I won't to go to print without diligently completing my research.
People have memories. I've relied on those memories to construct a story, a story that's been painful to bear at times, but that has redefined my entire life. But I'm making a public statement in the form of a book and I can't do that without knowing for sure that every stone has been turned over. But I feel so afraid.
A few summers ago I was in Mississippi and I was learning things about my grandfather. Even though he'd been dead for 38 years he was still a volatile figure. People (both black and white) still loved or hated him.
How can you hate someone whose been dead for 38 years? There were people who couldn't wait to come out of the woodwork to share their stories about what a horrible man he was. I was devastated. Looking back I don't know why. Nobody is perfect. But somehow I had let myself believe that his excellence would rub off on me, that he would shine bright from the beyond and that I'd be able to feel his rays warming me when I needed him most.
When people shared those negative things about him two years ago I was shattered. I remember being in Greenwood and having to remind myself to walk, to exhale, because all I wanted to do was curl up in a dusty cotton field and waste away. My tongue felt heavy on the rough of my mouth, my palms were sweaty, lips shaking. I'd worked so hard to construct a hero and he was being torn down, in part, because of my own research.
I'm kind of in that place again, only in some ways it's worse. Now I'm not just up against people's memories, but facts. It's a good thing. I have an incredibly talented and generous woman helping me. But I'm still afraid.