Homework

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Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life. ~ Lawrence Kasdan

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Secretarial Musings

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I often wonder what kind of employee or boss Emmett was?

Was he considerate and competent? Quiet and hardworking?

A lunch-stealing backstabbing jerk, perhaps?

An excellent source of information on Emmett-as-colleague would be the office records — a desk calendar, case files, or even an office journal. I don’t doubt that Emmett kept records such as these himself. Unfortunately, Emmett’s office records do not exist anymore.

But what if one of his secretaries kept those records?

And what if they exist?

Tracking down office secretaries were with not much to go on was a real challenge — but guess what? I’ve identified five secretaries who either worked with Emmett directly, or as part of Emmett’s law practice!

Here’s the list of secretaries who worked with Emmett while he was a lawyer, district attorney, state’s attorney, and U.S. Congressman:

Bertha A (Bert) Murphy — 1905-08 — Maxwell & Wilson, Clerk for Asst. U.S. Attorney

Minnie Kehoe — 1906-1908 — Kehoe & Smithwick

Nellie Mills — 1914-1915 — Stenographer at the San Carlos Hotel (Emmett lived there on and off between 1914-1915 when Congress was out of session, et cetera)

Jefferson Davis Stephens — 1913-1917 — U.S. Congress

Hilda Dahlstrom Beall — 1910-1914 — Kehoe & Wilson; U.S. Congress (temporary)

Alas, this is not yet a complete list: I haven’t yet identified the secretary for Judge Daniel J. Jones (Emmett was Jones’ clerk in 1902), the secretary for Cephas’ office (Emmett was a junior partner at Wilson & Wilson between 1904 and 1905), or the secretary for Van Sant and Wilson (1905-1906).

It is possible that Emmett might have been the secretary for Jones’ or Cephas’ law offices while he was just starting out, but I don’t think so.

Nicholas Van Sant. Source: Ancestry.com

I know Emmett did clerical work for Judge Jones, but it wasn’t consistent, and Emmett didn’t know shorthand.  He had little experience as a law clerk, and Judge Jones has a busy and thriving practice in Washington County, Florida. In fact, it was after a six-month stint at Jones’ office that Emmett was sent to Pensacola to take stenography courses at Meux’s Business College.

And while Cephas loved and supported his brother, he was not fool enough to trust his established law firm records to a younger sibling with an inconsistent work and academic record, who was just starting out.

I’ll introduce the secretaries over the next several posts.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to dig around for information on who may have been the secretaries for Judge Jones and Cephas Wilson between 1900 and 1905. I have a few leads on the Van Sant & Wilson secretary that I want to explore. (Spoiler Alert: One of the secretaries DID keep a journal! And yeah — I have a copy of it!)

A Galaxy of Stars

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Who Was Who in Florida, by Henry S. Marks, 1973, published by The Strode Publishers, Huntsville, Alabama.

I found this book on Alibris, a book reseller website. I like to check back for obscure Florida texts and anything that has Emmett’s name listed. This one’s been out of print for awhile.

Poor unloved thing. Who trashes books?

It was purged from the Dickinson Memorial Library in Orange City, Florida. It was cheap. Oh well. Some one else’s trash, as the old saying goes….

Charlton W. Tebeau, author of A History of Florida who wrote the foreword for this book, asked:

“Who are Florida’s notables who have left their marks on the state’s history? What did they do to earn a place in such a galaxy of stars?” (Foreword)

Tebeau admitted that there were countless others who probably should have been included in the book, and Marks’ book was not intended to be a complete work. The biographies are brief, mostly no more than six or seven lines. (Some biographies are longer; for example, Henry Flagler’s covers an entire page). References such as Marks’ book are often, at best, snapshots of those deserving of recognition at that particular place and time.

But it is interested to see who is listed and who is not, through the lens of Emmett Wilson’s research.

Who’s In:

  • Robert Anderson (he delivered Emmett’s Elk Club eulogy) p. 20
  • William Henry Brockenbrough, p. 46 (Emmett’s great-grandfather)
  • N.P. Broward, p. 47
  • N.P. Bryan, p. 50 (Bryan’s secretary helped Emmett in D.C. after his first medical crisis)
  • Frank Clark, p. 66 (Advised Emmett when he was in D.C., and after his first medical crisis)
  • Duncan Fletcher, p. 102 (A friend of Emmett’s father)
  • Albert Gilchrist, p.111 (Emmett and Cephas were on friendly terms with him)
  • Walter Kehoe, p. 147
  • William Bailey Lamar, p. 152 (Emmett’s best friend, Paul Carter, was his private secretary)
  • B.S. Liddon, p. 163 (Cephas’ law partner)
  • Scott Loftin, p. 164 (A law colleague of Emmett’s)
  • Augustus E. Maxwell and Evelyn Croom Maxwell, p. 175 (Emmett’s grandfather and uncle)
  • Dannite Mays, p. 176 (Emmett defeated Mays in 1912 for the Third Congressional seat)
  • John and W.H. Milton, p. 186
  • John H. Smithwick, p. 230
  • John Stokes, p. 235 (unsuccessfully challenged Emmett for his second congressional term in 1914)

And, of course, Emmett, on page 264:

One error stands out: “….failed of reelection.” No. The state Democratic party told Emmett he was no longer useful, and forced his resignation. His name was not on the ballot for a third term.

What’s interesting are the names of men and women I’ve discovered via Emmett’s research, who were important in state politics and journalism during the early 1900s, who were not included in the book:

I think it is ironic given the animus that Frank Mayes, Chipley Jones, and certainly Cephas had for Emmett, especially towards the end of his life, that their names were not selected for inclusion in this reference.

I don’t doubt for a minute this would eat at Frank Mayes and Chipley Jones, if they had any way of knowing Emmett got in, and they didn’t.

Heh, heh.

For the Living

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A little warped because the program was in my coat pocket. Next to my heart.

Funerals and memorial services are for the living. I understand that now.

The ritual gives survivors and loved ones comfort, and closure, if that’s ever possible. Sometimes it takes years to move on after the death of a loved one. And if there isn’t a sense of closure, then you can’t feel at peace; the sorrow will gnaw at you, make your feel guilty, perhaps, fill you with regret at words left unsaid, deeds undone.

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed is a beautiful service at my parish that I started paying attention to — and attending — after I found Emmett Wilson four years ago. Back then, November 2013, I was caught up in picking apart Emmett’s last days on Earth, and his funeral. I’d only recently discovered not only did we share an alcoholic kinship, but also we were cousins.

Even though he lived and died almost 100 years ago, I felt (and still feel) connected, and a healthy need to honor and acknowledge his life and his struggles, and to give myself some kind of emotional closure, which is nice, considering I never attended Emmett’s funeral.

I included Emmett’s name in our parish’s program, which first lists the names of our parish’s deceased in the past year, then lists the names of our beloved whom we wish to remember during the service.

My dear friend Nancy didn’t have a funeral. She didn’t want one. But her family and loved ones will gather sometime over the next few months to honor her memory, in a way she’d appreciate — her cousin is establishing a garden in her honor.

Meanwhile, attending this service was comforting. It was beautiful; Gabriel Faure’s Requiem was sung in Latin.

In paradisum, which is where I like to think Nancy and Emmett are at this moment.

The entire Requiem is beautiful, but the best part is In paradisum, which is moving and poignant, and where I like to think Nancy and Emmett are at this moment. You can hear it at this link, if you haven’t experienced it before. It’s worth it.

May the choir of angels receive thee, and with Lazarus, once a beggar, mayest thou have eternal rest.

 

 

 

I bit off more than I can chew

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The hideous animated thing my kids love to put out every Halloween. I keep it in a bin until October 31. It gets packed up again on November 1.

Once again, it’s Halloween. This is my favorite time of year.

And once again, I’ve become burned out.

This time, it isn’t about Emmett and the research. It’s because I over-volunteered myself on several projects. And you know what? I saw this train wreck coming wayyy in advance. I could have stopped it.

But I’ve come to recognize in recovery that even with almost 11 years of sobriety, I’m not really 100 percent sober. I still have drinking thinking.

In other words, I’ve substituted being busy — workaholism — for alcoholism. The workaholism is a placeholder for my lack of honesty with myself, and my fellows. I’m throwing myself into a flurry of activity and busyness because I’m avoiding facing something that needs doing.

And that’s not good. The placeholder can easily segue into drinking, if I’m not careful. It happened once before.

Granted, here in D.C., being a workaholic is not a vice. In fact, you get plaudits for nearly driving yourself insane with productivity. But for this alcoholic, the need to avoid doing the hard work, to find the easy way out/around rethinking things or relearning things is to procrastinate by doing something else.

I’ve figured out that something else is a need to feel achievement.

I don’t always feel like I achieve much with Emmett’s book, either. I am making progress, yes, but I’m a long way from a publication date, and so after four-plus-years of shuffling papers and organizing myself, I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished much.

I turned to something that would give me a sense of gratification and accomplishment: I volunteered to teach catechism to 7th graders at my parish Sunday school once a week.

For the past three years, I’ve taught that one class. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had a great bunch of kids to work with. Most participate in the lessons and activities without complaint, and I have a good rapport with both the parents and the school of religion staff. I’ve enjoyed it, and I’ve gotten a lot out of it — so much so that in 2016, I was named Catechist of the Year, an unexpected and wonderful honor.

Catechist of the Year, 2016. That cold breeze you just felt was Hell freezing over.

Obviously, this gave me a great sense of accomplishment. The downside of recognition, though, can be a loss of humility, if one isn’t careful.

The recognition was sweet, and psychologically intoxicating.

Of course, I wanted more.

So, this past summer, when the Director of Religious Education asked if any of the catechists would consider teaching a second class — a new high school program — I raised my hand.

Like the alcoholic that I am, I thought that perhaps more volunteering would mean more accomplishment, more plaudits. It would fill the hole in my soul where I felt I wasn’t making progress with Emmett’s book. It would be a useful placeholder.

Right?

Wrong.

The problem isn’t the second class; the problem is that the teacher is now overwhelmed trying to save a pilot class that was too small to run in the first place (less than four students enrolled; and now only one or two are showing up). The DRE knew it, and decided to run the class anyway, despite advice to the contrary. She said I’d be great, the students would love me. And because I enjoy a challenge, and bought into that flattery, I jumped right in.

Three months later, it is foundering. There’s only one student, and today, I’m putting too much time and energy into trying to save an unviable situation, which is not my situation to solve.  I’m only a volunteer, and it has taken over my days.

Rather, I’ve let it take over my days.

I have to have an honest conversation with the DRE that this class/situation isn’t working, and why. Something inside of me resists, because I may lose the chance to win that damn recognition this year. She may not think as highly of me anymore.

I’ve forgotten one of the main sayings in our program: What someone else thinks of me is none of my business.

And damn it, I don’t volunteer because of flattery. But somewhere in the past six months, I’ve forgotten that, and used the privilege of being of service into something else, that makes me feel sick, and I’m near burnout over it.

I’ve lost humility and gratitude.

And the end result is that I am getting sick about it.

Today, I’ll have an honest talk with my DRE, and I will offer several suggestions for success. The DRE will need to resolve this problem, because it is hers to manage.

Today, I’ll work back towards resolving the central issue behind all of this distracting, over-volunteering crap, which is to focus back on Emmett’s research in a meaningful way.

Today, I’ll call my sponsor and get to more meetings, because that’s how I stay grounded.

And, hopefully, I’ll remember this lesson going forward.

 

Judging Favorably

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Today, I learned about the Judaic concept of “dan l’kaf zichud,” or, about the obligation to judge others favorably.

In a nutshell, it is about giving someone the benefit of the doubt, not assuming a value judgment immediately about anything and everything. Given all the crap that goes on in the news, and on different social media platforms, and let’s face it — in all of our everyday interactions with people, no matter what we are doing — it can be hard not to automatically assign a value.

Even with Emmett Wilson’s research, I find myself judging him, his actions, his behavior 100 years after the fact. That’s problematic; it reveals that I don’t automatically look at him and his actions objectively, as a true social scientist should.

Maybe it is because I’ve gotten close to him, maybe it is because as a fellow alcoholic, I understand the warped thinking that comes with our disease.  Although I believe I have an accurate understanding of him after four years of studying his life, I didn’t know the man personally. I wish I did.

I don’t always think to give others (living and/or dead 100 years) the benefit of the doubt. But I admit that always assuming the worst of someone, or something, poisons one’s interpretation of information. Or of the person. And then, we miss out on the gift that other person, or that different information, can bring to us.

And that can be unfortunate.

This was an important and valuable lesson today.

(A tip of the hat to Jake Tapper for inspiring me to learn more about this important concept.)