that which is most familiar

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“We seek out what is familiar and comfortable emotionally, even though what is familiar and comfortable may not be healthy.” — Carolyn Hax, The Washington Post, June 2018

Everyone does this, alcoholic or not.

“Fixing” Emmett’s unhealthy drinking habit would have been possible if he’d had help with a competent therapist, and, if he’d been willing to hear the truth about his disease (and not just what he’d want to hear about it). Physicians and therapists back in Emmett’s day (psychiatrists were called ‘alienists’, which probably didn’t help further the notion that talking to a therapist was socially acceptable — it’s still an uncomfortable notion even in the enlightened 21st century) understood alcoholism about as much as modern physicians and therapists do.

Alcoholics in Emmett’s day were considered outcasts, both mentally and morally deficit. The idea that alcoholism was a disease, like diabetes, was new in the early 20th century. Source: Psychology Today

True, we have more pharmaceuticals available today to address the symptoms, but no one knows the cure to alcohol addiction, other than complete abstinence.

Two questions that keep coming back about Emmett, five years into the research: Did he realize he had a drinking problem? and, Did Emmett want to stop drinking?

Re the first question: He definitely realized there was a problem as of December, 1914. But it wasn’t rheumatism, as his PR posse informed the press:

Rheumatism. Really? Source: Ocala Banner, Dec 22, 1914.

Re the second question: Emmett might have liked drinking, liked the taste of alcohol. Perhaps he didn’t want to stop drinking, but I’m sure he wanted to stop being an alcoholic. Nobody wants that.

The only way I’d really know is to ask Emmett directly, which, of course, can’t happen. There’s his elusive scrapbooks or journals to consult (if I ever find them), but still, even with that information, I’d probably not have the whole understanding about what Emmett.

One thing I do have is a copy of his will, in Emmett’s own words, complete with his typos and edits. From that, we can tell that above all else, Emmett had integrity, and was trying to do the next right thing, and, that Emmett knew he was a hopeless case — well, maybe not hopeless. But by June 1917, I’m sure Emmett knew he didn’t have long.

Emmett’s will, as it appears in the Florida probate documents. Filed June 1, 1918 by his brother, Cephas Love Wilson, executor. He left the bulk of his estate to Jennie Jenkins Kehoe, who was, essentially, a surrogate mother to Emmett. Source: Ancestry.com

“We seek out what is familiar and comfortable emotionally, even though what is familiar and comfortable may not be healthy.”

To Emmett: Booze was comfortable, living with the Kehoes (instead of his own family) was comfortable, being a loner was comfortable, being a workaholic was comfortable, remaining unattached was comfortable. With most people, none of these ‘comforts’ would be considered negatives unless taken to excess, and with Emmett, all of these were taken to excess, particularly the alcohol.

I wish I knew what it was Emmett was trying to soothe with these different kinds of comforts.

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On to the Second Draft

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The review of the first draft is finished.

Complete with notes to self, on the text, on hot pink Post-Its, and note cards.

It’s a five-chapter mess, not counting the bibliography and notes section.

It is a relief to have gotten through a complete first draft. But, no lie, the real work begins with the second draft.

The good news is that I have enough information, but about a third of it needs to be put somewhere else and massaged into shape.

The bad news is that this is the first rough draft, and frankly, it looks like it.

And sometimes, the problem with the text simply comes down a need for clarification.

I’m not sure when I’ll have a final draft in hand. I wish I knew, but for now, I’m good with not knowing. As my friend Nancy used to tell me, the book is meant to be; it is a matter of time. It will come together when it is the time is right.

I tell my students that writing is both a journey and a process:

  • Much of what and how you write is about self-discovery, and finding out where you need to change. I noticed in the review of the draft that I am uncomfortable talking about Emmett’s alcoholic behavior. The writing feels stiff and awkward; as if I’m trying to save face for him — when the reality is that writing about the discomfort, shame, and embarrassment of his drinking misbehavior closely resembles my drinking behavior. Even though I’m almost 10 years sober, I’m troubled thinking about my past; I know that if I don’t address this, it could lead to trouble.

In AA literature, the third Promise tell us that, as we become sober people, ‘we will not regret the past, nor will we wish to shut the door on it.’  Becoming truly, completely sober doesn’t happen overnight; it requires living the principles of the program every day, and being mindful of them. Emmett’s story has helped me discover my need for a close relationship with my program, and that I can’t ‘wing it,’ as Emmett tried to do (and failed).

  • Your first draft will not be perfect; neither will the second, and maybe not the third. My experience has almost always been that the first draft is the worst, especially if the particular writing project is new. For example: In my writing classes, the first papers almost always reflect the lowest grades of the semester. It isn’t that the assignment is particularly hard; mostly, the issue is that students do not proofread final copy before submitting it for a grade. But almost always, when students do second, even third, drafts, the writing is dramatically improved.

The other issue with drafts is time: Writing can be tedious if you dislike the topic, procrastinate, or simply don’t have enough information/research. With Emmett’s book, I worried constantly over the past four years whether I had enough information to tell the story adequately. There are still information holes but there is enough to do a decent biography for Emmett.

[I am also hopeful that perhaps one day, someone may read this blog (or read the book!) and realize they have one of Emmett’s scrapbooks in an attic somewhere.]

More later!

Journaling & Self-Editing Finds

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I’ve been posting less on Emmett’s blog this month because I’m working on Emmett Wilson-related articles to submit to two publications:

lpr

I met the representatives of the Little Patuxent Review literary journal when I was at the AWP Conference two weeks ago. Two weeks ago, they told me to submit my article.  The deadline is in two days, and my piece is in rough condition. No pressure. 😐

durmar6I also met a few representatives showcasing a new literary journal, The Ponder Review. I spoke with them about my Emmett Wilson project, and was also encouraged to submit my article; I have a little more wiggle room with their deadline, which is March 6.

And, in the midst of preparing journal submissions I am halfway finished with the first read-through of Emmett’s 450-page manuscript. So far, the quality is mixed — the first chapter is in fairly good shape. But the second chapter is awful.

Frankly, I’m not surprised at the poor condition of the second chapter, because when I look back at my notes on this section, I saw that I was complaining to myself and to Nancy mightily about how hard it was to write. In my notes, I said that I couldn’t figure it out why this was so hard, because ironically, it is one of the periods of Emmett’s life where there are relatively few information holes.

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Source: Wikipedia

But now, after eight months since I drafted the chapter — what immediately jumps out is Emmett’s Jekyll-and-Hyde behavior, and I can see that I was trying to present Emmett’s behavior consistently, when in fact, there was nothing consistent in his behavior at all. He was up and down because this is when Emmett’s drinking habits became entrenched. He’s only 22 years old in the second chapter, but there’s already evidence of blackout drinking.

The inconsistencies are quite telling, and an important aspect of Emmett that needs to stay in this story.

I’m kind-of surprised I didn’t notice this pattern eight months ago, when I was in the midst of writing the chapter, but then, I had a similar situation back in my dissertation days. My dean recommended that I step away from the research for about month — do something different — then come back with fresh eyes, because it would make all the difference.

Such good advice then, and now.

I should clarify that when I say ‘Jekyll and Hyde,’ I don’t want to imply that Emmett was evil; but when Emmett became intoxicated, he became a different person. Perhaps he did seem as if he was possessed by an evil spirit once he had had too much; it is clear that Emmett Wilson was a completely different person when he was sober.

 

 

I’ve made the notes and crafted a more cohesive structure for the second chapter, which I’ll rewrite after I’ve gone completely through the manuscript.

 

Dissecting the Message, Part II

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Picking up where we left off in our last post:

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Cephas’ letter to Emmett Meade (Cephas’ brother-in-law) also mentioned a woman named ‘Jeanet.’ She was not married to Jhon Burton; she never married, in fact.

Jeanet Love McKinnon (1880-1940) was a member of the Wilson family by marriage; she was the sister of Mary Catherine (“May”) McKinnon Wilson, the wife of Francis Childria Wilson, Jr., of Pensacola, Florida. According to the U.S. Census:

  • In 1910, she was a stenographer in a law office — possibly her father Daniel Love McKinnon’s law office.
  • In 1920, she was a stenographer in an ‘office’ — unspecified.
  • In 1930, she was a cashier in a Marianna insurance office.
jeanet-visit_1914

Source: The Pensacola Journal, March 1914.

Jeanet went back and forth between Marianna and Pensacola regularly to visit her sister May; there’s several articles in The Pensacola Journal from 1900 through 1922 (the last year in the ChroniclingAmerica.gov database) that mention Jeanet’s comings and goings.

She died at age 60, on October 1, 1940 in Dothan, Alabama. The death report lists Jeanet’s residence as Marianna at the time of her death, and that she was stenographer.  I have not been able to locate her in the U.S. Census for 1940 to confirm, which is a little unusual given the lateness in the year of her death (most census data gathering took place in the first quarter of the year).

It is likely Jeanet was living with siblings in Marianna, and was perhaps visiting friends or other family members in Dothan when she died.


“…to prove how unaccustomed I am to such stuff…”

This is an interesting comment.

Cephas was not an alcoholic, although there were several active alcoholic family members, some of whom lived with Cephas and his family periodically. Cephas kept alcohol in his home (he entertained important people regularly at dinner, for instance, and was known to serve wine at least). Champagne was a special drink for special occasions.

I know from other sources that Cephas was not considered an alcoholic; the point he made in the letter that he kept the bottle for several weeks — just in case — is not something an alcoholic would do.

lula

Lula Wiselogel Wilson. Source: FloridaMemory.com

Also interesting is how unaccustomed he is to opening the bottle — I can see him struggling to extricate the cork, and as the cork shoots out with a loud POP, the foam of the wine erupts out of the bottle, onto the carpet and onto Dood’s expensive dress —

“Dood.”

That’s the family name for Lula Wiselogel Wilson. Cephas knew Lula from the time he moved to Chipley when he was 17 years old, newly repatriated after living in British Honduras with his family since the early 1870s. Lula’s family was wealthy, prominent, important, Republican. Cephas’ family was just starting over. Lula was smart, attractive. So was Cephas. The younger children in the Wilson household probably couldn’t say “Lula”, so they called her “Dood” and the name stuck.


I’ll finish with the rest of this section in the next post. Stay tuned!

Medium, Message, Context

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As promised in the last post, I’ll now walk you through the process I use to review artifacts that inform my research on Emmett Wilson.

Here’s a document I received from Emmett’s grand niece, Elizabeth, who is the granddaughter of Katie Wilson Meade.

cephus-letter-original

Elizabeth’s original note with this document said that it wasn’t about Emmett Wilson, and so, she wasn’t sure if I would need or want to have it, but she knew Cephas was important in telling Emmett’s story.

Elizabeth was correct — Cephas was a HUGE influence on Emmett, and of all his siblings, was closest to Emmett, as the relationship weathered several ups and devastating downs all through Emmett’s life. So, this document is valuable for background information. Of all the Wilson family members, Cephas was Emmett’s mentor. He stood by Emmett, guided him, counseled him as long as Emmett would take constructive advice.

Examining the Medium

I examine artifacts through three lenses: Medium, Message, and Context. Today, we’ll examine the medium; i.e., the document itself.

The first thing I notice is that Cephas wrote a personal letter to his brother-in-law, Emmett Augustus Meade of Alexandria, Virginia, on his office letterhead.

letterheadCephas’ information on the letterhead tells us a lot, too, even though it is sparse. There’s not much detail because Cephas Wilson didn’t need that much detail for identification in West Florida back in the day. I imagine my historic research colleague Sue Tindel would agree with me if I said that in 1910, a stranger could cross the city limits of Marianna and say the words, “Cephas Wilson” out loud, and any bystander would immediately know who the stranger was talking about, and where that stranger could find Cephas.

intestateman

Not Marianna’s Elvis in 1910, but Ceph did have Elvis’ hair. Source: FloridaMemory.com

It would be akin to saying “Elvis” out loud, anywhere in the United States. Most folks would say, “Elvis? He’s in Memphis.” (I’m not saying that Cephas was Marianna’s “Elvis” in 1910, but you get the idea.)

The personal letter to his brother-in-law, Emmett Augustus Meade, is typewritten. There’s samples of Cephas’ handwriting on the letter. His handwriting is neither illegible nor difficult to read, but more significant to me is that Cephas wrote this personal letter to his brother-in-law in his office. Not at home.

This gives me a clue that Cephas spent, probably, most of his time at work, and perhaps an 80-hour work week was normal for him. I don’t know that Cephas was a workaholic, but it is possible. Consider:

  • In 1910, Cephas was a lawyer, a state senator, a president of a bank, a business owner, and up for consideration to run for Governor of Florida all at the same time.
  • And, in 1910, Cephas’ net worth was close to or equivalent to a self-made millionaire today. Cephas didn’t have a lot of down time, and when he did, it was probably taken in his office.

So, we have Cephas writing personal letters in his office. Truthfully, I can understand why he’d have done that: His house was busy, not large, but full, with children and relatives temporarily living with him and Lula. I doubt seriously if Cephas was able to steal a quiet moment away from the noise and hubbub of his surroundings except for his office.

Another thing about typewriting a letter as opposed to handwriting a letter — I find it easier to type a letter these days because my thoughts move so much faster, and the words flow smoother if I use a keyboard as opposed to a pen and paper. Yeah, I still carry around the old school notebook and pen, and I do write in an old school journal. But my handwriting isn’t very good, because I’m used to writing fast, and it is frustrating trying to capture my thoughts with slow and sloppy penmanship. With all that Cephas had going on in his life, I feel as if that is also why he’d write personal letters on a typewriter.

The typewriter, by the way, was on Cephas’ secretary’s desk, which would also explain a little why Cephas used professional stationery instead of a plain piece of paper, or personal stationery: Cephas’ letterhead was probably the most convenient paper on hand when he sat down at his secretary’s desk to write the letter.

Below is an example of professional correspondence written by Cephas in 1908. It is a short letter in which Cephas wastes no time; he gets right to the point. Note the margins and line spacing, compared to the personal letter at the top of this post.

cephas-letterheadletter

 

I usually examine the back of the document too, but an image of the back was not included in the scan Elizabeth sent.  Also, I like to go over the document in a bright light and with a magnifying glass. I look for things like fingerprints or other subtle marks on the front or back of the document.

This is just a short analysis of what I do in the ‘medium’ analysis of a document. In my next post, I’ll walk through the message of Cephas’ letter to Emmett Meade. That’s a more intense, line-by-line dissection; so, stay tuned!

 

The Mystery of the Pocket Watch

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There’s Wilson family lore about a silver pocket watch that’s I’d love to prove.

A.E. Maxwell, who also went by "Emmett;" our Emmett's role model & hero.

A.E. Maxwell, who also went by “Emmett;” our Emmett’s role model & hero.

I don’t know what it looked like, other than it was smooth, silver, and had Emmett’s grandfather’s initials engraved on it — AEM — for Augustus Emmett Maxwell. It probably had a chain, and maybe a fob. I don’t know how Maxwell obtained it first.

Maxwell died in May, 1903, a year before Emmett’s graduation from Stetson Law School.  It is reasonable to think that family might have saved Maxwell’s watch — an expensive and precious heirloom — to give to Emmett as a graduation gift in 1904.

Maxwell was living with the Wilsons at the time of his death, and our Emmett, who was quite close to his grandfather was there, it would seem a grand gesture to the young man who modeled himself after a man who was truly interested in him. Emmett did not have this close relationship with anyone, other than his older brother, Cephas, and that relationship felt more competitive.

This watch was in Emmett’s possession, at least sometime after 1903. Either Maxwell either gave the watch to Emmett himself, or, family members gave it to Emmett after Maxwell’s death.

Emmett and his grandfather were close, had a lot in common, and were said to be very much alike in behavior and and appearance: Tall, quiet, loner-types, who read often, liked to take long walks, and enjoyed fishing.

They were the only two members of the family who attended law school: Maxwell attended the University of Virginia Law School; Emmett attended Stetson University Law School.

Emmett and Maxwell were also drinkers — I don’t know if Maxwell drank alcoholically, but he was reported to be partial to mint juleps so much that when he traveled, he made certain to bring a supply of sugar, in case there wasn’t enough on hand where he was staying.

Emmett was reported to be partial to any kind of alcoholic beverage (especially at the end of his life), and made certain to have a large personal supply of liquor stored at either the Osceola Club or the San Carlos Hotel, prohibition be damned. (Florida had already elected its first and only Prohibition Party governor; several Florida counties [including Escambia County], were already considered “dry” well before the ratification of the 18th Amendment on January 29, 1919.)

Of course, by 1919, Emmett was dead; what little money and few possessions he had long gone, including the silver watch, which was not listed among his personal effects at the time of death.

He might have hocked it to pay his bills. Or, perhaps, it was stolen during one of Emmett’s drinking adventures (he had alcoholic hepatitis at least from 1913 on; blackout drinking would have been a typical event for him).

Or, perhaps Emmett gave it another family member, knowing that he, himself, was an unstable drinker. Big questions around this small but important artifact in Wilson family history.

If anyone knows about this pocket watch, or, can share information about it, I’d love to hear from you.

Circle of Family: Julian Anderson Wilson

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Jule and Julian Wilson in the 1940s. Jule still has that lovely smile.

Jule and Julian Wilson in the 1940s.

In the quest to find intimate details about Emmett, I’d always thought that the person who would have known him best, the person who would have been closest to Emmett was his twin brother, Julian Anderson Wilson.

Julian was named for Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson’s stepmother, Julia Anderson Hawkes Maxwell. He was born at Hope, Toledo Settlement, British Honduras on September 17, 1882. Julian and Emmett were fraternal twins; where Emmett has dark hair and brown eyes, Julian had blond hair and blue eyes.

Both Emmett and Julian attended Chipley public schools up until about age 16; they both started working at the Chipley railroad depot (their older brothers Frank and Meade put in good words for the twins); they worked their way up the ranks, both eventually becoming telegraphers. Emmett headed off to college in 1899; Julian stayed with the railroad, then went to work as a telegrapher for a shipping company on the Chattahoochee, then back with the L&N railroad, eventually becoming an auditor based out of Montgomery, Alabama.

“He had a good life,” Jule has told me. “He was happy, content.”

Did he talk about his family?

“No. He never did. And when he was asked, there was always a kind-of sadness about it. But he never talked about any of his brothers or sisters, not even about his own father.”

Did Jule think that was unusual?

“Perhaps. But then, he was a quiet man. I think people of that time just didn’t talk about their families.” Jule said she knew Emmett was once a U.S. Congressman, but that was all. Nothing was said about Emmett personally. No anecdotes.

Julian never described his childhood; because he was so quiet about his family, I certainly don’t think he would have ever voluntarily talked about Emmett’s (or anyone else’s) alcoholism.

That makes sense. Emmett had a sad ending related to addiction; something that, even today, with all that we have learned about alcoholism and how to deal with it, people have trouble talking about.

I remember when I talked to Jule about Emmett’s alcoholism, she wasn’t shocked or uncomfortable about it; she felt sorry for Emmett and what he must have gone through. And then she said, ‘You know, now that I think about it, my father rarely took a drink. I wonder if that was the reason why; that he saw what Emmett’s drinking did to him, and to the family.”


Despite the fact that Jule didn’t know anything about Emmett, or, his relationship to Julian, I don’t think the twins were estranged — at least, not until around toward the end of Emmett’s life.

I have different clips from several different newspapers, between the years 1900 and 1912, where it is mentioned that Emmett and Julian were visiting their father in Chipley for a weekend, or a few days; I have another clip that specifically mentions Emmett and Julian spending a weekend with their father that coincided with their birthdays.

Source: The Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, Wisconsin. May 29, 1914

Source: The Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, Wisconsin. May 29, 1914

I also have an article in which Emmett tells a reporter about a joke he and Julian played on a local barber when they were both living in Chipley. Clearly, the brothers got along. They had fun together. There was a regular rapport between them; at least, before Emmett became a U.S. Congressman.

I don’t think this was a case of jealousy on the part of Julian over his twins’ success: I believe Julian was happy that his brother was achieving his professional goals. But, Emmett was moving in different circles; Julian was spending most of his time in Montgomery, Alabama, as he was becoming more senior with the L&N management offices there. As of 1912, when Emmett was running for office while trying to serve as State’s Attorney, he on the road constantly. It may have been as simple as the twins weren’t seeing each other much.

Then, there was the alcohol issue. By 1912, Emmett was a full-blown alcoholic. Whereas Emmett could ‘hide’ the heavy drinking and its after effects easier in years before, his excesses were becoming noticeable; friends and colleagues who had a vested interest in Emmett’s becoming a Congressman were helping to cover it up. Did Julian said something to Emmett about it, to help him? Perhaps. But Julian may not have noticed how bad things were with his twin until it was too late.

We do know is that Emmett’s ambition and alcoholism became the center of his life. Julian, on the other hand, fell in love with a lovely young widow with two daughters in Montgomery; he married and settled down.

A year later, in December, 1917, Jule was born.

Did Jule ever meet Emmett?  She isn’t certain; she could have, if her parents took her to meet her grandfather in Chipley, and perhaps Emmett was there. Jule said she would have been too young to remember it if she had met him, as she was only six months old when Emmett died in 1918.