Family Disease

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My sponsor cornered me after a meeting a few days ago. She hadn’t seen me in awhile — weeks — which isn’t a good thing for alcoholics in recovery. “Where have you been? What’s up?” She asked. Demanded, actually.

So we sat down together in a coffee shop, and talked. She eventually got the truth out of me — I’d stalled out in writing about Emmett, and more critically, in my program. I didn’t realize it was happening until it just happened, I said.

My sponsor (a no-nonsense Sister of Notre Dame and psychotherapist) basically called bullshit on me. “The isolating and the procrastination with Emmett’s writing are symptoms of something else. And the problem is that something else could ultimately be a drinking trigger.”

My sponsor then told me just to start talking about whatever I thought was the beginning, and not think about it.

Here’s the paraphrased version:

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From January to May, managing Dad’s affairs because of his serious health problems and his resistance/outright refusal to take care of himself took over my life. It was damn near impossible to write when I was in the thick of everything for five months, and I hardly was able to get to meetings because of all the travel back and forth, and then, catching up on work and my family’s obligations when I was finally back home.

(Today, Dad’s health is better than it was before he was hospitalized and he’s on his own in an assisted living senior residence, as much as he can be. He hates it, but that’s a story for another time.)

By the time June rolled around, I figured I’d be back into serious work on Emmett’s chapters, and life would settle back down into normalcy. But I picked Emmett’s research up sparingly, and always with some weird dread, and when I did work on his story, it definitely was not with the same spirit and dedication.

More to the point, I wasn’t picking up anything with the same energy, feeling and spirit. I told my sponsor that I felt like I had turned into another person altogether — I snapped at everyone over things that used to never bother me, picking fights even with loved ones and friends, over inconsequential and illogical things. For instance, I got into a terrible argument with my husband, a non-Catholic, because he’s non-Catholic. We’ve been married 28 years. I dated him for 10 years before that. I’ve always KNOWN he’s non-Catholic, and it has never bothered me. But I digress.

My sponsor listened carefully — then told me to talk to my doctor because she said it sounded as if I was going through a kind-of PTSD after all the stress of my Dad’s situation — having to keep it together for so long, without really talking about it, and certainly not talking about it in meetings, since I hadn’t been to any in awhile.

I didn’t debate her or argue about her suggestion — I got my ass to my therapist two days later. Diagnosis: Anxiety post the family drama. Totally understandable, the therapist said. Talking about it has helped me calm down tremendously.

But something else that came out in the therapy that I had forgotten about — and stuffed down — which really is at the heart of all this:

In January, I’d had a conference with one of Dad’s doctors about his condition, and the doctor revealed that all the stuff that happened to my Dad is related to alcoholism.

Although Dad says he’s not drinking, the doctor said the previous drinking history was linked to his bouts with colon cancer, as alcoholism IS a factor in the disease. And, oh yeah, something else I didn’t know until this conference January: He has cirrhosis of the liver. So, in addition to the anxiety, I’m angry.

Deep down furious.

F.U.R.I.O.U.S.

Dad’s lack of care for himself, or for anyone else, has seriously, negatively, affected me and my immediate family. And he frankly doesn’t really care. He just wants to escape whatever it is that is bothering him, regardless. It’s easy to feel sorry for someone like that, but when the alcoholic behavior affects how I’m able to care for my children and be a supportive member of my own family…..

Yeah.

F.U.R.I.O.U.S.

When the AA literature calls alcoholism a ‘family disease,’ it’s the truth. The alcoholic doesn’t think what he or she is doing bothers anyone else but themselves. That’s the key — the alcoholic isn’t THINKING, and certainly, the alcoholic isn’t in his or her right mind.

Anyway. I’m here to report that I’ve held all this shit in since January. A true constipation of the brain. No wonder I haven’t been able to write anything, or function like my old self.

But thanks to a good therapist, a good sponsor, and a good program, things are headed back to normal in Emmett Wilson book land.

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One good thing that has come out of this experience is a better  understanding about Emmett’s biography —  it isn’t just a biography of a long-dead distant ancestor. It’s also about my — our — family relationship with booze, and what we’ve done to live with it, for better or worse.

When I first started learning about Emmett and his relationships with his family members, I remember thinking rather tough thoughts about them — especially his brother Cephas and Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson. If you love your brother and son, and see that he is struggling, why didn’t they do something to help him? Something MORE?

And towards the end of Emmett’s life, most of his friends and almost all of his family members pretty much distanced themselves from Emmett, because he kept on drinking, even though I’m SURE both Emmett’s father, and Emmett’s personal physician advised him to stop drinking years before he died of alcoholism.

I’m sure Emmett’s family and friends were furiously angry and frustrated with Emmett, too. Emmett would always choose booze over every single opportunity that came his way.

The situation with Emmett and his drinking/health outcome is similar to the one I’m experiencing with my Dad today, 100 years later. The time away from writing about Emmett has given me a more objective view of his story, a better understanding of why family and friends acted/behaved/distanced themselves when they did. I feel as if I will be able to present Emmett’s family and friends with more understanding of the situation.

It’s not an easy situation to be in today; it wasn’t easy 100 years ago, either.

I’m sorry I’ve had this experience with Dad, but I’m also glad I’ve had it. I’ve learned a lot from it.

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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 to be an ‘alcoholic’.

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 understand Emmett completely.

One important thing I have is a copy of Emmett’s will, in his own words, complete with typos and edits. From that, we can tell that above all else, Emmett had integrity, 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.

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.