The blue file is battered, still too small for the documents it holds. It has lived on a shelf in my office for the past 10 months, a reminder but a quiet one. This morning, though, I opened it again – the names spilling out like fresh water from a spring. Primus, Moses, Malvina, Kitty – their names alive again in my hands.
And I still wish I knew more.
I will begin with that statement tonight when I speak to the Mahoning Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society – I believe they will understand that statement.
I wonder if other writers feel this way – or if this is unique to writing about people who have walked this earth but about whom we know so little – I ache to know them more, still. Does that happen when someone writes a novel or crafts a book out of Van Gogh’s life?
All I have to see is Robin’s name, and I have so many questions. He lived at Lower Bremo – my home. He was a field hand. He was not – in the 1830s – married. But what did he look like? Was he tall? Short? Stout? Did he have a voice like gravel or one like silk? What kind of attitude did he have? I imagine him reserved, quiet but strong. Dependable. Utterly kind. Who did he love?
But these are questions I will probably never answer, not with all the research time and resources in the world. I am sad with that fact.
Still, I take joy in being able to tell people about Robin about his sister Venus and “her bond” Tom Bowlins. I get excited to read a bit about Primus and tell them how I found his name on this document, how it sent my heart into flips of happiness.
There is joy in the telling, after all. Because that’s why I wrote The Slaves Have Names. That’s why we all write, isn’t it? To tell something important to us.
To share these people with others, to lay out their names and the few facts we know so that others may tie their stories to them, like threads of gold – gossamer, glowing, precious. That is the gift I have been given.
Do your characters or the people in your works linger with you long after you finish a project? If so, what do you do with their lingering presence?
If you are in northeastern Ohio, please join us tonight at the Ohio Genealogical Society- Mahoning Chapter meeting at 7pm at St. Charles Ministry Center in Boardman. The event is free and open to the public, and our host has baked delicious cookies. 😉