October 14, 2010

Studying with my Dad

Many years ago I was having one of those late night discussions with my father, this one was about family tradition... We had covered the basic points in bloodline historical moments such as moonshiners, thieves, soothsayers, preachers, mill workers, and carnies...

The lesson I was being taught then switched over to the Creek and Cherokee ancestry in our family. He began telling me the history of these people as if he had lived it. Names, dates, and places all rolled off his tongue as if he had been there. This was a disturbing thing that he could do, his recall was frightening.

The hour grew late and he was well into the story of the retaliation brought down on Red Eagle for his attack on Fort Mims in 1813. He told me about the slaughter of the people at the fort and how most Creek towns were decimated in the aftermath. He ended with the statement "When Red Eagle surrendered and shook the hand of that son of a bitch he sealed their fate..."

We talked well into the wee hours of the morning when he brought up a book he had and suggested I read it. He retrieved it from his shelf and handed it to me, making me promise to return it as soon as I was finished with it. I made the promise and headed home. He called me several times over the next few days asking me if I was finished with it. The second I read the last line I took it over there and handed it to him, when he asked after a book with such perseverance you knew he was concerned about it and wanted it returned in good condition.

A few months ago my mother and I were talking about his reading habits and I asked her how he retained such vast amounts of information.. She told me that he didn't just read a book, he studied it voraciously.. She then told me to go through the books that were left on the shelves and pick out any that I may want. I looked around for a few and saw several that dated back to my childhood. Then my eyes landed on the book I had borrowed... I picked it up and asked if I might have it.. She said I could and I took it home and placed it on my shelf.

I haven't touched the book since I sat it in line with the Bibles and Tolkiens that I hold dear... Earlier this evening I was lamenting that I had nothing new to read, a situation briefly assuaged by revisiting Tolkien and then the Harry Potter series... I began looking through my books hoping for something to jump out at me, much the same thing as standing in front of a refrigerator for the third or fourth time in an evening thinking its contents would have changed in the past twenty minutes...

I noticed the little book sitting there and absentmindedly picked it up from the shelf and began to read. I thought about the discussion my father and I had that evening as I made it through four chapters before closing it and heading over here to the computer... For some reason I thumbed through the book before placing it back on the shelf and a piece of paper fell out. I picked it up and looked down at it, the paper was written over by my fathers hand... There were names, dates, and quotes written on it... I sat for a while and thought of him as I looked over the paper and read the things he had chosen to write down...

I knew he had read the book before he let me borrow it and this piece of paper wasn't in it when I had it, so he had read it again and made notes for himself... I am amazed by how he treated history, he held it in such high regard. He always told me that you could never learn enough about anything and that "most people talk too damn much to learn anything..."

I smiled to myself, folded the paper back in half and placed it where I had stopped reading... Over the years I have acquired many bookmarks, this one I shall keep with honor, I can assure you it shall not get lost or damaged.. it's funny that this is the only book I have ever had that I haven't dogeared a single page in..

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