I'm headed home again. I got exactly what I came for and much, much more I could not have imagined.
Two weeks ago, I tripped across the existence of a collection of correspondence from a man who traveled with carnivals and circuses for forty years. So, naturally, I got in my car and drove across four states to see it.
The man corresponded with hundreds of different people, some as often as twice a week, for years. He kept every letter, card and telegram he received as well as carbon copies of the letters he wrote. It is, hands down, the most interesting thing I've ever read.
It's also something like a giant puzzle because the letters are filed by name of correspondent, and show people changed names frequently. One central character has five different names I'm aware of so far and may have more. The letters progress through the years in each file, so cross referencing stories is a challenge. For example, he writes to a girlfriend, her husband, her mother and father, her sisters, her brother, and the brother's wife. The same stories wind through each set of letters, but the versions vary. Wildly.
Through the passage of years, you see the man transform from a young cad to a solid family man. You see him help people over and over, even when they burn him time after time. You see a kind of desperation most of us can't imagine: people whose lives turn on less than $10. Babies are born. And die. And are lost to divorce and disinterest. Men go to prison. Women wait. Or don't. Everyone scrambles to pay their bills and stay alive.
The letters fill 35 file boxes. I couldn't stay long enough to read all or even a large part of it, so I resorted to photographing one page at a time. (Photography is easier on the old paper than photocopying. And cheaper.) I'm going home with images of 500 or 600 pages waiting to be read like a vein of gold waiting to be mined. I hope to come back next spring. I may pay for copies of some of the letters to tide me over through the winter. I didn't get to the letters to and from his mother or his father or his wife. (The girlfriends were so compelling!)
I am exhausted. I worked very early and very late so I could read/photograph from 8 to 5 while the library is open. I haven't slept more than four hours a night for five or six days. Tonight I plan to sleep like a mid-winter grizzly. Tomorrow I plan to read and write. Same thing the next day. And the day after that.
Following my nose leads to the most amazing blessings. I am so grateful.