My… is it Friday already? The end of October, with tomorrow being the Dia de los Muertos… or as we plain Anglos call it, the eve of All Saint’s Day. Time does have when you’re having fun. And I am having fun this week. My hours at the Corporate Call Center just up the road were slashed to the bone this week, allegedly to accommodate their slow time of the year. Perhaps I’ll get them back in November, perhaps not. It’s a job that I am privately most unenthusiastic about, although you’d never know it to hear me answer the incoming calls with brisk and chipper enthusiasm. I would not mind very much actually – I’d miss the money but not much else, as I the local publisher that I am doing work for has actually begun to pay me on a regular basis and shoot interesting little jobs my way.

The two most recent are transcribing old documents – one not all that old, since there is a Star Wars reference in it, but the other might have some actual historical interest, being a pocket year-diary from 1887, bound in crumbling red leather. The owner of it plans to sell, and wants an accurate transcription – or at least, as accurate a transcription of the contents as is humanly possible. The reason he is willing to pay someone to do it – is because the diary-keeper wrote in occasionally illegible ink, couldn’t spell for s**t, had an uncertain grasp of the principals governing the use of capital letters and appears to have been completely uninterested in using punctuation. On the plus side, each entry is only about one run-on sentence long, and three-quarters of those entries are variants on ‘spent the four Noon at Ranch/town …. No news … fair and cloudy to day’

It’s the other entries that are mildly fascinating, for the diary-keeper seems to have been a manager for a cattle ranch in the Pleasant Valley of Arizona, and on the periphery of the murderous Graham-Tewksbury feud. His apparent employer was one of the owners of the “Hashknife Outfit” – famed in West Texas lore and in the books of Zane Grey, so perhaps this is why the current owner thinks the diary is worth something to a collector. I don’t see any evidence so far that the diary-keeper did anything more than pop around like a squirrel on crack all through that year, from town to the ranch and up to various line camps, to Flagstaff for the 4th of July celebrations, seeing to his various duties, which must have ranged from the office-managerial to overseeing round-ups and short drives of cattle from the back-country to the railway (which paralleled Route 66 through Arizona.) There were a few interesting slips of paper tucked into a pocket in the back of the diary, like a bank receipt from a bank in Weatherford, Texas, long strings of figures which appear to be a tally of cattle and a scribbled recipe for some kind of remedy, featuring a lot of ingredients that today are controlled substances (belladonna? Sulphate of zinc and sugar of lead, one drachm) Still and all, as Blondie said – he was dedicated enough to actually sit down and make an entry, every day, in a whole year of days in which one day was mostly like any other, full of work and responsibility, and very little in the way of amusement, or at least amusement worth mentioning specifically. Still, an interesting peep-hole into the past, and another life, distant and yet close.

The other document is a rollicking memoir written by a WWII veteran, who spent nearly 18 months in the China-Burma-India theater, flying cargo over the notorious “Hump” – the Himalayas. At that time, there were large chunks of the land below their air route that was simply white on their maps; never explored by land or by air. This writer lost some friends to the perils of high-altitude flight among mountains that were sometimes even higher, but his exuberance and energy come through in his memoir, quite unquenched. His personality is a little more accessible than the ranch manager of 1887, and he spent a little more time noticing marvelous things like a spectacular show of St. Elmo’s fire lighting up his aircraft during a flight through a high-altitude blizzard, or the white-washed towers of a mountain monastery, perched at the top of a 6,000 foot sheer drop. He wondered about the faint lights seen at night, from tiny villages far below the aluminum wings of his aircraft, wondered if the people living in those simple houses even knew that young men had come from so very far away, to fly a perilous re-supply route over the dark land below. Did it make any difference to their lives? Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. The flier went home, married his girl, lived a long and successful life. Among the little things to be included in the transcription of his memoir was an envelope of papers – receipts from a grand hotel in Calcutta… and a BX ration card, in which Blondie and I were amused to note that he had maxed out his beer ration for the month of September, 1943—but only purchased one bar of soap.

The history, the past, near and a little distant, in bits of yellowed paper, a year of entries bound in faded red leather or eighteen eventful and frequently nerve-wracking months racking up 800 flying hours. It’s all there, our history. We must remember where we came from, who we are – who our ancestors were, and how they built their lives and did their work. It’s not far distant, it’s more than a few tedious chapters in a history textbook written by an academic with an ideological ax to grind. Our history is real people, meeting challenges and accepting responsibility with courage, grace and humor. It’s why I write books, to try and get people in touch with that history again, to connect with our ancestors. To remember who we are, and where we came from.

(Still taking pre-orders for the Adelsverein Trilogy, here The official release is December 10, and I have lined up some signings locally – schedule is here. Also a review of Book One – The Gathering just appeared in the Nov/Dec issue of True West (dead tree version) ! It’s on page 91, for those that are interested, but alas, no links – the True West website only goes as far as… September)

Comments closed.