The title is an expression used in my family to indicate something really - and unexpectedly - big. It comes from Zane Grey's The Last of the Plainsmen, in which a story is told of one of the last big buffalo hunts. The teller of the tale writes of camping on a hillock to increase his distant view of an event on the southern horizon. Dust was billowing in clouds, and the rumble of many hooves shook the ground. The herd approached, and for three days buffalo streamed past his hillock in their millions on their spring migration, finally tapering off to a few stragglers. He watched their departing rumps heading north, then, turning south and looking back, he saw the main herd.
I am anticipating several "main herds" in my life in the near future. The first wave of one of them arrived last week, with much more to come when I have processed what came and returned it. It is family history in the raw and unprocessed; it is the notes of the author of a book about the Quakers at Borden (my kin, all of them.) The book is a slender volume with perhaps two hours of steady reading in it. The archive box of her notes from which I have been sent a few files, is perhaps two cubic feet of PAPER, sometimes printed or hand-written on both sides. I see between three and five family history projects in this material alone. If I have mentioned feeling daunted before, picture me now!
The connection Leona who is lending me the material is extremely disciplined, and works on only one family history project at a time. I am extremely undisciplined and cannot resist the siren song of a new project. The family stories the projects represent are all linked, with myself as the linchpin. The protagonists are all related or connected to me. All the new information which has flooded in on me in the last week reinforces, casts a new light on, expands, explains, corrects what has gone before. And it is all CRYING out to be attended to, made accessible, communicated to the younger generations. It is my lot, indeed my compulsion, to respond to that siren song.
Later. Yesterday there were five excited posts from Leona. She had designated school break week, a holiday for her as well, to go completely through that box of author's notes, and having done so confirmed my suspicion that if I looked back, I would see the main herd. She said that I ain't seen nuthin' yet, and that if I thought there were goodies in the first installment she had sent, the best was yet to come and I would learn things about my relatives that I surely didn't know.
This is at the same time overwhelming, daunting - and energizing. I will spend the parts of today and the weekend not committed to other people catching up on the bits and pieces that have fallen between the cracks, and then start a blitz of photocopying. In one of Leona's posts she strongly urges me NOT to think about what I will do with any of the material until I have it all. In the spirit of that urging I will try to avoid what I have in fact started doing - lining up projects in my mind...
Betty Ward, author of The Quakers At Borden, used that archive box of notes to produce her small book. Most of my books have been the transcription and organization of the writing and memorabilia of individuals, a process which did not generate a vast quantity of unused notes but rather incorporated everything I could find by or about the central person. I see that I shall have to learn a new skill - selectivity - if I am ultimately to master "the main herd."
Later again. I spent a good part of today sweating over a hot photocopier, reproducing the materials I must soon return to Leona. In the process I am learning a little about the mental activity of professional writer, preparing a book for publication.
There is an excellent book, "Events and People" by Helmut Hiebert. He has taken an interesting approach to the history of the Mennonites in Russia, one I like a lot. The book had a limited print run and had sold out by the time I became aware of it so I got it through interlibrary loan - my copy came from the National Library in Ottawa. I had written to the author before doing this and learned that no reprint is planned. After I had read it I wrote again, expressing my appreciation for his work and admiration for his standing as a professional writer. He emailed back saying it was his passion, but that he had a day job - as orthopedic surgeon - consequently my praise of him as a professional writer was inappropriately applied.
I don't think so. To be a surgeon with a side in history-writing means he has a lot of energy, and that's admirable all by itself. But his words got me thinking about how I define a professional writer: a person who writes books for professional publication and for sale, and actually sells them. I write books - I think the count is 17 at the moment, but while I asked some of my kin for paper and printing costs, I don't regard that as sale, and the "publication" part is purely home-grown. Consequently I think Helmut IS a professional writer, in spite of what he calls his day job.
His next book is to come out this summer; the title will be, I think, Stalin's Terrible Year. The Mennonites in Russia in the year 1937. I had an 18-year-old cousin who was taken from his home in that year in his Mennonite village in Russia, and shot. Helmut wants to put his story into the book. Now all I have to do is FIND it. It's here - somewhere...
Once upon a time I had a secretary, and SHE had two secretaries, to deal with my work. I never learned proper filing and I miss her terribly at times like this.
I see that this entry has become seriously stream-or-consciousness. Time to stop.