This morning we jumped out of bed at o-stupid thirty for a book talk in town. It was for a Rotary Club’s weekly sunrise breakfast gathering. The meeting quickly came to order, beginning with the Pledge, a brief prayer and a Rotary song. Then the agenda moved quickly to business.
These people seem to pursue all sorts of public service endeavors: literacy programs, charity work, and supporting community health projects. It was quite impressive to think that these folks could have stayed in bed an hour longer, and not involve themselves in public service, but they choose otherwise to make a difference.
When my slot came up in the program, my husband pressed the power button on the projector, and the show kicked off with alacrity. You see, I love not only talking about the book, River of January, but the process behind the writing, as well. On this occasion, I shared the story of Helen’s father writing and producing a comedy, “Where’s Your Wife,” at the “Punch and Judy” Theater in New York. Now I knew from family records that Floyd Thompson had indeed written and produced the work, but still felt a shot of adrenalin when an internet site for the now-defunct “Punch and Judy” verified the production’s debut in 1919. That one moment of outside validation was thrilling, and I couldn’t help but gush to this group my still bubbling reaction, and with many other, similar discoveries.
I suppose much of my willingness to tell the tale of River to anyone, anytime, anywhere, stems from the hours of piecing through materials, and squaring family mementos to well known events of the past. Wonder doesn’t begin to describe the sensation when family incidents fitted neatly into the historic record.
Another example was an extremely fragile clipping of Helen and her sister in a publicity photo for some Universal Studio musical. I have yet to locate the film, but in my hunt for the unknown movie, I accidentally found another glossy of Helen in another film! She really was there, in Hollywood around 1930, and made more film appearances than we initially believed.
I can only describe my reaction to these revelations as that portrayed by Chazz Palmenteri in “The Usual Suspects.” If you have seen the film you may recall the ending when the police detective has his moment of epiphany. After questioning and releasing a primary suspect, the cop looks around his office casually, (at first) reading the names and labels of his room furnishings. Catching on, the policeman comprehends that the now-released suspect used those same names to weave a big pile of phony information. The look on the duped detective’s face reflects utter astonishment. The power of this clarity leaves him momentarily stunned, as if hit over the head by a sledge hammer–then running in pursuit.
Certainly my moments were more celebratory than the cop’s, but my astonishment, over and over, was just as powerful. There is nothing like unearthing and revealing a true story, with all the names and places falling into place, leaving a much clearer, and ultimately more fascinating story.