Let me tell you a story about those G.M.C. Massey memoir excerpts I’ve posted here before.
My grandfather, G.M.C. Massey, was born and raised in rural East Texas in 1880 and taught school for nearly twenty years in early 20th Century Texas, starting in a one-room schoolhouse. His first wife, Carrie, bore them 5 children, but died after they moved to San Angelo. He met and married Nora Villa Ault, my grandmother, in 1919, and they raised a family of 4 more children, including my mom, Dell Buller.
Granddad wrote his memoirs starting in 1960, at the age of 80. In an introduction, he explained that he would write about whatever crossed his mind in whatever order it occured to him — thus producing a sometimes confusing chronology. The manuscript he left includes duplicate versions of incidents, mixed with random observations and comments. The typewritten pages are rife with typographical errors, hand-written corrections, and many misspellings. Even more confusing, there are multiple groups of differing page and chapter numbers, that may or may not cover the same topic or set of events. In at least one instance, key details of an incident differ between accounts: who did plant that kiss “where it counted”? Granddad? Or the girl pursuing him? He wrote it both ways.
My mother, a graduate of the University of Texas journalism department, worked with some of this manuscript back in the late 60s and early 70s, and edited a 25-page portion she titled “Poppa’s Childhood.” She had started on the other sections as well, applying the basic technique of her trade to work with his unwieldy manuscript pages: cut and paste.
In those days, however, “cut and paste” referred to the physical act — not an electronic re-arranging of digital bits. Scissors, rubber cement and scotch tape were the tools of the trade back then. While this preparation worked very well back in the analog era, it left me with this box of fragments and pieces.
Here’s a little of what Mom’s prep work looked like.
To further complicate matters, Mom typed out her portions on an IBM Selectric II featuring a cursive font, rendering OCR scanning impossible. I transcribed all these fragments over several different periods of time, starting about 10 years ago, trying to restore a sense of order to the chaos.
Retyping Granddad’s words opened his world to me, especially the earlier days in East Texas, but even that part of the process presented editorial dilemmas. Should I retain his misspellings and grammar errors? He used caps lock in the modern sense of emphasis, so I decided to include those, but I’ll admit variance on whether or not to accept his spelling errors. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t.
I categorized the cut & paste fragments by topic and chronology, but trying to weave them back together into a coherent whole has proven challenging. I admire mom’s editing of the first section even more than before.
Sometime after I had transcribed all the chunks of content in the box, my cousin, Julie, gave me another set of manuscript pages she had received at some point. These pages had remained intact, if still incomplete and confusing in numbering and structure. Fitting the two sets of manuscripts — my next step in reconstructing the memoirs — will be daunting. With digital media and resources, however, there are many ways to approach archiving my grandfather’s memoirs.
Having already featured a couple of short segments here on the back porch blog, I figure to turn the blog over to him periodically for short chunks of his memoirs. Quite the interesting fellow — did I ever tell you about his run for Congress in 1910?