Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Memphis Library Caper

 I have previously written about my sister, Barbie, (or Barbara, as she is known to everyone else in the world.)  We couldn’t be more different.  She dresses like Barbara Walters.  I dress like Janis Joplin.  She likes beige.  I like sparkly, colorful, feather boa-type attire. While I am always a bubble off center, she is dead on.  She is acutely aware of everything going on around her and I am witlessly oblivious to my surroundings and therefore spend most of my life lost.
We do share a few things, though.  First there is this weird family we have the privilege to be members of.  We also share the same profession, and more importantly a love for adventure and travel.
 The summer before Katrina, we went to “Nawlins.” After we wore Bourbon Street out, we rented a car and drove up to Memphis.  We took with us a note from our Mama detailing the information that she needed for the book she is writing.  Her book is fiction, but she wants it to be historically accurate.

Her story revolves around our great grandfather, Patrick Egan who was a pressman for the Commercial Appeal Newspaper there in Memphis.  He invented the process to make colored funnies.  It was the process that was used until the eighties or early 90's. (You probably recall the way it colored the funnies just slightly out of the lines--not quite straight.)  We had heard the story about him and just wanted to see it in print.

   One of the things Mom wanted to know had to do with moving day of the Commercial Appeal immediately after the Civil War.  Specifically, what was the old building like?  Did it have a basement?  How many floors did it have? And so forth.

    Barb and I selected the microfilm from the appropriate drawer, labeled by date, and took it to the machine for viewing.  Neither of us had any experience with this sort of thing. We soon found Patrick's obituary.  It actually made my hair stand on end.  He was only 48 when he died in the flu epidemic of 1918.  The obit reported that he indeed invented the process for colorizing the Sunday funnies.  

    After we finished reading, we pushed the rewind button and the machine instantly went from zero to eighty and the reel flew off of the spindle and shot across the room. We have laughed at events far less funny than that, so naturally we began to giggle and snort.  If we hadn't been in a quiet environment we could have gotten ourselves under control easier, but, alas, we were hopelessly lost.  To us, the “laughter factor” is in direct ratio to the “solemn/quiet factor” of any given occasion.

We didn’t want to get kicked out without Mom’s info so we quit looking at each other and got the broken, leftover microfilm off the spindle and put it back in the box before we got caught.

Next we needed to find his death certificate because we wanted to learn his parents’ names.  A story about them had been told until it had become part of the family lore and we were anxious to put names to the story.  See, Patrick’s mama fell in love with a “shanty-boat-Irish man” whom her daddy deemed to be beneath her.  Daddy put her into a convent, but after midnight one night she climbed over the wall and ran off to America with the guy.  Barb and I blame her for most of our shenanigans.  We had her genes. We needed her name!

  The machine refused to cooperate with us now, so I waved for some assistance. 
Just as the librarian began walking toward us I glanced at Barbie, and drew in my breath!  There was a piece of the microfilm static clinging to the back of her arm evidencing that we had broken the film!   I whispered harshly out of the side of my mouth,
“Barb, Barb, Barb, Your arm!”  She grabbed it off and once more, we were rendered stupid.  I waved the helpful assistance away and told him we had figured it out. 

 When we were under control again we spent another blind quarter of an hour before we finally found out what we came for.
 It was Andrew and Mary who had the baby named Patrick. They were somewhere near Yazoo, Mississippi, still on the boat that was bringing them from Ireland to America. The boat had slipped in from the Gulf of Mexico and was heading up the Mississippi River. They weren’t to be married until they reached Memphis.

    When we were safely out of the library, the ever-alert Barbie told me that there were two women behind us talking about us in an unkind manner. 
One of them had said, "Wouldn't you like to go up there and just smack them?"  Then they had a little conversation about us being PROBABLY from the NORTH! 
They called us Yankees!!

Well, It's a good thing I didn't hear them!  They would have found out we were from a much worse place than Up North.

Barbie was holding her breath, hoping to get out of there without some sort of confrontation.  She hates a “scene.”  Although she rolls her eyes at the bubble I roll around in, she appreciates it for keeping us out of any hostile standoffs and possibly jail.

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