I’ve been re-working some personal essays recently for a series of books under the title Storybook Tallahassee. These stories are like a folding table in the living room corner covered in puzzle pieces. That’s been my life: the keeper of the pieces – little facts about our family that have collected over the years in storage bins, drawers and computer files.
“Oh, Julie, here’s another one: Did you know Granddaddy Alex’s nickname was Poulykee? That means ‘stone crab’ in Greek.”
Every once in awhile, I wander over to the table and attach another piece. Each discovery adds to the puzzle and the picture is starting to take shape. Like an artist’s landscape, small details hint at the place and time and offer clues about the people in the scenery. Like religious iconographic art, each gesture, fact or facial expression lends meaning to the whole.
I’ve been spending more time at that folding table, looking for missing pieces that would help bring the picture into better focus. In my research and writing, I am guided by two questions: Why are you doing this? Why do you care?
“Life is often lived forward, but understood backwards.” – Os Hillman
Understanding – yes. I want to better understand the people and places of my ancestry with ties to Tallahassee and at the same time fill the holes in our history. And perhaps separate fact from folklore.
The first three topics are from my ancestral ties – Greek roots in downtown, French ones at San Luis, and a place old Tallahasseeans call simply, “The Coast.” While all are mentioned in the history of the Capital City of Florida, none have been explored in depth. As I researched, certain questions plagued me. How did St. Teresa Beach and St. James Island get named? What was happening in Alabama – or Bainbridge, Georgia for that matter – in the early 1900s that attracted teenage Greek immigrants?
For the San Luis vineyard era, why would Emile Dubois leave the vineyard he worked so hard to build – and one that paid him handsomely? And could a black man get a fair trial in Tallahassee in the late 1800s?
A writing mentor once told me, “A lot of stories begin with a question.” I think I have found mine.