The Dead Speak to Me and I Don’t Listen

I’m working on this project that has been my almost-all consuming passion for a little over a year. I’m not yet free to talk about it too much, but the gist of it is this: some scholars and students from one of our local universities went down to Coahoma County, Mississippi to collect folklore from the residents there in the early 1940s. This project will make available the results of their work, finally, after sixty years.

The three men from the university who left written documentation of the trip are dead. The original materials have been, in some cases, lost or destroyed. This includes the hand-written transcriptions of many of the songs the music scholar heard while he was down there.

Luckily, someone at the university put the transcriptions on microfilm. Unfortunately, the university’s microfilm machine doesn’t work.

This means that there are, maybe, 10 copies of these transcriptions in the whole world. At least half of them are sitting in my office. When I’m feeling low about my life, like I lack purpose and direction, I take out one of those transcripts, usually one of the moans or hollers the singer from the Stovall plantation band performed–something that’s never ended up on a record–and I indulge myself in the feeling that I’m sharing a secret just between that singer, the man with the lined paper, and me, something no one else in the world knows, yet.

In preparing the scholarship for publication, I came across a note from the man with the lined paper to his editor. I’m sure when he wrote the note, he figured, though he didn’t yet know who would edit his work, that he would. But here it is, sixty years and six feet of dirt later, and I’m it–a girl who will remain a stranger to him. That note is addressed to me.

I feel honored and sad and proud.

It says, “Note for editor: Titles in parentheses are for reference purposes only and are not to be included in the printed essay.”

Like all editors, I’m ignoring my author’s wishes. We’re putting the titles in.