Archive for the 'Embree Diaries' Category

Lent: Redemption

amywink February 21st, 2018

“Stories are a gift to the tribe and stories have always been the best way for us to make sense of this hard world, or try to.” Greg Garrett

Reading the 19th-century diaries of Henrietta and Tennessee Embree taught me a great deal about compassion. The moment Tennessee wrote about backhanding her two-year old daughter across the face, hitting the child hard with her ringed hand and then her own horror at doing so was a moment I had to put down her journal and think hard about how I might judge her or understand her. I had liked her, felt for her, and suddenly, she struck her daughter in an unforgivable way and I could not like her.

Her fate in my writing would depend on how I responded. I could dismiss her. I could demean her. I could forget her humanity. She was racist, wealthy, abusive. What more did I need to condemn her? We are so much more evolved now, right? What value would there be in considering her humanity? Instead, I found my compassion in understanding the life she lived with her abusive husband, the fear that pervaded her life, and what must have been overwhelming moment, one that exploded into violence. I forgave her.

It has been over twenty years since I first encountered that moment in her 1867 diary and yet that moment stays with me today because my work turned on how I responded to her. A graduate student once wrote me about Tennessee Embree, asking “If there was basically a women’s shelter in Belton, why didn’t she just go there for help?” There was judgment in the question, like there is still today, but the answer I sent was very simple, very human: “She didn’t like the woman who ran the Belton Women’s Commonwealth.” That is the thing that stopped her. I never heard back from the graduate student. I suspect my answer might not have been what she wanted to hear, but it could also have been that my answer was just not exciting enough, not deep enough, for what the student wanted to write. I don’t know. I do know that Tennessee was a human being and it is hard to be a human being.

What does it matter what way I wrote about this long-dead woman? What does it matter how I chose to respond in a critical book on women’s diaries that so few people might eventually read? My response mattered because I was telling her story, the story she kept privately, the story I was reading, the story that now became part of my story. My responsibility to her story was also a responsibility to her, my responsibility to understand her humanity. I had to reach. I had to set aside my self (my PhD-seeking, make-a-critical-impact self) and reach, instead, for her.

When I eventually met Tennessee Embree’s descendants, they asked me “What made Henrietta and Tennessee special? What made them important enough for you to write about?” I answered, “Their ordinary lives.” I explained that they lived ordinary lives, in a community of people, and experienced ordinary human things, in the same way that we experience ordinary human things. The value of their diaries is exactly that, not in being extraordinary. When we read the story of ordinary living, we can come to understand what makes us human, the things that connect us to each other. The moments of ordinary failure, or ordinary achievement, help us understand, as Richard Rohr describes, the “shattering experiences of living.” Their ordinary lives, their ordinary words, reach across time and like a revelation, illuminate the difficulty and elegance of being human.

Looking Back

amywink December 31st, 2009

My favorite holiday of the year is New Year’s, and the week leading up the the new. I try to take a positive look on what I accomplished during the last year and think about what I hope to move toward accomplishing in the next year. I don’t make resolutions, but rather think about goals and aspirations, writing down things I’d like to consider for the new year. This year, I am also try to take a long look back, especially since this past year was a “5 year” mark on several things I’d aspired to do.

The course to accomplishing many of those goals was a complete surprise. I never imagined I’d be able to spend my summer working at Haven Hill, learning as much as I could about driving and horses, and in tandem, learning as much about myself in the process. But that experience (and all the amazing people I’ve met through this new hobby) is what made driving Will at Agarita on our 5th anniversary entirely possible. And with that experience, I now have what I hope to be the makings of an interesting book–something that was not on the horizon 5 years ago!–which I plan to begin writing in 2010.

The book that was on the horizon then is now in print as Tandem Lives: The Frontier Texas Diaries of Henrietta Baker Embree and Tennessee Keys Embree, 1856-1884.. The publication in April 2009 was a long awaited event and I am looking forward to the presentation and book signing in March 2010. That project was also full of Providential surprises, including the eventual discovery of the original diaries. . . . or, I should say, the eventual discovery of *me* by the owner of the original diaries!

These accomplishments represent a interesting convergence: my own recovery of a long-desired and long-denied relationship with horses (a self denied) along with the completion of a writing project which I think of as both the end of the pursuit of academic writing– writing about self (auto), life (bio), writing (graphy)– and the beginning of writing for my own life. The resolution of each story line required a combination of sheer will and individual effort as well as many fortuitous events and unimagined blessings.

It is an interesting pairing, one which I hope will move me forward into the New Year and many more wonderful experiences.

Catalogue Day

amywink February 9th, 2009

The University of Tennessee Spring/Summer 2009 catalogue arrived in the mail today and there on page 17 is the project I have been working on since 1996. I can’t wait to see the actual book. It’s scheduled for release in April. Amazon.com says April 20 but who knows if that’s accurate. I’m still at work on the website but was pleased to see the link included in the description. I’d better get busy posting more of the information I have!