Saturday, July 20, 2013
The Taste of Humble Pie
They say that humility is good. That confession is good for the soul. That humble pie should be a staple. And eating crow is good for psychic health.
And so ... I fess up ... (as one of my elementary school teachers used to urge me to do whenever there was an unsolved crime in the classroom) ... and I now commence the ingestion of HP and Crow, seasoned with Confession ...
I committed a major research blunder. Here goes ...
As some of you know, I have for several years been researching the life of one of my former English teachers, Mr. Augustus H. Brunelle, who taught me English, Latin, and German at Hiram High School, 1958-1961 (when he retired--purely a coincidence that I was in his class at the time). Over the past few years I have visited places where he lived, where he worked; I have interviewed his son (now in his 80s) and others who knew him; I have conducted lots of online research (thank you, Ancestry.com) and in libraries--the public library in Sioux City, IA, where he went to school and college, was especially helpful. I gave talks about him at Western Reserve Academy and at two different Hiram High reunions.
So far, okay. No servings of Humble Pie.
Sometime last year, checking on Ancestry.com, I saw in the 1900 Census data that the Brunelles were living at the time in Miller, Iowa. Hmmmmmm.
I checked a map, saw that tiny, very rural Miller was in the north central part of the state, about 175 miles away from Anthon (also tiny and rural), where Mr. Brunelle was born in 1894. So ... it seemed that the Brunelles had moved to a different Iowa town. What excited me, though: I discovered that his father, Edmund, was listed as "farmer." I'd not before known what his occupation was. (He had abandoned the family later on.)
And now the story begins to darken ... well, not the story: My screw up.
Joyce was planning a John Brown research trip, one that required a journey across the entire state of Iowa, west to east, a journey Brown himself had taken in 1859, the very year of Harpers Ferry. Well, sez I to Joyce, maybe we can stop and see Miller while we're out there?
And so, a few weeks ago, we did. I even posted a story here about our time there--about meeting a kind woman in Miller, a lifelong resident who promised to do some Brunelle research for us--finding, perhaps, the location of their farm (information not in the Census report). Great. And on I drove to Sioux City, feeling the elation of a successful researcher, to see the house they'd lived in, the high school and college he attended. Afterwards, we drove south along the Missouri River then swung east and followed John Brown's route across the state--approximately the course of I-80.
Darker still grows the story ...
Back home, the flutters and clutters of life kept me from emailing the woman in Miller with more specific information. I would get around to it. Soon. Or so I promised myself.
Then, on Wednesday came an email from her, reminding me of her offer, her willingness. Okay. Just the prod I needed to get off my duff.
I dug back into my Brunelle files and found my photocopy of the 1900 Census page that shows the Brunelles in Miller. But as I was typing my response to my friend in Miller--yes, in the very act of typing my response--I noticed something. The top of the page. The words Miller Township.
Wait a minute ... Is Miller in Miller Township? What if ...?
Feeling an alarm beginning to sound in my conscience, I typed "Miller Township, Iowa" into Google's search window.
PITCH DARK TIME ...
And discovered ... that Miller ... is the name of the township wherein Anthon, Iowa, lies, not Miller, Iowa. The Brunelles had not moved from Anthon to Miller; they had stayed right there in Anthon where they were in 1894 when Mr. Brunelle was born.
I said some very bad words and forms of very bad words. Many of them, at least in part, rhymed with "duck." Or "cluck."
All my discoveries about the Brunelles in Miller, Iowa--dutifully included in my PowerPoint, dutifully delivered in my speeches, dutifully included in my conversations with our new friend in Miller--all of it: based on a careless error in reading the Census data.
I had to write back to her and confess my screw-up.
I have not heard from her. I hope I don't.
Meanwhile, I'm eating heavy but very nutritious slices of Humble Pie, with side dishes of Crow. And feeling very very tiny while doing so ...
And if humility cleanses the soul, well, my soul now glistens like a mirror in the summer sun of, oh, Miller Township, Iowa.