For the past few weeks, my mind has skipped back and forth from the present to the late 1800s...I've been separating my great-great-grandfather's memoir into fluorescent colors - green is his life from his first step across the Red River into Texas, through the Indian Wars and his cowboy days; orange takes over during the Civil War, Reconstruction, and his two years in prison, interspersed with pink for love and family; and yellow is reserved for the last chapter of his life, when he tried to piece it all back together, finally learning to accept things the way they were and make the most of it.
I didn't think very much about the colors - except for pink, of course - but I realize there is some significance in my choices. Both green and orange are yellow plus another color, so yellow is a good color for the time in his life when he rids himself of illusions and extras, down to the essence of himself that was there all along, his true self....
As I read and re-read the words he wrote in 1901, I try to decipher what he's really saying, what he's leaving out and why. I try to see what he describes through his eyes, and then from the eyes of his friends, loved ones, and even his enemies. It's tough...meaning, it's tough to imagine living through all of it. I have to take lots of breaks, pull myself out of it and think about what I'm reading, try and put it into perspective.
The first time I read his memoir, I couldn't put it down. I read it straight through. I was pretty familiar with Texas history and the Civil War, had read a lot of books, visited the battlegrounds, watched the documentaries and movies, but his words brought it all to life in a way I couldn't have imagined possible. It was liking stepping through a portal into that time of violence. Through his words and descriptions, I could see it, and much of it broke my heart. That's when I got the idea to turn it into a screenplay.
It has taken another five or six years now...maybe even more...for the next step - actually trying to write it. And as with most things, it's turning out to be a little more complicated than I thought it would be. But I'm optimistic and determined. His life was full of tragedy, but in writing his memoir he hoped to send a message, warning others not to make the same mistakes he made. I want to help him get the message out, and at the same time make sure his loyalty, love, courage and strength of character aren't buried beneath his flaws along the way in the telling. Wish me luck!
By the way, today is the 114th anniversary of the day he was released from prison. In his words..."Freedom! Oh! Freedom is so sweet to a man!"
Today I'm grateful for my freedom...that I live in America...that my cousin found this memoir so we could all finally read it...for my great-great-grandfather's willingness to share his story so many years ago...for the chance to finally try to turn it into a movie or book so others can learn from his life the way he hoped.