Here we come a-Waltering among the leaves so green
They weren't lying on the phone: they really let me in to see the papers, and I spent seven hours today, less lunch, staring at them. There's so much good stuff there, obscured by so much chaff, that I'm torn between delight at what I'm finding and despair at the prospect of putting any of it to use in the service of a coherent narrative. If nothing else, though, I'm learning a lot. The first thing I learned is that people have terrible handwriting. At first I thought it might be the lobotomies, but no, even the relatives have terrible handwriting. Of course you'd probably find a higher incidence of mental illness in the families of lobotomy patients than in the general population, so maybe that accounts for it. The second thing I learned is that Howard Dully is right, people do talk an awful lot about the weather in their letters to Freeman. I think this is because they want to break off a little piece of their lives and give it to him. It's like in Jane Austen when people say "It is very fine today" when what they mean is "I love you more than my own life," because you're not allowed to say "I love you more than my own life." When people write Walter letters and mention the weather, I think they are saying different things. I think some of them are saying, This is the life you gave back to me. It's raining here in this place that isn't the insane asylum. And I think some of them are saying, I demand to be treated as a human being, so I'm talking about the weather, which is a signal human beings give each other. And I think some of them just can't think of anything else to say. That last one is universal, even among people who are not lobotomy patients or the relatives of lobotomy patients.
Third: It is super-creepy to read Christmas cards with lobotomy information on them. Walter always encouraged his patients and their families to let him know how they were doing, so it's not surprising they'd combine best wishes of the season with medical information, but it's still creepy. Like there will be some cheery Christmas design on the front of the card and inside will be written something like "Martha is much the same as when you last saw her, she's still in Creedmore Hospital and they tell us she still has fits of anger and hits people. Merry Christmas!"
Fortunately the Smithsonian was open when they kicked me out of the library at five, so I could unwind from creepy Christmas cards with monotreme skeletons and the Hope Diamond.
Tomorrow I'm going to try Walter's great big 372-page unpublished autobiography. I hope it begins with his birth on Krypton.