Thursday, July 29, 2010

My starting point

After successfully navigating the gauntlet of park benches that lined the walkway to the front of the Court House, you entered a long hallway. This was no ordinary hallway. The ceilings were 14-16 feet tall, the floor was marble, and you could barely make out the back exit being so far away. The hallway was lined with large white doors spaced irregularly down each side. Some doors had that milk-colored glass halfway at the top that would not let you see what was going on inside. Some doors had no glass at all, being all wood, but had one of those small, rectangular slanting windows that opened and closed by using a long metal rod that disappeared into the room behind. Some of the doors had large black letters, and some only had large black numbers painted on the outside window front. You sure had to know where you were going I thought! What struck me the most was that the hallway was empty of people. Occasionally you would pass someone leaving one door going to another, but compared to outside, this place was quiet.

Walking down the long, long, hallway, the last two doors on the left and right seemed always to be opened. Looking in to the right, you saw a large number of books stacked about the room in various metal contraptions that looked like flattened bookcases. Some stretched from floor to ceiling, and some stopped halfway up the wall. Some of these contraptions actually stood in the middle of the room with people walking around them. Each flattened metal shelf seem to contain a large book, often red in color, with large gold writing and numbers on the side. What mysteries did all these books contain?

The room on the left was somewhat different. It was lined floor to ceiling with narrow metal drawers. They were painted gray in color, each with a small rectangular label on the outside. In the room, there was one of those specialized ladders that had wheels and a platform at the top. This could be moved about and used to reach those drawers at the top. Inside each drawer were tightly packed, letter-sized records with names and dates written on the outside. What stories did these records tell?

Needless to say, a nine year old was easy to overlook. Most of those walking about must have thought I was certainly lost, or that I was waiting for an adult who was there checking some record. At any rate, I soon figured out that there were Deed Books, Marriage Records, Will Books, Tax Books, Military Records, Church Records, and Order Books. I was not sure what an Order Book was, but that understanding was yet to come.

Of course where do you start? I would take a book near the floor, which was much easier to manipulate, and open to a random page. The writing style was amazing to me...all the slanted, twisted letters with funny looking lines and squiggles. At places, it looked like some of my own doodling. Man I thought, I could get along with this guy.

It would take me several years before I could reach and lift the books higher up on the shelves. By that time it had become clear that an index was the secret key needed to open the stories and mysteries within all these books. Finding the index became my starting point.

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