Having finally come down off the high of “Trouble Begins” on Wednesday evening at the Mark Twain House, I can now write about it. The start was not auspicious as it was raining and hovering on the edge of freezing when I set out. Evening rush-hour traffic was building. The defroster staged a work slowdown, but I arrived in good time and made my way to the café, the auditorium still being in a state of disrepair from a flood some weeks ago.
My friend and the event organizer Steve Courtney had the PowerPoint set up in no time, which gave me an opportunity to chat with some early arrivals.
Steve said fifty people had pre-registered, but he expected perhaps forty because of the rotten weather. I didn’t count, but I am pretty sure the turnout was sixty or more. So exciting!
Among those in attendance were my cousins Charlie James and Faith Thomas (descendants from the patriarch Willis James’s first marriage); and Debra Gauge and Herbert Marone (from the third marriage.) As I’m descended from the second marriage, we had the entire family represented. My friend Barbara Bergren, who is writing her own amazing family story, attended. One of the veterans from my writing workshop made the trek from Willimantic. Vassar Club members came out in force. And several of fellow hikers from the Twain-Twichell walks also put in an appearance.
The Twain house presentations feature students learning American Sign Language and who come to the events to practice. What a great service!
The only challenge was the lack of a sound system. Had it been merely addressing a roomful of people, there would have been no problem, but the noise from the refrigeration unit made for serious competition. I reached wa-a-ay back to my acting classes and projected as best I could.
I spoke about “Servants in the Family: Evolving Views,” concerning my James family’s rise from slavery and the connection to the Nook Farm neighborhood.
- The audience found the family’s choice of names just as confusing as I did the first time out – pairs of Willises and Charleys and Harrys and a handful of Annas.
- They loved the autographs of the Clemens family and gasped when I said later signatures included one signed “Edward R.,” who was known at the time as HRH Edward VIII.
- I plugged Steve’s biography Joseph Hopkins Twichell, concerning the life of Mark Twain’s best friend who occupied the pulpit at Hartford’s Asylum Hill Congregational Church for more than forty years.
- The audience seemed suitably impressed that the present generation of James descendants includes an IT specialist, a veterinarian, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, and a bank examiner.
- Uncle Charley received round of applause on the one-hundred- fiftieth anniversary of his enlistment into the Lincoln Cavalry.
The return journey was slightly less nerve-wracking because there was less traffic and less rain. The temp dropped to 32 as I pulled into the driveway.