I'd never heard of Langston, Georgia, or Fairhope until a wet February night when I shared a fire and a bottle of wine with Rick Broussard in his Franklin Avenue apartment. The CD player was turned down low, but Julie Miller's sassy The Devil is an Angel could still be heard during our conversational lapses. I spent a good deal of the evening complaining about my looming need for a thesis.
"Try and keep some perspective, sugar," he said in that bayou-flavored drawl many women found irresistable. "Everybody starts off feeling that way. Once you get into it, it'll flow. You'll see."
I sighed in self pity. If I just had some iea of which way to go. It's easy for you to talk about hard work and doing your best, Rick. Mathematics isn't exactly a crowded field. But I swear three out of four students at UNO are history majors. You can't throw a rock in this place without hitting one. There's nothing new left to work on. I can't open a book in the library without finding someone else's notes penciled in the margin."
I got up and paced Rick's small living room, sidestepping the mismatched furniture.
"I'm not sure exactly what you need," he said. "Would old letters and papers do you any good --if they'd never been studied before?"
"It depends on who the papers belonged to, the content, the quantity. What difference does it make?"
He grinned. "You know, I might know where you can find something like that."
And that was the beginning. His mother's older sister still lived on the family's home place in Langston, Georgia, and Rick believed she had four or five generations of family papers stored there.
"Seems like most of them belonged to james Westbrooks, my great-great grandfather or great-great-great grandfather or something. Papers that old ought to have something you'd like, right?"
I was now completely alert. "Did you say James Westbrooks? James Kenton Westbrooks?"
"Well, I don't know his middle name," he said with a trace of annoyance. "I thought I was doing pretty damned good to dredge up his first name. After all, it's been ---"
"Rick! Do you know who james Kenton Westbrooks was?"
"Sure. He was my great granddaddy, give or take a great."
"James Kenton Westbrooks was one of the South's most prominent statesmen. He represented Georgia in the US Senate and was influential in Jefferson Davis's administration. I wonder if this is the same guy."
He shrugged. "Could be. I never paid much attention to those old stories. You know, chivalry, the Old south, and all that kind of crap? I never say anything very romantic about supporting a hopeless cause -- and a morally reprehensible one at that -- and losing a war."