What lies beneath the sandy soil of Pigeon Point? No ancient Duncan Miller manuscripts, at least not anymore. Last week I wrote about our trench-digging efforts to exhume them, which, since we couldn’t remember exactly where we’d buried them or how deep or even how long ago, was an exercise in futility (accent on exercise). But one of my sisters-by-Byrne, Lisa Lepionka, left a comment on this blog that changed everything. She reminded me that her husband Larry, who used to smoke pipes and read Shakespeare with Duncan, is an archeologist with the proper tools for digs such as ours.
I am not proud. I readily admit when I am in over my head and need help. Larry bicycled right over with a pair of industrial strength clippers for buried roots and a bonafide archeologist’s probe and put Gary to work. It turns out when you jab into the soil with a long pointy rod it’s as much about sound as resistance. Metallic pings are usually signs you’ve hit an oyster shell, and tree roots make a sharp, cracking noise when probed. Three thick, hand-typed manuscripts create a resonant thud when you stab through their outer wrapping – and after a week of digging that’s a wonderful sound.
The whole search took ten minutes, once the professional arrived. Larry crouched down, started scraping away the earth and professorially announced “we have contact with plastic.” I would have cracked open the tequila to celebrate right there and then, but Larry reminded me that some of manuscripts were 60 years old when the paper went into the ground and if any water had seeped into the pages since then the results would be discouraging.
We pried the manuscripts from their grip of secrecy and ripped open the layers of plastic covering. It didn’t look good. The flimsy cardboard boxes that encased each of the three manuscripts disintegrated in my hands – wet globs of musty dirt. The title pages were spotted with yellow mold and the one that had been on top was now decorated with a cluster of probe holes. Still, Larry says he expected worse. Inside, the pages are still legible – and he says I should be able to read them safely once they’re completely dry and I’ve taken a pastry brush to the clots of dirt.
The special collections director at the Beaufort County Library also commented on the last blog – she suggests that after I’m done referencing the manuscripts for my book about Byrne Miller, I store them with the rest of Byrne’s papers. The thing is, Duncan suffered from what Byrne always called “borderline schizophrenia” and his writing is, well, “ribald” might be the best way to describe it. Still, it’s his life’s work and maybe after we’ve all read “Fifty Shades of Grey” it won’t seem so disturbing after all.