Yesterday my brother Rick Reb and I took many of the materials used in writing Examined Lives—my mother’s scrapbooks, diary, books in which she handwrote or pasted in poems she loved, photographs and more—to Special Collections at the Gelman Library of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. This is where the Freeman and Watts Collection is housed and where now my mother will have her own small collection of materials, with the collection named after her, for researchers to access. There we met Jennifer King, the Collections Coordinator and Manuscripts Librarian; Brigette Kamsler, the University Archivist; and Leah Richardson, their Reference Librarian. Leah had been my brother’s and my contact to get permission to access my mother’s medical records in the Freeman and Watts collection, in arranging for the digitization of Freeman’s unpublished autobiography which I paid to have done and which now makes it available for others who do not need to travel to DC to access it, and so much more. She has our deepest gratitude.
Most gratifying of all was the excitement exhibited by Jen, Brigette and Leah at receiving these materials as they have in their collection no counterweight to Freeman’s own materials. They felt a particular eagerness about their use in women’s studies.
The interest in Freeman never seems to die and we were able to see one of the boxes containing some of his publications which are publicly available, as opposed to the patient files, and which someone had requested to see.
My brother’s and my day did not, however, end there. We both share an interest in history and decided to visit two sites we had never visited before—the Holocaust Museum and the Vietnam Memorial. The exhibits at the Holocaust Museum are remarkable and harrowing. Our visit to the Vietnam Memorial led to a fortuitous encounter that made the wall so real for us. As we were walking along the wall we met what turned out to be a veteran, exhausted from walking quite a distance with a bum leg and confused about trying to find the names of two of his fallen friends on the wall. We stopped to help. My brother figured out how to locate the two names and we took pictures of him pointing to the names on his old mobile phone for momentos.
We then sat with him for a while as he rested and talked about the war and many things. He was so grateful to us for our help but the gratitude is ours as he made the wall all that much more real for us. He said the best thing people could say to him about his participation in the war was “Welcome home.” So “Welcome home, Jimmy. Welcome home.””
But also near the Wall was a very visible reminder of why I wrote Examined Lives—a wreath from the American Psychiatric Association.