What’s Happening!

Thank you for your lovely words about Photographs and Memories! I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

Right now I’m working on revisions for Deceived to Death with my writing group. If that title doesn’t look familiar, don’t worry. It’s the book that was originally called Landscaped to Death. We decided that the title didn’t work very well. It’s on track for publication in November.

Here’s the schedule going forward (subject to change, of course!):

August 2-7: There Goes the Neighborhood, a serialized short story that’s a flashback to 2013.

November 2016: Deceived to Death, JBM #13

FrankfurterBuchmesse2008

By KJohansson (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

May 2017: Promoted to Death, JBM #14

November 2017: Published to Death, JBM #15

2018: Defined to Death, JBM #16

2019: Drugged to Death, JBM #17

2020: Resigned to Death, JBM #18

2020 or 2021: Enchanted to Death, JBM #19

2021 or 2022: Snowed to Death, JBM #20 (and very likely final)

What will come after that? I don’t plan to stop writing! But I think Jamie’s story will be finished. I have some ideas for the future…

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Played to Death now at Smashwords

The wait is over (if you’d been waiting) – Played to Death, JBM #11, is now available at Smashwords and all of its distribution points. Here’s the link:  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/643842

Enjoy!!

Played cover 1

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Photographs and Memories, part 15

February 27, 1924

Dear Wes,

I am alive and well, thank God. I had finished my shift three hours before the collapse of the mine shaft and was asleep. The noise woke me; I rushed to the site but there was nothing anyone could do.

The disaster has played right into Eula’s hands; she has told Caroline that I was killed in the mine. My little girl thinks I am dead.

So many of my friends are dead. Carl Blake, Joe White. John Meadows, my next-door neighbor, has left three young children. What will become of them now?

I cannot stay here. I would be pleased if Louisa could find a suitable room for me. I am more than happy to take whatever sort of work I can find. I have a letter of reference from Col. Roberts.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Yours,

Emory

 

Saturday, June 25

Tyler’s wedding day dawned warm and muggy. I was glad the ceremony was being held in the morning hours. Pete wasn’t glad – Kevin had been the designated driver for  his and Pete’s foray to Ty’s bachelor party, and Pete had come home happy and half-sloshed. They had both enjoyed themselves immensely. Ty was right – Kevin had been a hit.

I asked Jeff to wrap my ankle tightly, intending to leave the crutches at home. At 9:00 we loaded everyone into Dennis’s and Toni’s cars and drove to the Army-Navy Club. The wedding was being held outdoors, then we’d go inside for a brunch reception.

The venue was lovely – lush green grass that we Californians envied, with white slat folding chairs separated by a walkway strewn with rose petals. A string quartet was on our left, playing a piece that I didn’t recognize but thought was Mozart.

As family, we had reserved seats near the front. Pete whispered, “This is Spartan compared to Kent Fisher’s wedding.”

“Ty probably spent a quarter of what Kent and Graham did.”

Pete gave me a sly grin. “Darn. I was hoping to see another doggie wrist corsage.”

I spluttered a laugh.

One of the groomsmen showed Sarah and her family to their seats, directly opposite us. I caught Sarah’s eye and waved; she waved back.

Toni, Aunt Marilyn and Blair’s mother were escorted down the aisle one by one and seated, with Dennis, Cliff, and Blair’s stepfather trailing. Then the groomsmen began walking in. Fortunately they came in pairs, rather than singly. They all looked sharp, in black tuxes and white cummerbunds.

Blair and Tyler walked in together, clutching each other’s hands. Blair looked pale but calm. Tyler looked relaxed and happy.

What a relief.

After the hoopla of the past week, the ceremony itself was mercifully short. The minister said a few words, Blair and Tyler repeated vows, and they exchanged rings. When it was time for Blair to say, “I do,” we all held our breath. When he did there was a palpable sigh of relief from both sides of the aisle.

The minister pronounced them married, and Blair and Tyler turned. Tyler blew kisses to

Gay_wedding_a_by_Stefano_Bolognini

By Stefano Bolognini (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

us, and they led the procession out. The groomsmen escorted the mothers down the aisle and we were all free to head to the reception.

We snagged a table as near to the buffet line as possible, then loaded our plates. We hadn’t eaten breakfast, and I was ravenous. Waiters came around with mimosas and we began to eat.

Doug had hung back a little to speak to Henry – probably checking on Tanner’s condition. When he sat down Dad said, “Tanner?”

“He woke up but then began having withdrawal symptoms, and they’ve sedated him. They’re going to try to get him through withdrawal there in the hospital so they can observe him for seizures during and re-evaluate him afterwards.”

Sarge said, “I’d like to see him.”

Doug said, “We’ll go after the reception.”

 

We thoroughly enjoyed the reception. The food was excellent and the mimosas kept coming. They weren’t very strong, which was for the best. We chatted with Sarah and her sister, and exchanged phone numbers.

Tyler and Blair remained glued to each other’s sides for the rest of the morning. When it was time for them to leave, we went outside and threw rose petals at them. Marilyn and Cliff were driving them to the airport to catch their flight to Heathrow then Oslo.

We didn’t stay much longer. Dad, Doug and Sarge went to the hospital to see Tanner; the rest of us went back to the house. Jeff, Kevin, Pete and I changed clothes and walked to the Metro station one more time.

We were going to say goodbye to Mom, and find our great-grandfather.

 

We located Emory’s grave first.

EMORY R

JARRELL

CPL

US ARMY

WORLD WAR I

MAY 17 1890

AUGUST 16 1981

BELOVED FRIEND

I thought of the man in the photo, with the half smile and the relaxed stance, now resting beneath my feet. I laid my hand on his stone. “I promised I’d find you.”

Kevin said, “Wesley must have added the last line.”

Jeff asked, “Why doesn’t Mom’s headstone have a last line like that?”

Kevin counted the lines. “Both inscriptions have eight lines. Maybe that’s the maximum.”

We stood silently for a minute. I didn’t know what Kevin or Jeff was thinking. I was thinking of Emory, brokenheartedly writing letters to his little daughter that he’d never mail.

At least he’d had Wesley.

After another minute Jeff sighed. “Let’s go.”

Tombstones_at_Arlington_National_Cemetery,_July_2006

By S. Chua (w:Image:Arlingtoncemetery.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

We went to Mom’s grave again and gathered around it. Kevin, in the middle, put an arm around Jeff’s and my shoulders and pulled us in; Jeff and I wrapped arms around Kevin’s back. We leaned on each other, once again thinking our own thoughts.

I missed her so much, and I didn’t even remember her. It was no wonder that Jeff and Dad were still grieving.

Finally, without a word, Jeff turned away. Kevin followed. I laid my hand on the stone one more time and whispered, “See you in my dreams.”

 

About a half-hour after we got back to the house, Dad, Doug and Sarge returned. I said, “How’s Tanner?”

Doug said, “He’s one sick kid. He was shocked to see us.”

Linda asked, “Is he still sedated?”

“Somewhat. He’s groggy.”

Dennis asked, “What did you say to him?”

Sarge answered. “I told him we loved him and we didn’t want to watch him self-destruct.”

Dad said, “I reminded him of the things he’d been good at as a kid. That he shouldn’t compare himself to his brothers. That he has value to us in his own right, not only because he’s Dennis’s kid.”

Doug said, “I told him that when he was released from the hospital, if he wanted to get out of Virginia, he could come to Jacksonville. I’d help him find a job and stay straight.”

I asked, “What was his reaction?”

Dad said, “He didn’t say much. He cried some.”

Dennis said, “Thank you, Dad. Thanks, Dave and Doug. I don’t know what else to do for him.”

Sarge said, “You’ve done everything you can. I reckon it’s your turn to sit with him now.”

“Right.” Dennis stood. “You all will excuse me? I’ll be back in a while.”

 

Sunday, June 26

The next morning we were up early, loading Denny’s SUV for the trip to Dulles. We said goodbye to Denny at the airport and hauled our bags into the terminal.

We made it through security without glitches. I used my crutches to garner sympathy; we were able to commandeer a transport cart and ride in style through the terminal. We reached the gate for the flight to San Diego first, and left Dad, Jeff and Val there. Kevin, Kristen, Pete and I rode on to the gate for our flight to LAX.

I checked the time – it was 6:30 in California, but I knew she’d be awake – and texted Mel, who was picking us up. Through security, at the gate. Flight on time.

Super. Ammo has missed you. See you in a few hours.

I said to Kristen, “Back to work tomorrow.”

“I know. I don’t think I’ll be very productive.”

Kevin grunted. “I hope things are under control at the station.”

Kristen asked Pete, “Do you get to sleep in?”

“No. I have to be in the writing center for tutoring hours at 9:00.”

Kevin shook his head, looking out the window at our airplane. “Why are we doing this?”

I said, “Flying?”

“Working.”

Pete and I looked at each other. Pete said, “We’ve talked about quitting and moving to Alamogordo. We’re not ready yet.”

Kristen raised an eyebrow. “Have you?”

I said, “Don’t tell Liz. But I’m not going to grow old at YRL.”

Kristen gave me a half-smile. “Don’t tell Liz. But I doubt that I will either.”

Pete asked Kevin, “Do you think you’ll make six more years on the force?”

“I don’t know.”

The gate agent announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll now board our first-class passengers. Please have your boarding passes ready for inspection.”

Pete stood up and slung his bag over his shoulder. “Let’s go home.”

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Photographs and Memories, part 14

Col. George K. Roberts

Department of the Army

September 14, 1921

Col. Roberts:

With all due respect, I have been consistently reporting to you for three years that the miners would never take up arms against the federal government. I have been consistently reporting to you that there was no serious sentiment in favor of the Communists.

I am pleased to hear that Army Intelligence has confirmed my reports. However, it is unclear to me why, if you did not believe me, you continued to request information from me.

As always, I await your instructions.

Sincerely,

E.R. Jarrell

 

Friday, June 24

Friday morning, Pete and I were awakened by a soft knock on the front door. Pete rolled to his feet and came back into the family room with Tyler.

I sat up, rubbing my eyes. “Damn, Ty, what time is it?”

“It’s 7:30. Mom called and woke me up. She said Tanner’s in the hospital.”

“Yeah. He showed up at the dinner but he had a seizure out on the lawn.”

Tyler sighed. “I hate to say this, but I’m glad. At least I know he’ll be in the hospital during the wedding. And there’s more good news. Blair’s dad and stepmother are going home, and all of his mom’s relatives.”

I said, “Did you hear what happened to his dad?”

“Yeah. Blair’s stepmother called this morning right after Mom did.” Tyler turned to Pete. “She said you and Kevin handled him.”

“We got him to his room, where he expressed his appreciation by puking on us, but at least it wasn’t in the ballroom.”

“Thank you for that.” Tyler looked exhausted. “Maybe we should have eloped.”

I said, “Come on, Ty, you’re almost there. One more day. Tonight is your party with your friends, tomorrow is the wedding, then you’re off to Norway. The worst of Blair’s family is leaving. It’s clear sailing ahead.”

“I guess.” Tyler picked at a thread on his jeans. “Do you think I should go see Tanner?”

I said, “No. You can’t do anything for him, and if he wakes up he might upset you.”

“Mom hinted that I should. But I don’t want to.”

Pete said, “Then don’t. Remind your mother that you’re getting married tomorrow and you don’t need the distraction.”

“That sounds good.” Tyler smiled wanly. “Dad’s not awake yet, is he?”

“No one’s awake except us.” Pete stood. “Want some breakfast?”

 

After breakfast I spent some time online and in front of the TV, absorbing the stunning news that the UK had voted to leave the EU. When I finally checked my email I found a message from the LoC librarian who’d helped us on Tuesday. She had attached about fifty scanned pages. I forwarded the email to Jeff and Kevin, then opened the pages and began to read.

Col. George Roberts was in Army Intelligence. He had been Emory Jarrell’s handler, and the liaison between Army Intelligence and the FBI in the search for anarchists and Communists inside the United Mine Workers union. Roberts had paid Emory to provide Army Intelligence with information from the mine fields.

Why would Emory have done that? Was our great-grandfather a snitch?

Or – if my suspicions about him were correct – maybe he’d been forced into it.

I hoped Clarice Hankins could tell us more.

 

Tysons_Corner_Metro_platform

Tysons Corner Metro Station. By Antony-22 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

At 12:30 Jeff, Kevin and I made the trek to the Metro station and rode one stop to Tysons Corner. We found Panera and ordered then claimed a table for four. We’d just picked up our food when a woman’s voice behind me said, “You must be the Brodies.”

Clarice Hankins was probably in her early 60s – slender with spiky silver hair, dressed in a long skirt and t-shirt, carrying a large tote bag. She shook our hands and looked us over. “My goodness. You’re all so tall.” She nodded to Kevin and me. “I don’t see anything of Emory in either of you. You, though -” She turned to Jeff. “You must look like your mother. You definitely have Jarrell in you.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

We arranged ourselves at the table. Clarice folded her hands together. “Now. Tell me about yourselves.”

We each gave her brief biographies. When we’d finished she beamed. “Emory would be delighted to know that his great-grandsons were so accomplished. He’d be delighted to know that he had great-grandsons.”

I said, “We were already born when he passed away.”

Jeff said, “Our mom thought he was dead.”

“Yes. That was the story Eula told everyone. She couldn’t admit that her husband left her for a man. Not even to her daughter.”

I asked, “What happened to Wesley’s wife? Louisa?”

“She died of influenza in 1926.”

“And they had no children?”

“No.” Clarice folded her napkin in her lap. “Wesley and Louisa’s marriage was one of convenience. Louisa also had a ‘special friend,’ a teacher of French at the local high school. Louisa and her friend traveled together every summer.”

I said, “Maybe people didn’t think that was so unusual.”

“No. It was the Progressive Era, after all. Women were asserting themselves in all sorts of ways.” She smiled. “Wesley and Louisa were dear friends. They were both teachers and had a lot in common, including their homosexuality. They lived together quite peaceably, in separate bedrooms. When Louisa passed away, Emory moved into her room. At least that’s what the neighbors thought.”

Kevin asked, “When did Emory move to Lexington?”

“In 1924.”

“How did that come about?”

“Emory and Wesley met once a month, in Huntington, West Virginia. It was approximately halfway between Lexington and Racine. They would have lunch and walk in Ritter Park.” She sighed. “One day they thought they were alone in the park, and made the mistake of briefly holding hands. Someone spotted them and called the police. They were questioned and let go, but word got back to Eula somehow – she had relatives in Huntington. She’d suspected that Emory was gay but had never confronted him. That time, she did.”

I said, “She told him to leave?”

“Yes. First she took Caroline to Charleston, where her mother was living. Then she came back and told Emory that she never wanted to see him again, that he was to have no contact with Caroline, and that she would tell Caroline that he was dead. Emory protested, of course, but what could he do? The risk of exposure was too great.”

Jeff said, “Caroline was ten. Wasn’t she suspicious?”

“I don’t know. Providentially for Eula, while Emory was back in Racine, there was a terrible accident at the Mountain Air mine. Several of Emory’s friends – the men in that picture at the Library of Congress – were killed. Eula said that she was going to tell Caroline that Emory had died in the accident, and that he should use the opportunity to quit the mine and leave town. He didn’t want to, but he had no recourse.”

I said, “So Caroline and Eula moved in with Eula’s parents?”

“Yes. The Balls. Emory supposed that Caroline believed he was dead. Every week he wrote letters to her that he never mailed, hoping that someday she’d come looking for him. But she never did. It broke his heart.”

We all sat for a moment, absorbing that. Kevin said, “No wonder Caroline turned out so nasty, if her mother had that much influence.”

Clarice was surprised by that. “Nasty?”

I told Clarice what Sarge had said about Caroline and Hal. Clarice shook her head. “I am so sorry to hear that. Eula poisoned that girl.”

I said, “I wonder what happened to Eula?”

“She passed away shortly after Caroline was married. Wesley had a friend who knew his situation, who lived in Huntington and taught at Marshall College. He kept an eye on Caroline while she was a student there, and sent Emory the news clippings of Caroline’s wedding announcement and Eula’s obituary. Eula’s parents had already died. When Caroline lost her mother, she must have thought she was alone in the world.”

Jeff asked, “Did Wesley’s friend send Emory our mom’s birth announcement?”

“No. Wesley’s friend moved out of state not long after Eula died.”

Kevin said, “Emory never knew he had a granddaughter.”

“No.” Clarice smiled. “From what you’ve told me of your mother, I believe he would have been delighted with her.”

Jeff said, “I bet she would have been delighted with him, too.”

I asked, “Did Emory have any other family?”

“He had no siblings, but both of his parents came from large families. He had quite a few cousins. I understand you’re here for a cousin’s wedding?”

Kevin said, “One of our Brodie cousins.”

“You were raised in a close family?”

Jeff said, “Yes. The Brodies are tight.”

Clarice smiled. “Emory would be glad to know that.” She reached into her tote bag and pulled out a clasp envelope, stuffed full. “These are Emory’s letters – the ones he and Wesley wrote to each other during the war and after, and the ones he wrote but never mailed to Caroline once he moved to Lexington. I’ve made copies of the letters to and from Wesley for our family. Emory’s birth certificate and death certificate are also in here. These are for you.” She handed the envelope to me.

I peered into it; there were multiple bundles of letters, tied together with yarn. “Thank you so much.”

“You’re quite welcome. Emory would have wanted you to have them.”

Jeff asked, “Do you know anything about Emory’s involvement with Army Intelligence?”

Clarice made a “tsk” sound. “Yes. He was blackmailed into providing information to the Army. Someone reported in the last months of the war that Emory was gay. His superiors gave him the option of a dishonorable discharge, or assisting the FBI.”

I said, “Couldn’t he have fought it?”

“It was a different time.” Clarice smiled sadly. “He didn’t know who had accused him or what the specific accusations were. He didn’t know how to fight back.”

Kevin said, “Emory and Wesley had a long life together.”

“They certainly did. Except for Emory missing Caroline, it was a happy life. Emory took a job with the railroad as a station agent, and of course Wesley continued to teach. After they retired they traveled all over the country.”

Jeff asked, “Did they visit California?”

Clarice smiled sympathetically. “They did.”

I knew what Jeff was thinking. They could have come to California and visited Mom.

Kevin asked, “What happened to Emory?”

“He died in his sleep. He hadn’t been ill, but of course he was 91. Wesley was heartbroken. He lived for two more years, but the joy was gone from his life.” Caroline handed Kevin a slip of paper. “Emory is buried at Arlington National. Wesley made certain of that. This is the location of his grave.”

 

We were quiet on the way back to McLean. I was sure that Jeff and Kevin were thinking the same thing I was.

So much missed opportunity.

I knew one thing. We’d visit Emory’s grave before we left.

When we got back to McLean we told the others what we’d learned. Dad had the same reaction as we did. “He could have visited us. We could have visited him.”

Most of the family was outdoors, enjoying the screened porch. My ankle had swollen again, so I settled into my sofa nest to begin reading Emory’s letters.

Pete came in looking for me and sat on the section of the sofa he’d been using as a bed. “How are you feeling?”

“Fine, as long as I’m seated.”

“I don’t think you should go to the bachelor party. You need to keep your ankle elevated as much as possible before the wedding.”

I smiled. “I’m not going to argue with you. Tyler will be disappointed, though.”

“He’ll understand. But I was thinking… I hate not to go. I’d like to – support the tribe, I guess.”

We hadn’t talked much about the massacre in Orlando over the past week, although it had been on my mind. I knew Pete had been thinking about it, too. I suspected that he, like me, didn’t want to dampen the family festivities. “Sure, I think that’s a good idea. Why don’t you take Kevin?”

“Think he’d come?”

“He might. And Tyler and his pals would probably feel much safer seeing the two of you walk in.”

“I’ll ask him.” Pete disappeared to the porch and returned quickly. “He laughed, but he said yes. With some encouragement from Kristen.”

“Good. I’ll text Ty.” I picked up my phone. Hey, Ty, ankle swelled back up. Going to stay home tonight to keep it propped up. Pete is bringing Kevin in my stead. Pls don’t hate me.

Ha! Kevin will be a hit. Of course I don’t hate you. Feel better. See you tomorrow.

I tossed my phone onto the ottoman. “He’s down with it. Just be careful.”

“Always.”

 

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Photographs and Memories, part 13

September 1, 1921

Dear Wes,

Yes, I am well. I joined the march as it came through Racine, but we were met by General Bandholz just in time to avert tragedy for most of us. He convinced us that if we continued, martial law would be declared and we would be facing the Army. None of us wanted that.

What you heard were reports of the men who had already passed through Racine, who were too far ahead of General Bandholz to receive his message. Many of those men are now under arrest.

The number of casualties was grossly exaggerated in news reports.

Best to Louisa. I will see you soon.

Yours,

Emory

Blair_Mountain_Fighting

The Battle of Blair Mountain. By Charleston Gazette [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, June 23 

Mid-morning on Thursday my phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize. I said, “Hello?”

The voice of an older woman said, “Is this Jeremy Brodie?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I’m Clarice Hankins. You emailed me about my family tree.”

“Oh, yes, ma’am. Please call me Jamie.”

“I’ve wondered for years if anyone from Emory’s family would ever contact me. I wasn’t even sure if his daughter Caroline had descendants.”

“Yes, ma’am. My mom was an only child, but she and my dad had three sons. Have. My brothers and I are all alive and well.”

“But according to your email, you must have lost your mother at a young age.”

“Yes, ma’am. It was a car accident. I was six months old.”

“Oh, I am sorry to hear that.”

“Thank you. I only saw my Coleman grandparents a couple of times after that. I do know they both died sometime in the 1990s.”

“So you weren’t close to your grandparents?”

“No, ma’am. They tried to sue my dad for custody after my mom’s death. Needless to say he didn’t look on that favorably.”

“Goodness, no. How did you learn about Emory?”

I explained how I’d first seen the mine picture in Sheila Meadows’s office, then in the exhibition. “I only found out what Emory’s first name was last week. I started looking on the genealogy sites, and found your family tree.”

“You saw the picture in the exhibition? I thought you live in California.”

“I do. My cousin lives in D.C. and he’s getting married Saturday. I’m staying at my uncle’s house in McLean.”

“Well, for heaven’s sake. I live in Annandale. I’m practically next door.”

Oh. For some reason I thought you were in West Virginia.”

She chuckled. “No. I was born in Kentucky, but married a military man. We’ve lived all over but retired to Annandale.”

“Ah. Was Wesley Morgan your great-uncle?”

“He was. I knew your great-grandfather well.”

I had to talk to this woman. “I’d love to talk to you in person. My brothers are on this trip with me. I know they’d enjoy meeting you.”

“Certainly. Do you know where Tysons Corner Center is?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“There’s a Metro stop within walking distance. Would you be able to meet for lunch tomorrow?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Wonderful. Shall we say 1:00? At Panera.”

“Yes, ma’am. You’ll probably spot my brother Kevin first. He’s 6’4” and very blond.”

“Perfect. I’ll see you then.”

I hung up. Pete, Dad and Sarge had all been listening in with interest. Dad said, “Well?”

“We’re going to meet tomorrow for lunch. She says she knew Emory Jarrell well.”

Pete asked, “Were Emory and Wesley a couple?”

“She didn’t say. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.”

 

We didn’t go to the wedding rehearsal itself, since we weren’t in the wedding. The wedding and reception on Saturday would be at the Army-Navy Country Club, where Dennis was a member, but Tyler and Blair were holding their rehearsal dinner in the hotel where Blair’s cousins were staying.

I walked into the banquet hall using crutches, then propped them against the wall by our table. It appeared that the new seating pattern was working to suppress conflict – so far. On the wall opposite from us was the doughy clump of pallid people that were Blair’s maternal aunts, uncles and cousins. They looked disoriented, like they’d boarded a tour bus for Dollywood and were diverted to Buckingham Palace. I spotted Sarah at the table closest to the door; she gave me a little wave and I waved back.

The servers glided between tables silently, pouring wine. I took a sip and watched Blair’s father as he quickly downed his first glass and requested a refill.

Uh oh. I nudged Pete. “Blair’s dad is already on his second glass of wine.”

Pete nudged Kevin, on his other side. “We need to keep an eye on Blair’s father.”

“Roger that.”

Dinner was superb and served in grand style. Salad first, then gazpacho, then the main course, all accompanied by liberal refills of wine. At the tables in the center of the room the majority of the groomsmen and their dates were being served something that I couldn’t identify. Vegan and gluten-free, no doubt. Our meal was prime rib, roasted Yukon Gold potatoes with rosemary, and perfectly steamed asparagus tips. It looked like the Gorham clan on the far wall was being served the same thing.

We dug in enthusiastically. The prime rib was tender enough to cut with a fork. It had been a long time since I’d had a piece of red meat this good. One of the groomsmen glanced over at us, the barbarians happily consuming meat, and made a moue of distaste.

Kristen saluted him with her prime rib-laden fork. I snickered.

Dessert was sherbet with raspberries. Perfect. We were served champagne with dessert. Tyler stood up and lifted his glass. “I just want to say, thank you to everyone. All of our friends and relatives that are making this weekend so special for us. We love you all.”

Everyone applauded, although I noted that Blair looked slightly ill. He was sitting next to his mother, who’d kept up a constant stream of chatter in his ear throughout dinner.

The tables were cleared; the space that had been occupied with serving carts was quickly converted into a bar. Blair’s father was first in line.

Pete groaned. “Is this an open bar?”

I said, “No. Beer and wine are a dollar, mixed drinks are two. Cheap but not free.”

Kevin watched Blair’s dad weave his way back to his seat. “This is a terrible idea.”

As the crowd grew more raucous, I grew more concerned. Kevin and Pete casually strolled to the head table, unobtrusively attempting to keep Blair’s dad under control, getting his drinks for him and ensuring that he stayed in his seat. Tyler looked happy, oblivious to the potential drama to his right.

That was what mattered. If Tyler was happy, I was happy.

Then an uninvited guest slipped into the room, and it all went to hell.

I whispered, “Oh, fuck.”

Kristen’s and Val’s heads swiveled. Val said, “What?”

“Tanner at three o’clock.”

Damn.” Val started to get up.

I put my hand on her arm. “Stay. I’ll get Will and Henry and handle this.”

Slide1

Rehearsal Dinner Seating

I slipped out of my seat, leaving the crutches where they were, and limped toward the head table. Pete caught my eye and raised an eyebrow; I shook my head slightly at him. I reached the table where Will and Henry were seated and bent down between them. “Tanner’s here.”

Will groaned. Henry hissed, “Shit. Where?”

“He just came in the back door.”

Will said, “We’ve got to stop him.”

I said, “Agreed. Are you two coming?”

Henry scowled. “Hell, yeah.”

“Let’s surround him.” I pointed to the left. “Will, you go that way, behind the head table. Henry, you go to the right and come up behind him. I’ll walk straight toward him, and you guys grab him and escort him out. With luck, Tyler won’t see him.”

“Okay.” Will stood and made his way behind the head table. Henry wound his way through the tables to the right. I walked straight through the room in Tanner’s direction. He was against the far wall, nearly to the front of the room; he and Will would meet in the corner.

I hoped Tyler hadn’t spotted him.

Will and I reached Tanner at the same time. Tanner pulled up short at the sight of Will then smirked. “Well, hey there, big brother. What’s shakin’?”

I said, “Nothing’s getting shaken here today.”

Tanner whirled around, the surprise on his face getting replaced by menace. “Well, looky here. It’s the millionaire fag. Whatcha gonna do, fag? Hit me with your purse?”

Will said disgustedly, “You’re stoned.”

“Nah. Just happy. S’posed to be happy at a wedding, right? Just wanna pay my respects to the happy couple.”

Henry had come up behind Tanner; Tanner hadn’t seen him yet. I said, “That’s not gonna happen.”

“Fuck you.” Tanner took a step back to move around me, and bumped into Henry. He whirled, the surprise on his face quickly replaced with a sneer. “Well, if it ain’t my other sainted brother. Y’all gonna hog tie me? ‘Cause that’s the only way you’re gettin’ me out of here.”

Will said, “It’ll be easier than that.” He grabbed Tanner’s arm and twisted it behind him, and wrapped his forearm around Tanner’s neck, getting him in a chokehold that any police officer would have been proud to call his own. I was impressed. Tanner tried to squeal, but could only manage a mouse-sized squeak. Henry took Tanner’s left upper arm, and we calmly marched him toward the back of the room.

About halfway back Tanner suddenly swiped his leg out, tripping Henry. Henry stumbled against the wall, losing his grip on Tanner, who tried to use the element of surprise to wrest out of Will’s grip. Fortunately we’d made it to the far corner of the room where my dad had stationed himself. He grabbed the front of Tanner’s shirt. “Tanner. Let me help you out.”

Henry reestablished his hold on Tanner’s free arm. I glanced around to see if anyone was paying attention to us. Thanks to the level of noise and drunkenness, we seemed to be going unnoticed. Will twisted Tanner’s arm behind his back again.

Tanner winced, but gritted his teeth and said, “Uncle Dave, get them off me. I’ll behave.”

Dad shook his head. “Sorry, Tanner. I don’t believe that for a second. Let’s go outside.”

Dad led the way to the door and Will and Henry hauled Tanner across the hall, through the exit and out to the curb. Dad turned, disgust painted on his face. “Tanner, what the hell are you thinking? You can’t possibly think that we’re going to let you ruin Tyler’s day.”

Tanner squirmed out of his brothers’ grip, but didn’t run. “I have a right to be here! I’m a member of this family, too.”

Dad said firmly, “You’ve abused that position too often. Tyler doesn’t want you here. You have to leave.”

Tanner’s face took on the same stubborn expression he’d had as a kid. “You can’t make me. You can’t call the cops ’cause I haven’t done anything wrong.”

Will said, “Coming here was wrong. Do you want me to get Dad to explain it to you?”

Dad said, “There’s no need to involve Denny. Tanner’s going to go quietly.”

Tanner’s chin jutted. “What if I don’t?”

I said, “Do you remember the last time you and I tangled? I knocked you cold then. I’ll do it again if I have to.”

Tanner opened his mouth to speak, but his face froze in a stare – and he fell backwards. Will grabbed him as he went down and guided him to the grass, and Tanner proceeded to have a full-blown grand mal seizure.

Dad knelt beside Henry, who was preventing Tanner’s head from banging into anything. Will said to me, “Go get Marilyn.”

Slide2

Head Table Seating

I hobbled as quickly as I could back into the reception. At the head table, Blair’s dad was now standing, gesticulating wildly. Pete and Kevin were on their feet as well, to either side of him. Blair’s mother was watching her ex-husband in horror. I slid in behind Aunt Marilyn, bent down and whispered, “We need you outside.”

She turned and looked up at me. “What?”

Now.”

“Okay…” She stood and followed me into the hallway. When we were through the exit she spotted Will and Henry. “What’s going on?”

“Tanner showed up. We walked him out of the reception and he started having a seizure.”

“Oh my God.” Marilyn picked up her skirt and began to run.

Dad said, “I’ve called 911.”

Tanner had quit seizing, but he looked dead, lying on his side. Will knelt beside him, his fingers on Tanner’s pulse; Henry had his hand on Tanner’s chest. Marilyn dropped to her knees. “Tanner? Can you hear me?”

Will said, “He’s unconscious.”

Marilyn’s expression hardened. “Is he on drugs?”

Henry said, “I think so.”

I heard the siren in the distance. Dad said, “I’ll go get Cliff and Dennis.”

By the time Dad got back with Cliff and Dennis, the ambulance had arrived. The paramedics loaded Tanner up quickly. Marilyn rode in the ambulance with him; Cliff went to get the car and follow, taking Dennis and Henry with him.

We watched them go, then Will sighed. “I’d better tell Betsy where Henry went.”

Dad asked, “Did Tyler realize anything was going on?”

I said, “I don’t think so. He’s watching Blair’s father make an ass of himself.”

As we entered the building, Pete and Kevin came through the ballroom door into the hallway, steering Blair’s dad. Mr. Gorham was glassy-eyed and shouting faggot jokes. “How many fags does it take to screw in a light bulb? Two – one to screw it in and one to say, ‘Fabulous!’” He spotted me and pointed. “Hey! There’s another one! Two fags walk into a bar…”

Blair’s stepmother came flying out the ballroom door, skidding to a halt when she saw Gorham right in front of her. “Rod, what are you doing?

“Brenda! I am havin’ a fabulous time!” Gorham cracked up at his own lame joke. “Fabulous, get it?”

Pete said politely, “Mrs. Gorham, what room are you in? We think Mr. Gorham needs to sleep it off.”

Gorham began to bellow. “Put on my blue suede shoes and I boarded the plane…”

Mrs. Gorham looked like she might cry. “I told him we shouldn’t come. I told him Blair didn’t want him here.”

Kevin said, “Mrs. Gorham? What room?”

Gorham bleated, “Touched down in the land of the delta blues in the middle of the pourin’ rain…”

“Room 318.” Mrs. Gorham dug in her purse. “Here’s the key card.” She handed it to Pete.

Pete said, “You’re coming with us.”

She looked shocked that he would suggest such a thing. “Why? You said he needs to sleep. I don’t need to be there for that.”

Kevin took the card from Pete and handed it back to Mrs. Gorham. “Yes, you do. We are sure as hell not going to stay with him, and someone has to in case he starts to drown in his own puke. He is your problem. If you don’t go upstairs and stay with him, I will call the police and he can spend the night in jail. Your choice.”

I figured that Gorham would enjoy being arrested, but Mrs. Gorham looked horrified. “You wouldn’t.”

Kevin said, “Try me.”

“THEN I WAS WALKING IN MEMPHIS…”

“Oh, fine.” Mrs. Gorham turned and stomped away. Pete said to me, “Be right back. I think.” He and Kevin dragged Gorham toward the elevators.

“BUT DO I REALLY FEEL THE WAY I FEEL…”

Dad looked after the group, shaking his head. “He’s really going to feel the way he feels tomorrow.”

“Maybe he’ll be too sick to come to the wedding.”

“We can hope.”

 

Back inside the ballroom, things had calmed down somewhat. I stopped by Sarah’s table and was introduced to her father, a slightly larger version of Blair’s runty dad. He shook my hand solemnly. “Did my no-good brother give you any trouble?”

“Not much, sir. He’s being taken to his room to sleep it off.”

Sarah’s dad shook his head. “He’s a lightweight. Can’t handle the booze at all.” He eyed me. “Sarah says you’re Tyler’s cousin.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You from a military family too?”

“Yes, sir.” I pointed to Dad, Doug and Sarge’s table. “My dad’s over there. He was in Vietnam.”

“Yeah? So was I.”

I said, “Come with me. I’ll introduce you.”

Sarah followed me and installed herself at our table. I left Dad and Mr. Gorham chatting amiably and sat down beside her. She asked, “Who was that guy that came in?”

“Tyler’s other brother. He was here to make trouble.”

She grinned. “What a night.”

 

Since Dennis had taken the car to the hospital, we had to walk to the Pentagon Metro station to get home. I was glad I’d brought the crutches with me. None of us had much to say. Pete and Kevin had just gotten Blair’s dad into his room when he’d started barfing; they’d both gotten puke on their shoes, socks and pants legs and were not happy. They’d taken their socks off and left them in the hotel room trash can, but hadn’t been able to clean their pants or shoes to their satisfaction.

Toni kept calling Dennis, who didn’t answer. Dad, Doug, Linda and Sarge talked about Tanner in hushed tones. When we reached the house Pete and Kevin took their shoes to the back yard to hose them and their pants legs clean. Everyone else gathered in the family room to wait.

Toni finally got through to Dennis and spoke to him for a few minutes. When she hung up she said, “He’s on his way home. Tanner is still unconscious. They’re doing tests. Cliff and Marilyn are staying.”

Doug asked, “Did Tyler know that Tanner showed up?”

Toni said, “I don’t think so. He was trying to keep Blair calm while Blair’s dad made a fool of himself.”

Val said, “Most of Blair’s family needs to go home. They’ve eaten. It’s time for them to leave.”

Kevin said, “Let’s hope that Blair’s stepmother is thinking the same.”

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Photographs and Memories, part 12

Col. George K. Roberts

Department of the Army

August 2, 1921

Col. Roberts:

As you can imagine, the murder of Sid Hatfield in Matewan yesterday has eclipsed all other concerns. Yes, it was murder, regardless of what anyone else might tell you.

Violence is now a near-certainty.

Sincerely,

E.R. Jarrell

 

Wednesday, June 22

Tyler and Blair didn’t have anything scheduled for Wednesday. After spending a chunk of yesterday vertical, my ankle had swollen again and I figured I’d better stay home. After confirming that I was okay on my own, the rest of the family scattered, most of them headed for Mount Vernon. I had the house to myself. I settled into my nest and got online.

I’d used the free Familysearch website for most of my Brodie research, but hadn’t found any information about my Jarrells other than the confirmation of Caroline’s parents’ names. Now that I had Emory’s first name, however, I could search elsewhere. I Googled his name and found a World War I draft registration card with that name, date of birth May 17, 1890, address in Racine, West Virginia, and next of kin listed as Eula M. Jarrell.

He and I had the same birthday.

I searched through all of the sites that I could access for free – independent Jarrell genealogy sites and family trees, West Virginia historical societies, census records. I found Emory listed in the 1900 Boone County census, age 10, but the file wouldn’t open for me to see his parents’ names.

By lunchtime I’d exhausted all but one of my possibilities. I made myself a sandwich then went back to the sofa and got my credit card from my wallet.

I’d been avoiding the Ancestors website, the big genealogy site that required a membership to see any of its documents. But I’d run out of options.

The site came with a two-week free trial. I’d get as much information as I could about Jarrells, Colemans and Brodies over the next two weeks, then cancel before the fee kicked in. It wasn’t the money. It was the principle. Why should I have to pay to find out about my own family?

I created my account then began to search for Emory. Due to the lack of information about him elsewhere, I didn’t expect to find much. Fortunately, I was wrong.

Emory’s name was there, with a date of birth that matched the one on the draft registration card. He was in an abbreviated family tree with no parents or siblings, just Eula listed as his wife and Caroline as his daughter – as Caroline Mae Jarrell, not as Coleman. Whoever had put this record together hadn’t gathered Caroline’s life story.

My mom had believed that her grandfather died when Caroline was a child. The first surprise was that Emory had lived far longer than Mom had known.

Emory was born in 1890 and died in 1981.

He’d still been alive when I was born. He’d lived longer than Mom.

I took a moment to absorb that, then moved on.

The second odd discovery was that Emory had two spouses listed. The first, Eula Mae Ball Jarrell, was of course listed as Caroline’s mother. As with Emory, there was no other family information attached. As for Emory’s second spouse, she was listed by initials only – W.K. Morgan, born 1891, died 1983.

Divorce in the 1920s, especially in Appalachia, was likely considered to be disgraceful. Maybe Eula had told Caroline that Emory had died rather than have her bear the stigma of having divorced parents. Or, maybe Caroline had known that her father was alive and remarried, and she and Eula had chosen to tell the tale that he had died.

I might never know.

Anyway, who was Emory’s second wife? I clicked on the family tree for W.K. Morgan – and stopped cold.

W.K. Morgan was Wesley Kenneth Morgan.

That couldn’t be right.

The family tree for the Morgans was enormous, extending back many generations. Wesley Kenneth Morgan’s wife was listed as Louisa Jane Brandt Morgan. There were no children listed.

Emory Jarrell didn’t appear anywhere on the tree. But when I clicked on Wesley Kenneth Morgan’s name to access his personal record, I saw that he had a second spouse listed.

1890s-Male_Couple-US-01

1890. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

E.R. Jarrell.

No. Fucking. Way.

I went to the descriptors for the family tree; it was public. The owner’s name was chankins, and it was a hyperlink. I clicked on it, and an empty email page opened.

I composed a quick message.

Hello,

My name is Jeremy Brodie, and I am the great-grandson of Emory Richard Jarrell. Caroline Jarrell Coleman was my grandmother, and her daughter Julie was my mother.

I just discovered your family tree on Ancestors and noted the connection between E.R. Jarrell and W.K. Morgan, and I’m confused. My mother believed that her grandfather died when Caroline was a child, but that seems not to be the case. Now that I’ve seen your family tree I’m formulating a theory as to why she might have been misled – but if you have more information about this, I’d love to know it.

If you need authentication of my identity, I understand. My mother’s full name was Julie Marie Coleman, born August 12, 1949 in Huntington WV; married David Edward Brodie September 2, 1972 in Beaufort, SC; died November 17, 1980 in San Diego, CA; buried in Arlington National Cemetery. I’m a librarian at UCLA; go to the UCLA Libraries website and you can see my information.

Please don’t be concerned about what I might think of any relationship between Emory Jarrell and Wesley Morgan. My husband and I are about to celebrate our first wedding anniversary.

My cell phone number is 323-555-1212.

Thank you,

Jeremy “Jamie” Brodie

I sent the email then went back to the family tree. Wesley Morgan had a sister, Violet, who’d married a man named Hankins. The person who’d constructed the family tree must be a descendant of Violet. Violet and her husband had three children, all of whom were deceased, but only one of them had children listed.

There were probably others – as with many family tree sites, living persons weren’t shown to anyone but the owner of the tree. If chankins was Violet’s grandchild, then Wesley would have been his or her great-uncle.

If chankins knew Great-Uncle Wesley well, chances are he or she also knew Emory.

I crossed my fingers that chankins would call me.

 

About a half hour later Dad, Doug, Dennis and Sarge got home. They’d taken Sarge to Arlington National and to the WWII memorial. I said, “Good day?”

Sarge said, “Yep. Tiring, though. I need a nap before dinner.” He headed for his room.

Dad said, “How are you?”

“I’m fine. I found some information on Emory Jarrell. Wait until the others are back, then I only have to tell it once.”

Once everyone else had returned, I rounded up Dad, Pete, Kevin, Kristen, Jeff and Val and herded them into a corner of the family room. “I found our great-grandfather.” I told them what I’d discovered. “And not only might he have been gay, he lived to be 91. He was still alive when we were born.”

Jeff said sadly, “And Mom didn’t even know.”

Val said, “So now what?”

I said, “Now we hope for a response from chankins.”

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Photographs and Memories, part 11

Col. George K. Roberts

Department of the Army

April 17, 1920

Col. Roberts:

As I have emphasized before, I do not believe you and your supervisors have anything to fear from Boone County miners in terms of anarchy or communist threat. All they – all we want is a decent wage, decent living conditions, and better lives for our children. The UMW is the organization that offers that chance.

The miners do not see the government as the enemy. The coal operators are the enemy.

Sincerely,

E.R. Jarrell

 

Tuesday, June 21

The next morning I was awakened by getting thumped in the head. I grunted. “What?”

“Oh, shit.” Pete sat up quickly. “I was just stretching. Did I whack you?”

“Not hard.” I rubbed the spot. “You can make it up to me.”

“How?”

I sat up and plopped my ankle into his lap. “An ankle massage, please.”

He chuckled and unwrapped the Ace bandage. “How does it feel?”

“Fine, in the mornings. Later in the day, not so much.”

Pete set aside the Ace bandage. “What do we have planned for today?”

“Nothing until Tyler’s party tonight. I thought I’d do some genealogy research this morning. See what else I can learn about Emory.”

“Good. That’ll keep you off your feet.” Pete worked my ankle up and down a little, very gently. “How’s that?”

“Okay. Just don’t try side to side.”

“I won’t.”

After a shower and breakfast Pete and I went back to our sofa. I propped my ankle up and began digging into Coleman and Jarrell genealogy.

I started on the Familysearch website. Pete said, “What’s this site?”

“It’s operated by the Mormon church. They have a huge inventory of records. Genealogy is a a big deal to them.”

“Huh. Wonder if Chris knows about that?” Pete’s sister, Christine, had drawn some family trees for both the Fergusons and Thomsons, their mother’s family.

“You can ask her.”

I began by researching the Colemans. Since I’d already found a record for Caroline with only her parents attached, I started with Hal instead.

The Coleman family tree was extensive. Hal’s ancestors came from England, which didn’t surprise me, and before that from Prussia, which did. Kohlmann had morphed into Coleman.

Pete said, “You’re part German?”

“Apparently. I’ll have to tell Shana and Stefan.”

Hal was the youngest of eight. Six of the eight had lived to adulthood; of those six, only Hal had fathered only one child. His siblings were a prolific lot, with three to six kids apiece.

Pete said, “You’ve got tons of Coleman cousins out there.”

“No kidding. We’ll have to visit Ohio and track some of them down someday.”

Hal’s record only showed that he had married Caroline. Caroline’s record only showed what I had already found about her parents and had no additional information.

Pete said, “Your mom’s name isn’t there.”

“No. Whoever built this tree didn’t know about her.”

I decided to see what, if anything, I could find out about Eula Mae Ball’s family, and discovered there was a book called The Ball Family of Boone County, West Virginia. Unfortunately, I’d have to go to Salt Lake City to read it.

Pete said, “Want to visit Salt Lake City?”

“Not particularly.”

I switched over to the Library of Congress site, only to learn that the WWI service records I hoped to find were on microfilm. “Damn. I have to make another trip into town.”

Pete got up. “I’m coming with you.”

 

Pete and I convinced Jeff and Kevin to accompany us back to the Library of Congress. Toni allowed us to borrow her car. Kevin drove, dropping Pete and me off at the front of the building, then went to park. When he and Jeff returned, we went to find the Veterans History Project records.

LoC_Main_Reading_Room_2006

Library of Congress reading room. By maveric2003 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/maveric2003/91198425/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

We were assisted by a pleasant woman who found the correct boxes of microfilm for us and set us up on projectors. I showed the others how to search, and we dug in.

An hour later Kevin was squirming. “God, this is tedious. How often do you have to do this?”

“Not often. At UCLA our historical newspaper sources are on microfilm, but I almost never use them.”

Thirty minutes later Jeff said, “Hey, here’s something.”

We crowded around his viewer. What Jeff had found was a collection of letters between Emory Jarrell and an Army colonel named George K. Roberts. There were also other letters, between Roberts and other government officials – one of whom was an FBI agent. Emory Jarrell’s name was mentioned in several of those letters. From the few we read, it looked like Emory was reporting to Col. Roberts on activity within the mine fields.

What the hell had Emory been involved in? Was he a spy?

I made a note of all the pages that mentioned Emory. We took the microfilm back to the librarian and requested copies of those pages; she said she’d have them scanned and email them to me by the end of the week.

We searched for a while longer, but didn’t find anything else.

 

Late in the afternoon Jeff, Val, Kevin, Kristen, Pete and I piled back into Toni’s car and rode to Georgetown. We were meeting our cousins in their hotel lobby, then proceeding on foot the few blocks to Tyler and Blair’s townhouse. I’d stopped using crutches around the house, but brought them into the city with me. I hoped it might encourage other people to give me some space.

As the gang of us went down the sidewalk, I noticed people giving us sideways glances as we passed. I was sure we made an impression. The shortest man in the group was Will, at 5’11”; the tallest was Lindsey’s husband Jake, at 6’5”. The ladies ranged from Betsy and Carly at 5’8” to Kristen at 5’11”. We’d all been on sports teams in college and, so far, were still fit.

If we’d been waving flags and wearing funny hats, we could have passed for the Summer Olympics team from some small Northern European country. Iceland, maybe.

When Tyler opened the door, he looked like he might faint from relief. “Oh, thank God. Blair’s cousins got here early.”

Carly said, “Let us at ‘em.”

Tyler grinned and opened the door wider.

We trooped into the living room. Blair was perched on the edge of a ladderback chair, a glass of wine in his hand. Even he looked glad to see us. The rest of the seating was occupied by a collection of pale, doughy Midwesterners in various shades of polyester knit and stretch denim, all holding plates full of food.

They stared at us as if we were aliens – but they never stopped chewing.

There were a couple of flavors of perfume and aftershave permeating the air. I palmed my inhaler, planning to use it as soon as possible.

Tyler announced, “Hey, everybody, these are my relatives.” He introduced us all by name.

There was another moment of silence, then one of the chewers spoke up, a woman with her hair in a banana clip. “Pleasedta meetcha.”

Jake, whose voice could pass for Barry White’s, said, “Our pleasure, ma’am.”

A couple of the younger chewers turned pink and tittered. One slightly older woman – it was hard to judge their ages – was staring at Pete with astonished desire.

Heh.

Tyler clapped his hands together. “Okay! Y’all come get plates.”

The dining room table was laden with caloric finger foods. Henry said, “Damn, Ty, we’re gonna have to spend hours on the treadmill to overcome this.”

Tyler winced. “Blair picked the menu. I knew you all would eat anything, and he said his family wouldn’t eat healthy food.”

Val said, “There’s nothing wrong with an occasional indulgence.” She began loading her plate.

I took a puff from my inhaler then followed suit. Tyler edged next to me and said, “Y’all will talk to Blair’s relatives?”

“Right.” We’d formulated a plan. Each of us was going to adopt a chewer for the evening. When the night was over they’d either love us or hate us.

“Good. ‘Cause otherwise this will be a quiet party.”

Once we’d filled our plates, we returned to the living room. Pete claimed Blair, since he’d already established rapport at the Lowcountry boil on Saturday. The rest of us fanned out. Most of the irritating scent seemed to be coming from the sofa. I pulled a footstool to the edge of the room, as far away from the sofa as I could get, to sit beside a youngish woman wearing matching stretch pants and vest with a white t-shirt, her dark hair in a ponytail. I said, “Hi. I’m Jamie Brodie.”

She gave me a suspicious look. “Sarah Gorham.”

“You’re Blair’s cousin?”

“Yeah.” She popped an entire mini-quiche in her mouth and chewed.

I said, “Have you been to Washington before?”

“Nope.” She picked up a pig in a blanket and studied it.

American_pigs_in_blankets

By Photo credit: stef yau [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Do you live in Iowa?”

“Yeah.”

I glanced quickly around the room; everyone else seemed to be having an easier time of this than I was. I sighed inwardly and said, “Have you seen any of the sights?”

“Went to Arlington cemetery. My granddad’s buried there.”

Ah. A point of commonality. I said, “My mom’s buried there.”

That piqued her interest. “Your mom was in the Army?”

“Navy. She was a nurse.”

Another mini-quiche disappeared into the chute. “I wanted to be a nurse.”

“What happened?”

“Couldn’t pass biology.”

That would be a problem. I said, “What did you end up doing?”

“CNA. I work in a nursing home.” She seemed to resign herself to the fact that I wasn’t going away. “What are you?”

So many ways to answer that question… “I’m a librarian. Like Blair.”

“Huh.” That didn’t seem to impress her.

I said, “Do you have brothers or sisters here?”

Sarah pointed with a pig in a blanket. “Sister’s there in the pink flowered shirt. That’s her husband beside her.”

Sister was talking to Val, who seemed to be enjoying herself. Her husband was talking to Jeff; that also appeared to be going well.

I said, “Are all these other people your cousins?”

“No. The rest of ‘em are Blair’s mother’s people.”

“Ah. Did you know them before?”

“Only to speak to.” She lowered her voice and leaned towards me slightly. “Don’t like ‘em.”

I adopted her conspiratorial tone. “Why not?”

“They’re morons.”

Wow. If Sarah thought they were morons… “How so?”

“My dad’s a union man.” She drew herself up a bit. “IBEW. He’s an electrician. The unions are comin’ back, but we’ve got to vote for pro-union candidates, right?” She eyed me as if I might be a union-busting spy.

I said, “I couldn’t agree more.”

She gave a sharp nod. “Unions are the only hope for the blue-collar worker, my dad says. Blair’s mother’s family is as blue-collar as they come, but they vote against themselves.” She sneered. “Because they’re religious. Like that’s more important.”

I was beginning to like Sarah quite a bit. I said, “The politicians keep those folks distracted with social issues so they won’t realize that they’re voting against their own economic well-being.”

“ExACTly!” Sarah smacked the arm of her chair; she was warming to her topic. “I mean, who cares whether gay people want to get married or not?”

Well, the gay people cared, but I knew what she meant. “You vote for the guy who’s against marriage equality, and your job ends up getting shipped to China.”

“Yes!” She gazed at me directly for the first time, seeming to see me in a new light. “You get it. My dad would like you.”

“Sounds like I’d like him too.” I lowered my voice again. “Let me ask you – does that mean that Blair’s mother’s people are homophobic?”

“Yeah.” Sarah made a face. “I mean, I can’t say I understand it, but whatever. Live and let live, right? Blair’s mom supports him, kind of, but no one else does.”

I said, “Why did they even come, then?”

“I think most of ‘em go to weddings for the food. I mean, look at ‘em.” She eyed me again. “Does your whole family agree with you? On politics and stuff?”

“Yep.”

“Good. Which ones are your brothers?”

I pointed out Kevin and Jeff. She nodded. “Maybe I’ll hang out with you guys at the wedding reception.”

“I’d like that. You can introduce me to your dad.”

She brightened. “Yeah. I’ll do that.”

 

Over the next couple of hours we managed to eat every crumb of food on offer, not wanting to waste a penny of Tyler’s money. I glanced at Blair and Pete occasionally; Blair didn’t seem to be eating, and Pete was doing most of the talking. I hoped he was making some progress.

Kristen joined Sarah and I, after getting disgusted with her assigned chewer, and the two women hit it off. When Sarah’s sister came to collect her for the walk back to their hotel, Sarah shook hands with Kristen and me. “I gotta tell ya, I was dreading this week. Now I’m looking forward to it. See you Thursday!”

Blair’s maternal cousins departed en masse shortly after, which left only Brodies. We helped Tyler clean up then gathered at the door to leave. Tyler hugged each of us. “Thank you all so much. This would have been a disaster without you.”

I edged over to Blair, who was hanging back. “I like your cousin Sarah. We’re going to hang out at the reception.”

His expression lightened. “She’s my favorite cousin.”

“I can see why.” I gave him a friendly thump on the shoulder. “See you Thursday.”

On the drive home we dissected our experiences. Jeff and Val had enjoyed talking to Sarah’s sister and brother-in-law, who held the same political opinions as Sarah and also

Bella_the_Saint-Hubert_Bloodhound_relaxes

Bloodhound. By Bruce (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

bred, raised and trained bloodhounds. Kevin had been paired with one of Blair’s male cousins, a small-town sheriff’s deputy who spent a good hour embellishing his exploits before learning what Kevin did for a living and where, at which point the cousin had promptly shut up. Kristen’s challenge had been the woman in the banana clip; Kristen had found no common ground at all and had finally admitted defeat.

I asked Pete, “How was Blair?”

“He didn’t say much. He knows that we know what he said about us. I think he’s embarrassed. I also think he’d give a kidney to have this wedding over with.”

Kristen said, “He had a wineglass in his hand all night. Was he nursing one, or did he keep refilling it?”

“He refilled it a couple of times. His excuse was that most of what we had to eat was not gluten-free. I think his intention is to stay buzzed until they’re on the plane to Norway.”

I said, “Norway?”

“That’s where they’re honeymooning. Cruising the fjords.”

Val said, “At least they won’t have to worry about sunburn.”

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