Photographs and Memories, part 2

August 15, 1918    

Near Amiens, France

Dear Eula,

It pains me to hear of your difficulties. As you remember, I was drafted into the Army; staying behind to work in the mines was not an option.

In any case, I believe the war will be over by the end of this year. Whether that will improve our financial situation is uncertain. I rather think not, as the demand for coal will surely decrease and all of the other miners-turned-soldiers will be returning to the coal fields, looking for work. Wages will fall, including those of Joe White, and you will no longer have to be concerned with Mary White’s new hats.

All my love to Caroline.

Emory

 

Monday, June 13

On Sunday Dad, Denny, Jeff, Val and Kristen went to the Smithsonian. Pete and I stayed at the house, huddled together on the sofa, watching the news from Orlando. Kevin was beside us, texting back and forth with Jon – who was in uniform on the street as part of LAPD’s support for the LA Pride Parade – about the guy caught in Santa Monica with explosives, possibly intending to target the parade.

All of our friends would be at the Pride parade – Ali and Mel, Neil and Mark, Aaron and Paul, Lance and Justin, Elliott and Stewart, my mates on the rugby team, even Scott and Ethan. If we’d been at home, we’d have been there too.

I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.

On Monday we had to get out of the house. All of us went back to the Smithsonian in the morning. After lunch we split up. Dad, Jeff, Kevin and I headed for the Library of Congress, and Pete, Val, and Kristen went to the Museum of American History. We’d meet back at the house.

My cousin Tyler’s fiancé, Blair Gorham, was a librarian at the LoC, working in the photo digitization department. I’d made an appointment with him for 2:30, to see what he could tell us about the coal miners’ photo. First, we stopped at the exhibition to see the picture itself.

The sign by the photo said, Mountain Air Coal Mine, Racine, West Virginia, 1921. It was enlarged to twice its size, and therefore easier to see the men’s faces. I checked my watch – it was late morning at home – and texted my coworker Sheila, who hadn’t seen the exhibit yet. At the LoC. Picture enlarged 2x. Your grandfather looks good.

Ha, thanks! Do you know if Jarrell is your relative yet?

Not yet.

545px-Hazelton_coal_miners

Public domain photo from Library of Congress

Dad stood back several feet and studied the man labeled Jarrell. Kevin asked, “What do you think?”

“There is definitely resemblance.” Dad squinted at the picture. “Wish he wasn’t wearing that hard hat.”

When I’d seen the picture on my computer screen a few weeks ago, Jarrell’s stance had struck me as familiar. The other miners were standing stiffly posed for the picture; Jarrell was more relaxed, his hands in his pockets, his weight on one leg, the other leg turned at a slight angle.

My dad was standing with his arms crossed, both feet planted evenly on the floor, studying the picture. He glanced from the picture to me, and chuckled.

I said, “What?”

“You’re standing just like Mr. Jarrell in the picture.”

“I am?” I was. My hands were in my pockets, my weight on my left leg, my right foot pointed at an angle.

No wonder Jarrell’s stance had looked familiar.

Kevin looked back and forth between the picture and me. “Weird.”

Jeff said, “You’re subconsciously imitating what you see. Let’s go find Blair.”

 

I’d only encountered Blair a couple of times, and had formed the impression that he was a fussily neat person. I was wrong. His office was a mess. Stacks of books, folders and photos were everywhere. There wasn’t an inch of surface visible.

When I darkened his door he didn’t look up. “I told you I’d…” He did look up then. “Oh. It’s you.”

Typical Blair – Mr. Personality. I said, “Hi. Ready for next week?”

He snorted. “If Tyler had his way, I wouldn’t be here this week. He’s booked us solid with pre-wedding events. I told him he only had a week from me. I don’t get enough vacation time to take a month off before or after the wedding.”

That was the longest speech I’d ever heard from Blair. I said, “Do I sense a teensy bit of pre-wedding tension?”

“He’s your cousin. What do you think?”

Behind me, my dad chuckled. Blair said, “Anyway. You’re here about one of the exhibition photos.”

“Right. I have it here.” I held my phone out to him with the picture displayed.

He studied it then handed it back to me. “Do you know where this is?”

“Boone County, West Virginia. According to the exhibit it’s the Mountain Air Coal Mine.”

He typed then said, “Here it is. I’ll print the record.”

His machine whirred and spit out two pages. The record contained the exact date and the first and last names of the pictured men. The Jarrell man’s full name was Emory R. Jarrell.

Jeff said, “Emory Jarrell. Dad, does that sound familiar?”

“No. Julie didn’t know her grandfather’s first name.”

The name was unusual enough that I should at least be able to track down census information, and find out if my grandmother Caroline was Emory’s daughter – but I didn’t have much to go on. I knew that my Coleman grandparents were about ten years older than my dad’s father, who was born in 1924. The 1920 census might be a good place to start.

Dad said, “Thank you, Blair. We appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome.”

We went back to the exhibit. Jeff said, “Can you look it up now? See if that’s him?”

“I can try.” I opened a browser on my phone and went to the Familysearch genealogy website. I looked first for a record for my grandmother, estimating that she was born in or around 1914, and after a few false starts, found it.

There wasn’t much information connected to Caroline’s record, but it did list her parents. Caroline Mae Jarrell was born July 17, 1914, to Emory Ralph Jarrell and Eula Mae Ball.

I said, “This might be her.”

Kevin took the phone from me and studied the screen, then handed it to Jeff. Jeff looked then passed it on to Dad, who said, “Her middle name was Mae and her birthday was in July. It must be her.”

I saved the record to my account and we studied the photo again. Having evidence that the man might be our great-grandfather put an entirely different spin on the picture.

Emory Jarrell was dressed similarly to all the other miners, most of whom stared grimly into the camera. Emory, though, had a faint smile on his face, like he’d been laughing just before the picture was taken.

He looked like someone I’d enjoy knowing.

I wondered how much longer he’d lived.

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