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.


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.”


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.


Library of Congress reading room. By maveric2003 ( [CC BY 2.0 (, 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.


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.


By Photo credit: stef yau [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

“Do you live in Iowa?”


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?”


“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


Bloodhound. By Bruce (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (, 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.”



Filed under Short Stories

2 responses to “Photographs and Memories, part 11

  1. Ralph Brontz

    Just read the first 11 chapters while doing the weekly laundry. A lot of interruptions when switching loads, but a very pleasant way to pass an otherwise boring morning. Since I am a genealogist, I enjoy reading of how someone does their research, the excitement of what is gleaned as a result of it. I’ll keep following this thread to see how the happy (?) couple survives the trial of getting married.

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