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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