As It Was…
On an icy cold November morning in 1956, Bartholomew Jones died in the
Poynter Coal Mine. His death came as no surprise to anyone. He was only
one of the countless men forever lost to the mine. They were men loved
and mourned by their families, but to the world they were faceless,
nameless people, not worthy of mention in the Charleston Times.
Morning after morning those men descended into the belly of the
mountain, into a world of black dust that clung to their skin with a
fierceness that no amount of scrubbing could wash away. In the winter
the sky was still black when they climbed into the trolley cart that
carried them into the mountain. And when they returned twelve hours
later, daylight had already come and gone.
None of the men complained. They were the lucky ones, they told one
another. They were the ones who slept easy. Their family had food on the
table and coal for the stove when winter blasted its way across the
ridge of the mountain.
At one time Bartholomew thought he could beat the odds, break the chain
of events that carried itself through generation after generation. His
daddy had grown up in the mines, starting when he was barely big enough
to carry a bucket of scrap coal from the chute to the hopper. His
granddaddy had done the same. It was the way of life, a dirty,
lung-polluting job handed down from grandfather to father and ultimately
But Bartholomew had different plans.
In 1932 he left home to join the navy. “Go,” his daddy said happily.
“Go and don’t ever look back.” A life built on a hunched back and
blackened skin was not something any man wished for his son, and even
though it meant he might never see the boy again he was glad.
After two months of basic training Bartholomew was assigned to the
Norfolk Navy Yard and for the next six years he loaded and unloaded
machine parts on the ships that sailed in and out of the port.
Norfolk was where he met and married Ruth.
It was love at first sight. Ruth was in town visiting her sister, and as
fate would have it he happened to be standing in back of them while the
girls waited to buy tickets to see “The Big Broadcast” with Bob Hope
and Dorothy Lamour. To Bartholomew’s eye Ruth was far prettier than
Dorothy Lamour, and he said so ten minutes after they’d struck up a
“Aw, go on,” she’d said with a smile.
As they eventually made their way down the aisle of the strand,
Bartholomew followed the girls. Before they’d gone nine rows in Ruth
pointed to a spot with three empty seats together. “Let’s sit
here,” she said. She looked back at Bartholomew, an invitation in her
After the movie Bartholomew took Ruth and her sister, Anita, for ice
cream sodas. Before it came time to pay the check, he was in love.
Forever, eternally, and deeply in love. With her soft brown eyes and
lips that fairly begged to be kissed, Ruth was as warm as a wool coat on
a blustery day.
Anita was the exact opposite. She frowned for the entire two hours they
lingered over sodas, and on three different occasions tapped her finger
against the face of her wristwatch indicating it was time to go. The
glares she gave Bartholomew were so icy they froze in midair.
When Bartholomew asked Ruth if she’d like to go to dinner the next
evening, Anita spoke up.
“I’ll not hear of it!” she snapped. “The Walker girls are not
the type to date total strangers!”
“Oh, Anita,” Ruth said with a laugh. “Don’t be such a
fuddy-duddy. Bartholomew’s not a stranger. Why, we’ve spent the
entire day with him.” She turned to Bartholomew and told him she would
be delighted to join him for dinner. From that day on they were
inseparable. Two months later, on the day Bartholomew was discharged
from the Navy, they were married. Anita, who was Ruth’s maid of honor,
never once cracked a smile.
Bartholomew got a job making twenty-eight dollars a week at a warehouse
where he and thirty-seven other fellows crated replacement parts for
tractors. Confident that good times were here to stay, he and Ruth moved
into a two-room walk-up and bought a used bedroom set and a brand new
Nine months later the warehouse closed its doors without paying the men
their final week’s wages.
“Don’t worry,” Bartholomew told Ruth. “I’ll get a job. A week,
two at the most.”
But other than strength and a willing heart, he had no skills. A month
passed, and he found nothing. First they sold the radio; then the
bedroom set. After that they moved to a furnished room so small Ruth had
to walk sideways to climb onto her side of the bed.
For three months Bartholomew looked for a job. He left the room early in
the morning and returned long after dark. He went from door to door
asking for work. “I’ll do anything,” he said, “wash dishes, mop
the floor, scrub toilets.” But he always got the same answer.
“Nothing right now, try again next week.” At night he’d drag
himself home, ashamed of returning empty-handed but so weary he could
barely manage to slide one foot in front of the other.
Ruth stretched what little money they had and made every penny count.
She ate the tiniest scraps of food and used a single tea bag for a week,
leaving it to soak in the hot water just seconds before pulling it out
and setting it aside for the next day. There were no more movies, no
dinners at restaurants, no ice cream sodas. Many nights they shared a
half can of Campbell’s soup. Ruth would eat two or three spoonfuls,
then suggest Bartholomew finish the bowl. By that time she had begun to
look pale and hollow-eyed. Several mornings in a row she could not hold
down even the weak tea she’d brewed. But when Bartholomew asked what
was wrong, she simply smiled and shrugged it off.
When he finally insisted, Ruth told him she was carrying a child.
That’s when Bartholomew made the fateful decision—the decision he
swore he’d never make. It was the one place where he knew he could
find work. The same work his daddy and granddaddy had done.
They packed one small bag and walked to the railroad station. Using
their last three dollars, Bartholomew bought two tickets to Coal Fork,
That spring Ruth gave birth to a baby boy, and they named him Paul.
“He’ll grow to be a man of wisdom,” Bartholomew said. “As soon
as he’s old enough to speak I’ll teach him what he needs to know so
that one day he’ll leave this mountain and never look back.”
Before the boy was three Bartholomew’s hands had become blackened and
his soul weary, so it fell to Ruth to teach the boy and she did.
The second year Ruth planted a garden behind the house. She grew corn,
tomatoes, string beans, and summer squash. When the bounty was
harvested, she planted turnips and potatoes. She planted more than they
could eat in a summer, and when there was plenty she cooked the extra
and packed it in mason jars sealed with a layer of wax. She continued to
do it year after year, so Paul grew healthy and strong. She nourished
the child’s body with the food she’d grown and his mind with words
and stories from the books she loved.
Then the summer Paul turned nine, Ruth again grew pale and queasy. Most
mornings she’d turn away from the strong coffee sitting atop the stove
and drink only a cup of weak tea. Even then, she’d start to gag
moments after the second swallow.
“Do you think possibly…?” Bartholomew glanced at her stomach.
“After all these years, I doubt it,” Ruth answered laughingly. But
by November she knew for certain. By then her breasts were swollen and
tender. She could not stand the smell of tomatoes, and even the briefest
glance of raw meat made her retch. In late December Ruth felt the baby
move for the first time. It was different from the way Paul had moved.
He’d shifted himself slowly from side to side in movements that were
barely perceptible. This baby kicked at Ruth’s ribs as if it were
anxious to be free.
“This one is certain to be another boy,” Ruth said, laughing, “and
a feisty one at that.”
Pleased with such an idea, Bartholomew began thinking of what he would
call the boy.
Bartholomew trusted that choosing a name from the Bible brought special
blessings, so each night he sat in the rocking chair and turned page
after page looking for the right name. With Paul he had wished for only
wisdom, but that was before he spent nine long years hacking bits of
coal from the hardened walls of the mine. Nine days later Bartholomew
settled on the name Jeremiah. This boy would be named after a man who
could look to the future and be wise in the ways of the world. Surely he
would be a child not destined to spend his days in the mine as
“Such a big name for a little baby,” Ruth said, but since it was
Bartholomew’s will she accepted it. That winter Ruth bought several
yards of bunting at the company store and hemmed in into four soft baby
blankets. In the center of each one, she embroidered a large “J”.
In February, two days after a blizzard passed through West Virginia and
left the mountain covered in snow so deep the mine closed down, Ruth’s
labor pains began. For almost forty hours she was wracked with pain, and
by the time the baby passed through the birth canal her eyes had rolled
to the back of her head.
“No!” Bartholomew screamed and lifted her into his arms. “Please,
Ruth, please don’t leave me.” He held her for hours as little Paul
wiped the baby clean, wrapped her in a warm blanket, and placed her in
the same cradle they’d used for him.
Just before dawn, Ruth’s eyelids fluttered open and she asked,
“Jeremiah—is he okay?”
For the first time in many hours Bartholomew smiled. “Your prediction
was wrong. Jeremiah is a girl.” He placed the baby in Ruth’s arms
and sat beside them. “I think maybe we’d best come up with a new
Ruth looked up at her husband. He was so strong and yet so gentle. He
was a man who asked for little and gave much. She thought back on how
this baby had kicked, how she’d struggled to be free. Paul was like
Bartholomew, strong but gentle. This child was stronger. She had a lust
for life and a fierce determination to live it. She’d waved her tiny
arms and legs and celebrated life even before the time had come. The
words Ruth spoke were her gift to Bartholomew.
“We’ll name her Jubilee,” she said, “because this child is a
celebration of our love.”
Bartholomew smiled and nodded his approval.
And so it was.
Excerpted from "Jubilee's Journey: Book Two of the Wyattsville Series (Volume 2)" by Bette Lee Crosby. Copyright © 2013 by Bette Lee Crosby. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.