Resurrection 68Posted: December 13, 2016
This is a chapter of the book I am writing for NaNoWriMo. If you want to read it from the start, click here for the chapter index.
Early Monday morning, Chief Dalton set out, subpoena in hand, for the Baptist Children’s Home main office in London. He retrieved copies of all the adoption documents then went to the Shoney’s to see what he could find out about J.W.’s mother.
Her name was Romona Farmer, he read, and she had twin boys when she was just 16, no father listed.
As he read, he talked to his coffee.
“Twins, that’s what I thought.”
“Kept one. Need to find out what the name is.”
“Wonder if she still lives in Inez.”
He dialed his cell, calling the White County Clerk.
“Vicky, this is the Chief. Can you look up a DMV record for me? I’m looking for…” and he rattled off Romona’s details.
Vicky called it up from the Commonwealth database, giving the chief her current address and car registration.
“Thanks, Vicky. Tell your mother ‘hey’ for me.” Vicky’s mother and Dalton had gone to school together.
“I will Chief.”
Dalton disconnected, finished his coffee, gathered his papers and set out on the two hour drive to Inez.
Inez, Kentucky has been through many incarnations over the last 200 years.
James Ward first explored the fertile, wooded area surrounding Rockcastle Creek, making it his home, in 1810.* In the 19th century the valleys carved by the snaking waters of the Eastern Kentucky hills were called “bottoms,” so Ward decided the name the area Arminta Ward’s Bottom, as a joke poked at his, Arminta.
In the 19th century Martin County had few opportunities. The land was rugged and roads, if one could call them that, were sparse. The nearby Tug Fork, leading to the Big Sandy River could take supplies and out, otherwise there was isolation. The people survived by ringing every last measure of food from the rocky soil, raising hogs and using the common coal outcrops as fuel for heat and cooking.
In the mid 1800s John Warfield established the Warfield Salt Works and began mining the salt from the limestone caves surrounding the area. He also began to market the plentiful coal in the area, mining it and moving it down the Tug and Big Sandy. He eventually renamed the business the Warfield Salt and Coal Works.
The civil war ended Warfield’s ambitions as well as his Salt and Coal Works.
In 1873, the area around Arminta Ward’s Bottom was added to the newly created Martin County. Because it is a beautiful, lush valley, it was renamed on the occasion Eden, Kentucky until a year later when the postmaster found an Eden, Kentucky post office already existed. He changed the name to Inez after Inez Frank, the daughter of the postmaster of Louisa, Kentucky. He hoped to marry her and what better way to woo his love than to name the city after her.
While coal mining brought jobs over the years, they were subsistence jobs in mining camps where the men worked hard in the dark, risking their lives, to survive.
Poverty was always a heavy millstone around the neck of the people of Martin County. The area was always rugged and isolated, survival difficult. The poverty there is so extreme Lyndon Johnson used Inez as the visual representation of poverty in Appalachia, visiting Inez in 1964 to launch his “War on Poverty.” At the time 60 percent of the residents lived far below the poverty level.
Today Inez “boasts” less than 500 residents. Most of the available jobs were in coal, natural gas or oil. Some work at the Big Sandy Corrections Center just outside the town. Still about a third of the population still simply subsists.
People who grew up in the ease of the middle class have trouble understanding the way people who have lived in poverty their whole lives think. Outwardly, they are exactly the same as those who have never experienced it. Internally, they are far different.
Hardship is accepted as the norm. They have all experienced hunger. They have all experienced an illness they did not have the resources to care for adequately. Every day the minor inconveniences easily dealt with by those of greater means often meant temporary or even permanent disaster. An unusually high electric bill, a car repair, a case of the flu could jeopardize the financial house of cards they live in daily.
The constant fear means vigilance. Looking for both opportunity and threat.
This is where Romona Farmer was raised. Threats were everywhere. Opportunities were sparse. When she saw Chief Dalton’s Explorer drive up to her trailer, her heart jumped.
Dalton approached the trailer. The skirt was missing over half of it’s length. The sidings were covered with the dirt from years of neglect. As he climbed the wooden steps to the door, he felt as if they might give way.
When she heard Dalton’s knock, she almost didn’t answer. Romona did an inventory of the petty crimes she might have committed, wondering if there might be an arrest warrant out there someplace and this policeman was here to collect.
But it could also be about Ricky.
She willed herself to the door.
“Can I he’p you?” She asked, leaving Dalton on the porch.
“Are you Romona Farmer?” Dalton asked with some authority. He had found being commanding was almost always the best choice.
“Yes, I am. What’s this about?”
“Ma’am, can I come in please? I need to ask you some questions.” Dalton didn’t intend to tell her about the body yet, too soon to even know if it was her son.
Romona let him in and offered him a seat on the couch. At one time it had been a light brown, but now the armrests were black and the tops of the rear cushions were the same. The trailer had the stale smell of cigarettes and mold. He was sure the roof leaked.
“Mind if I smoke?” asked Dalton, hoping the smell would be overcome.
“Sure,” said Romona, pushing a butt filled ashtray he direction. “Can I get one too?”
Dalton handed her a cigarette.
“Ms. Farmer…” Dalton began.
“You can call me ‘Ro’, everyone does.”
“OK, ‘Ro,’ I’m from Silerville and I’m investigating some occurrences there. In my investigation I came across some information. Is it correct that you gave up a child for adoption?”
Romona’s eyes began to tear. “Yes, yes I did. I’m so sorry.”
Dalton ignored her emotion.
“Do you know what became of that child?”
“No,” she lied, “I have no idea.” Romona, despite her flaws, was a convincing liar.
“And it’s my understanding you kept one of the twins, is that correct?”
“Yes, my Ricky. He’s my pride and joy. Mamaw Eddie wanted me to give him up as well, but I kept him.”
“I see, and where is Ricky now? Do you know?”
“He’s got hisself a girl and they lives over at Cabin Creek. I don’t know if they’s home, though. I ain’t heard from them in a week. That’s not unusual or nothin’, we isn’t close like we was.”
“Ro, now I need to ask you a difficult question.” Romona stiffened. “The birth certificate doesn’t mention the father’s name. Do you know who the father was?”
Romona’s eyes became a flood and her chin puckered and quivered. Dalton took that as a yes.
“I need to find him, it’s important. I need you to tell me his name.”
“I guess it ain’t matter now,” replied Romona, trying to talk through her tears, “he ain’t got a wife or youngun any more. He’s an important man, and all those years ago having babies with me, well, would have ruined his life.”
“Who is he, Romona?”
“His name is Richard Langston.”
* Kentucky’s Last Frontier, Henry P. Scalf, 1966, p. 142ff