Barzel Childers worked in the coalmines with my father. Spending long hours working side by side in the black underground, they became close friends. In the winter of 1942, Barzel and his wife Juanita had eight children at home, ranging in age from two to thirteen. By comparison, dad’s family wasn’t all that small, two from a previous marriage, and three with my mother, who at the time was only 30 years old. Both families, like a lot families in Haymond, struggled. Money was, as the saying goes, as scarce as hen’s teeth.
In March of 1943, Juanita Childers once again found herself pregnant. Another mouth to feed was something she and Barzel surely worried over. Yet fate was not in their hands, neither the fate of their lives together, nor the fate of the unborn child. Call it destiny, providence, chance, I suppose it depends on whose life you think was preordained, but when the stars aligned on that day in November 1943, when Juanita Childers died giving birth, one of those stars fell at my parent’s doorstep, the newborn son of a penniless laborer.
Word traveled fast.
My mother, hearing the news of Juanita’s death, instantly knew those children would need help. It was winter. Some of the children were in school. The ones at home required constant attention. While Barzel struggled to get his life in order, mom did what she could to help. She started by taking milk and prepared food to the Childers’ home, making sure the children were fed and kept clean. Aside from having three children of her own to take care of, mom was also working as a cook in the local elementary school lunchroom. If she couldn’t manage to be with the family, Mrs. Whitaker, another neighbor, would go.
Without a doubt, the other children were heart broken. Barzel was devastated. The arrival of a baby boy, and the departure of his wife in the same instant, was something he could never have been prepared for.
One morning very early, mom brought food and fresh laundered clothes to the children. As she was leaving, Barzel, realizing he had his hands full, asked mom if she would take the newborn home with her. “ I’m having an awful time seein’ to its needs,” he said. “Just until I can find my way here. That’s all I ask. I don’t know who else to turn to.” Mom did what she always did when confronted with an emotional dilemma; she hung her head and shook it side to side in a worrisome movement. “I don’t know Barzel,” she said. “I’ll have to ask Paul.” “Well ok then,” he said.
She did ask dad. She knew the baby would not have proper care if left with the other small children. Barzel’s thirteen-year-old boy Billy was no substitute for a mother. Dad said, “Yes, of course we will. Bill needs us. He has no one else. He’s my friend.” So on the next visit to the Childers’ home, after all the chores were done, mom took the baby with her.
She could never have known her taking the child would lead to a tragic event that would test her like no other.