Coal Tattoo

‘And because of that … I lost my brother’

Howard Berkes at NPR has just posted a lengthy online piece based on his discussions with Gene Jones, whose twin brother, Dean Jones (above), was among the 29 miners killed at the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.

Here’s a brief portion of the story:

Gene and Dean Jones were so close in their mother’s womb doctors detected just a single heartbeat.

“I was 10 minutes older than Dean,” Gene said. “It’s like part of me is gone.”

“I think about him every day,” Gene said from a conference room at Appalachian Power in Beckley, where he works as an electrical engineer. His hazel eyes welled with tears. “So I work a lot not to think about it.”

Readers of local papers, including the Gazette, may recall the remarkable obituary notice that was published here (and republished in Coal Tattoo)  about the life of Dean Jones, including the especially moving part about Jones’ son:

His beautiful son, whom he loves with every fiber of his being, is also waiting. They will have dinner together and then they will spend the evening together. They love “The Andy Griffith Show.” He has purchased his son all the episodes on DVD, and they watch them over and over. They love watching old westerns, the kind that he grew up watching as a boy. They love the Steelers. He has filled his son’s whole room with Steelers’ memorabilia. They love WVU football and basketball. They love to wrestle and play and their beautiful golden retriever joins in the play. They are constant companions, bonded in a way that most do not know. His son is sick. His son has cystic fibrosis, a progressive and debilitating illness, for which there is no cure. He has spent many sleepless days and nights pleading for his son’s life and health. He adores him and wants to be there for him. He wants to comfort him in hard times and laugh and play with him in good times. He wants his son’s life to be full and blessed. He will lead him safely to manhood. They will blow out the candles together on his May 1st 14th birthday; since last year his son was too ill to have a birthday cake. They are best buddies. His greatest ambition was to be a good father.

The new NPR piece also includes an interactive map with photos of all of the Upper Big Branch miners. The story concludes:

Gene reflects on the eight months since Dean Jones and 28 other brothers, fathers, sons and grandfathers died. Congress rejected mine safety reform, he says. The civil and criminal investigations of the Upper Big Branch explosion drag on. And he wonders about the value Massey Energy has placed on his brother’s life. Departing CEO Don Blankenship, he notes, is getting a golden parachute worth at least $12 million — four times the settlement the company offered to the Jones family.

“It’s so sad to hear these crazy things,” he says. The miners “were there every day risking their lives for that black coal, for us, surviving in this country.”

Gene Jones pauses with a massive sigh. “And because of that,” he continues, “I lost my brother.”