The Black Diamond Coal Company owned the mining rights to Blue Spruce Mountain, but for Elmore Beasely, it stopped there. “Them city boys act like they was the good Lord’s own architects, ripping up the land, and moving us out like we was vermin.” He drove his Ford pickup to each house in the early days: “We can whip these shirts if’n we stick together,” he pleaded, but one by one the twenty-seven families sold out. Mabel Jefferson, whose family had lived in Holy Oak, West Virginia, for seven generations, finally sold as well.
“Now Elmore, you know I’m as sentimental as a sow in labor, but my boys ain’t gonna stay here if ain’t no jobs. They’ll sure as sun comes up go off to South Carolina or Georgia, and start shrimp’n or who knows what? I wanna see my grandbabies Elmore, and have a little retirement money so I ain’t no burden. You gonna tell me that’s the wrong thing?”
“No, I ain’t gonna say that. Don’t matter. Holy Oak done dropped off the map. Now it’s one stubborn old man obstruct’n progress.”
“Don’t you talk that way.”
“It’s what they a say’n.”
“Pay em no attention. They scared is all.”
A sudden storm rolled in, covering the mountains in a shroud that turned darker by the minute. The last two residents of Holy Oak stepped out onto Mabel’s porch and looked through a curtain of rain into the dancing streams and emerald hills. The two stood silently listening for thunder. “Them mountains and hollers were our playgrounds,” Elmore said, “You remember old friend?”
“Course I do, you old fool. My great, great, great grandpa played in them mountains, just like your folks.”
“I’m a thinking it’s time for this old fool to quit. It’s just me and old Cannonball.” The hound lifted his head a second, then dropped it as he curled on an old rug outside Mabel’s door.
Through the darkening sky the distant silhouette of Blue Spruce Mountain rose like an amputated breast bleeding black dust. “She’s not much more for this world,” he said. “Never thought I’d outlive that old mountain.”
“You miss her?” At first, he thought she meant the mountain. He wiped his eyes to see the strange site of the stripped plateau.
“Reckon so, after 40 years. Tired of being alone. Just wanna go home.”