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In 'Darkness Comes,' Fred Jones finds his father

Fred Jones holds a portrait of his father, Belton C. Jones Jr. Fred Jones holds a portrait of his father, Belton C. Jones Jr.

Frederick B. Jones introduces his mother and father at the beginning of "Darkness Comes in the Morning."

"This is a true story of absolute and enduring love," he writes. "A story of two people born in the last decade of the nineteenth century, who grew up during the teen years of the twentieth century, and reached the zenith of their life together during the roaring twenties."
The story of Fannie and Belton Jones could be any story, which is part of the book's appeal, but it's an unusual one for the detail that Jones gives us and for the tragic end. He takes us back early on to the middle of the 19th century, before the Civil War, to family roots on both sides.
A chemical engineer by training, Jones has a reporter's feel for detail and a writer's skill for explaining.
The homeplace of his great-grandfather, John Jasper McCall, was "a dirt farm high in a small valley between Pinnacle Mountain and Chestnut Ridge in southern Henderson County," he says. "Probably unknown to most of the family, the farm was sitting astride the eastern continental divide. They got their water from a spring that flowed south and eventually into the Green River and ultimately into the Atlantic Ocean. If they had taken a bucket of water and poured it out a few hundred feet to the north, what didn't soak in the ground or evaporate, would have flowed into Grassy Creek, a tributary of Little River, and through several intervening rivers, made its way to the Mississippi and finally to the Gulf of Mexico."
One paragraph later, Jones circles back to the concept.
John Jasper's nine children, "like the water from his farm, trickled down both sides of the mountain, some on the Green River side and some on the Little River side."
John Jasper McCall's son, Frederick Bascomb, would marry Rebecca Stepp. Rebecca's sister, Mary Stepp, was a maid who readers of local history will recall from the writings of Louise Howe Bailey. Mary Stepp came down from the family cabin on Pinnacle Mountain to stay with the Dr. W.B.W. Howe's family after the death of Dr. Howe's wife. In one of her columns about growing up, Louise Bailey wrote of Mary Stepp's arrival at the Howe family's home, Laurelhurst, off Little River Road in Flat Rock, in 1917. Mary Stepp stayed with the Howes for eight years, until Dr. Howe remarried.

Family roots
Jones' book takes us back to the earlier times of the mountains and he describes farming, travel, food preparation and a culture that remains only in isolated pockets among elders who don't watch television.
"The McCalls and the Stepps were hard-core users of the Appalachian or mountain dialect," he writes. Growing up, Fred Jones heard "you'ns" instead of ya'll, fire as "far," far as "fer," and deaf as "deef" — speech patterns that trace back to the early 1800s.
Frederick Bascomb McCall, finding his given name "too onerous," was always went by Bug.
Among the 11 children of Bug and Rebecca Stepp McCall was Fred Jones' mother, Fannie, who would marry Belton C. Jones Jr. of Flat Rock, the hero of Fred Jones' story. Fannie's sister, Lona, would marry Spurgeon Pace, and the two sisters and their husbands were fast friends and social companions throughout their lives.
In "Darkness Comes" readers read about the siblings of both of Fred Jones's parents and who they married, which is one reason he has heard from so many distant cousins who recognize their parents or grandparents in the early chapters. That's another reason that "Darkness Comes" is a good resource for those who like to keep a written record of Henderson County history.
"It's really been a pleasure," he says of the reaction. "It's been worth the money I spent on it because of what people have told me, especially my extended family, my cousins, some of them I never heard from in 50-70 years. It's really been a fulfilling experience."
Jones said in an interview that Dr. George A. Jones, an expert on local history, had read the manuscript and encouraged him to add more genealogy, which Fred Jones did.
As we go along, we hear about extended families and the farms they worked, their own and the larger ones owned by the South Carolina Low Country families that settled in southern Henderson County in the 1800s. The local natives took jobs at Farmer's Hotel, the Sherwood estate, the General Campbell King farm in sight of Mud Creek Church, at Ravenwood (the Rev. John Drayton home, rector of St. John in the Wilderness). They worked for the Smyths, the Memmingers and other families.
Jones gives us get a good feel for the old ways. His mother, he tells us, knew how to can fruits and vegetables, dry sliced apples in the sun to last the winter, smoke apples by burning sulfur in a barrel, ferment sauerkraut and pickled beans in big earthenware jars, hill up potatoes with dirt and straw to last the winter and give sweet potato plants an early start in the spring by burying them in a mound of green manure.
In turn, Fannie taught her son.
"I experienced that," he says. "During my childhood all this stuff went on. I read a lot of newspaper articles, in the Times-News and the French Broad Hustler. We lived at Crab Creek, at my grandfather's home, the house that Bug McCall built. She taught me how to milk a cow and all that kind of stuff. Nobody milks cows anymore. A lot of readers have been intrigued by descriptions of those things back in those days. There are still people that remember that stuff I guess."

Belton Jones Sr. marries Amanda Hill

Fred Jones's grandfather, Belton C. Jones Sr., born in 1875, married Amanda Juno Hill and worked the estate of Leonard Phinizy, an Augusta man whose farm was above Greenville Road at Pinnacle Mountain Road.
We learn about their son, Belton Jr., and his adventuresome spirit. He and his friends once hopped a freight train at the Tuxedo station and rode in a boxcar all the way to Cincinnati. His enthusiasm would not wane; he hung around the station and eventually became a telegraph operator, his career during his short life.
Belton's people, having grown up during the Civil War and dependent for their livelihoods on the Low Country planters, were Confederates and strong Democrats. Fannie's people "were at least passive supporters of the Union and so later became or remained Republicans."
Of his own birth, in February 1924, Jones writes that his mother "named him Frederick Bascomb after her father, 'Bug,' who never used the name anyway, so it was practically brand new. She had hoped for a girl but when she saw the healthy son she was not too disappointed."
About this time we learn that Fred's father has contracted tuberculosis, and the rest of the book is a well-reported narrative based on letters and Belton Jones' own prolific research into TB and its treatment, including a move to Tucson, Ariz., in an effort to be cured. Fred's father tried to squeeze all the learning he could out of what he must have recognized would be a life cut short. The box of family archives that Fred used to write the book contained a trove of his father's work. Fannie saved much of what her husband had written in his 20s.
In "The ABC's of an educated man," he asks, "Do I really want to know the truth about politics, science, religion, morals and life; or do I merely want to prove that my preconceived notions of these things are right?" The piece ends by asking whether this "educated man" is willing to set aside "mental reservations, prejudice, bias, set notions and dogmas" and surrender "completely to the truth no matter where it may lead?"
"Pretty high-sounding language for a telegraph operator with little formal education," Fred writes, "but there is no doubt he aspired to be educated and to meet those standards."
Belton Carmichael Jones Jr. died "in the morning of his life" on June 5, 1926, at the age of 30, his son writes.
"There would be no midday.
"No afternoon.
"No twilight.
"No evening.
"Darkness came in the morning."
Eighty-six years later, the son pays tribute to all the people who donated money to the family while Belton was too sick to work. Their names, which survived in the family boxes, are printed in the appendix and organized by where people gave the money: the Flat Rock post office, H.I. McCall's general store, H.S. Thomas's business, and 18 Southern Railway stations from Inman, S.C., to Morganton to Waynesville.

A family project
Fred and his wife, Cleo, live in Mills River on "The Farm of Three Sisters," named for their daughters.
A graduate of Flat Rock High School, Fred joined the Army Air Corps in World War II. He served in the 13th Air Force in the Pacific, repairing bombers. When the war ended the Air Force sent him to the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, where he met his wife, Cleo, who is from that area.
Cleo and the couple's daughters served as editors and proofreaders.
"I probably read it 15 times," Cleo said.
After the war, he lived out his father's passion for education. He earned a masters degree from N.C. State University and went on to work in synthetic fibers at American Enka until his retirement in 1983.
Aside from reading, research, writing and gardening, Fred and Cleo spend time following the North Carolina Tar Heel basketball team, which is coached by their son-in-law, Roy Williams, who grew up in Asheville and married their daughter, Wanda. Both are graduates of T.C. Roberson High School, although they started dating in Chapel Hill.

A son's search for the father

"This is a true story of absolute and enduring love," Fred Jones writes in the first line of "Darkness Comes." He refers to his mother and father but on another level the book is a true story of love of a different kind. It is a story that came to life because of Jones' mission to search for meaning in the life of a father that he never knew. Given the detail of the book, the reader might think that Jones' mother shared stories about his father throughout Fred's life.
"She didn't talk about him at all," he says. "That's one reason I did this, was to kind of learn more about him. She never said much about him. I guess she didn't want to bring the memory back."
Fannie Jones never remarried.
"She promised him. I was a little bit critical of that decision because I thought it would have been better for her if she had remarried, and she had plenty of opportunities to remarry," he says. "It may have been a cultural thing, because I mention in the book none of her brothers and sisters that lost a husband or wife ever remarried."
Much of what he learned came from cousins and aunts and uncles, including his father's best friend, Spurgeon Pace, who married Fannie's sister Lona.
"I did know from Spurgeon that my dad was an outgoing person, what they call now a people person," Jones says. "And Uncle Spurgeon, he worshiped my dad."
One of Spurgeon Pace's relatives came to visit Fred and Cleo Jones after the book came out last summer.
"His granddaughter bought the book and came over here and told about Uncle Spurgeon having this picture of this man in his living room, that she didn't know who it was," he says, "and she was really surprised to find out it was his him."

 

 

Darkness Comes in the Morning
141 Pages, $18.50
Available at the Henderson County Historical and Genealogical Society (400 N. Main St., the Heritage Museum (Historic Courthouse), the Book Exchange in Flat Rock, Flat Rock Playhouse, Malaprop's Bookstore, Asheville (and malapropos.com).