Biography: Carl Lawrence Jones (1927−2003)

Carl Lawrence Jones (1927-2003)
Carl Lawrence Jones (1927−2003)

My father, Carl Lawrence Jones, was a great inspi­ra­tion to me, and a man who lived through many strug­gles.

At the age of 16, he dropped out of school and took a train from West Logan, West Vir­ginia to Seat­tle, Wash­ing­ton, where he lived on his Uncle Orvis’s farm and took a bus in to work in the stock room at Boe­ing.

While still under age, he joined the Navy with the approval of his par­ents, but end­ed up state­side, main­ly in the Nebras­ka Navy at the US Naval Ammu­ni­tion Depot, Hast­ings, Nebras­ka. (It was in Hast­ings that he met my moth­er.)

He was a recov­er­ing alco­holic, sober from 1964 until the day he died. He felt an emo­tion­al oblig­a­tion to help oth­ers try­ing to recov­er from alco­holism, and was an active mem­ber of a small group that met orig­i­nal­ly in everyone’s homes.

My dad was large­ly self-edu­cat­ed, but had attend­ed at least three col­leges: Far­ragut Col­lege and Tech­ni­cal Insti­tute, Ida­ho (a school that had appeared just after the War on the site of Far­ragut Naval Train­ing Sta­tion, and didn’t last long), 1946–1949, before going broke; San Jose State Col­lege (just after my par­ents mar­ried); and LA Val­ley Col­lege (lat­er called CSU North­ridge), but nev­er received a degree. He told me that he was only an alge­bra class away from his Bachelor’s in busi­ness admin­is­tra­tion. He nev­er felt good at math, and tried more than once to fin­ish col­lege-lev­el alge­bra. (In his lat­er years, he was a long-time trea­sur­er of AA orga­ni­za­tions in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and New Mex­i­co.)

He was a vora­cious and wide read­er, inter­est­ed in lit­er­a­ture, cul­ture, med­i­cine, psy­chi­a­try, big band jazz, social jus­tice, his­to­ry, and anthro­pol­o­gy. The list of writ­ers he intro­duced me to, and whose works adorned our walls was sim­ply amaz­ing now that I think about it: James Joyce, Bro­nis­law Mali­nows­ki, E. B. White, Franz Kaf­ka, Gus­tave Flaubert, Sopho­cles, John Stein­beck, Mar­garet Mead, Dashiell Ham­mett, Lewis Thomas, Her­man Melville, Kurt Von­negut, Guy de Mau­pas­sant, Lucretius Appelius, D. H. Lawrence, Samuel John­son, Lil­lian Hell­man, Bernard DeVo­to, C. S. Lewis (the non-fic­tion works), W. Som­er­set Maugh­am, William Faulkn­er (espe­cial­ly The Reivers) … I could go on, and prob­a­bly will at some point.

He was ded­i­cat­ed to the social equal­i­ty of African-Amer­i­cans and grew up offend­ed by Jim Crow West Vir­ginia. He told me once that the main rea­son he left the South was to get away from the treat­ment of African-Amer­i­cans he wit­nessed there. He was also a life-long sup­port­er of the union move­ment, his father hav­ing been a long-time union local pres­i­dent of the Inter­na­tion­al Broth­er­hood of Rail­way Train­men. In pol­i­tics, he was an FDR Demo­c­rat.

He was inter­est­ed in music, espe­cial­ly in the big band jazz and folk music of his youth. He also lis­tened to more recent jazz, and pop­u­lar music, includ­ing Jim Croce, the Bea­t­les, and Eric Clap­ton. In clas­si­cal music, he favored the Roman­tic peri­od, espe­cial­ly Beethoven.

His work life had its chal­lenges. His expe­ri­ences in the Navy and at Boe­ing led him toward aero­space as he moved to Los Ange­les in the late 1940’s from Ida­ho. He worked in the stock room at Borg-Warn­er, and lat­er was in pur­chas­ing at a num­ber of air­plane man­u­fac­tur­ers and retro-fit­ters: Ted Smith, Amer­i­can Avi­a­tion, and Vol­par. The work was cycli­cal, how­ev­er, and he was often out of work because of a lay­off (Amer­i­can Avi­a­tion and Vol­par), or a fac­to­ry mov­ing to Texas (Ted Smith). He did what he had to do, and in his 60s, for exam­ple, was doing paint­ing when he couldn’t come by a job in aero­space pur­chas­ing.

As you may have been able to tell, I felt an affin­i­ty with my father that goes beyond words. There were many ways that we thought alike, had sim­i­lar tastes and predilec­tions. He liked a leisure­ly day with a book bet­ter than most peo­ple. He could also be dif­fi­cult to get close to, and argu­men­ta­tive. I believe much of this stemmed from a sad­ness that he was able to let go of in his lat­er years. He told me that Christ­mas was always a sad time for him, and lat­er, that this feel­ing had soft­ened, and that he no longer felt that way.

I wish he were around and healthy, as there is much he would be inter­est­ed in the fam­i­ly sto­ries I have uncov­ered. And I would like to sit down and final­ly read Stendhal’s The Red and The Black with him, as I long said I would …

Far­ragut State Park,” Wikipedia: : accessed 12 May 2010.