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.