Sunday, June 20, 2010


Today is Fathers Day.  My father, R. Lee Gilmer Jones, would have been 93 this August.  He's been gone for 15 years, and I still miss him terribly.

Jones (as we all called him) was a simple yet profound man.  He never graduated from high school, so far as I know.  I think he dropped out in the 6th grade to help support his family of 13 siblings during the Great Depression. He liked to fish, flirt with pretty women, and give away money.

Toward the end, when I went through his finances, I found that he was giving money to strangers who would call.  He must have been on every sucker list in the country. I'm so grateful that he lived before the age of the internet, for he'd be replying to all those Nigerian scams.

I had to have his banker establish a trust for him and give him a monthly allowance.  The hardest thing was to take his car away, for he had been a traveling salesman all his life and liked to make his "rounds" every day all over the county.

I didn't know much about the traveling sales business, except that every time he'd have a good quarter and make his "quota", the company would raise the quota.  I think the quota was how much he needed to sell before the commission would kick in.

In the last few months of his life, I was his caretaker. We all lived in the same house - Jones, my son and I. He was going downhill fast.  One night at about two o'clock I found him sitting in a pool of his own urine on the living room sofa, fully dressed and wearing his hat, which he always wore outside, all ready to go somewhere.  After that I had to reverse the lock on his bedroom door and lock him inside at night.  It sickened my heart to do this.

Taking care of Jones was without a doubt the most stressful time of my life.  Once, driving home in our new van, I didn't pull it all the way into the garage because I wanted him to have enough room to pull his oxygen tank in front of the van to the kitchen door.  Out of habit, he pushed the button to close the electric garage door.   I freaked out, started yelling "STOP!" at the top of my lungs, and ran over to the button to reverse the door.  I didn't know if there was enough clearance for it to miss the back of the van.  I couldn't stop it going down, but it did miss the van by about half an inch.  I was so stressed out that I cried for an hour afterward.

The children loved Jones.  He would always have a roll of quarters every Sunday in church and would stand in the middle aisle giving them away.  The kids would stand in line to get them.  I'm sure it was the quarters they liked rather than Jones, and I would always fuss at him for giving away his money.  Now, in hindsight, I find it quite endearing.

Shortly after my mother died, Jones returned her Social Security check to the local office.  I would love to have seen the expression on the clerk's face when he said, "Now I'm going to give this money back to the government, but only if you'll promise me that it won't be used for bullets."

Jones had a hard head.  Once he had made up his mind, there was no changing it.  As  his banker said, "You can be Jones' friend, but you can't be his advisor."  Near the end of his days he got days and nights mixed up.  One day he arose from a long nap late in the afternoon and asked me to make coffee.  I didn't think anything of it, for he and my mother often drank a cup of coffee in the afternoon.

Soon, however, it became apparent to me that Jones thought it was the morning.  I decided to use logic to convince him otherwise.

"What direction is Tyler, Jones?" I asked as we sat out on the back porch.

"That way," he said, pointing east.

"And what direction is that?"

"East," he said confidently.

"Good, Jones.  Now show me where the sun is now."  He pointed to the west.

"And where is that, Jones?"

"West," he said, never being one to waste words.

"So what does it mean when the sun is in the West, Jones?"

"Usually it means it's in the evening," he replied with all the logic he could muster.

Usually it means it's in the evening.

I love to tell that story about Jones.  He lived in his own reality, a world different from ours.

Jones had a unique body odor, a combination of his own sweat and the aroma of Granger pipe tobacco, which he always smoked and which eventually killed him.

Now, fifteen years later, as I lie in bed thinking about Jones, that odor sometimes comes back.  Perhaps it's my imagination, but I prefer to think not.  It's Jones checking on his little girl, making sure she's OK.

Jones, I'm so grateful for the values, determination and love for humanity you instilled in me.

And I will miss you to the end of my days.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Tonight I saw the first firefly of the season.  It was during that interlude between twilight and dark, just as the light had disappeared enough to reveal that momentary burst of color.

I love fireflies.  They remind me of those carefree times of childhood, when we ran about to catch them in a jar and then marveled at their unworldly ability to generate light from nothingness.

Years of graduate school in biochemistry taught me the chemical reactions involved.  But after all the molecules of ATP and luciferase are spent, the mystery remains.

My first biochemistry professor was from Baltimore.  He told the story of how he would earn spare change in the summers by collecting fireflies for Dr. Albert Leninger at Hopkins.  Leninger was the scientist who figured out the biochemistry of fireflies.  He paid my would-be professor a penny apiece.  I'd like to think that the firefly in my yard tonight is a relative of those from Leninger's laboratory.  And so the circle is completed.

There don't seem to be as many fireflies these days as there used to be.  Chalk it up to global warming, pesticides, loss of habitat or whatever.  I hope the fireflies find a way to survive these challenges and the ever-present children chasing them.

The world would be worse off without fireflies.

The Appearance of Reality: