In our family there is this well-known “gene”. My father and I called it “the book gene”. It’s been closely associated, at least in my family, to the name ‘William Ellis Jones’. This is due to the fact that we have at least three accomplished men of that name in the family; William Ellis Jones (Cawrdaf), the Welsh bard; William Ellis Jones, the Civil War diarist, historian, editor, and publisher; and William Ellis Jones, the playwright and poet.
My father said “the gene” skipped a generation, just like the name skips each generation as it has pretty consistently since about 1730-something. He named his son according to this tradition in a firm belief that the gene would latch on and his son would become the next great author or great something in the family. (My brother is pretty damn great in every way that matters. He didn’t need the name to get that way. He did it all by himself.)
After all my research and pontifications on this Jones family of ours, I can now say with reasonable certainty that the name itself has nothing to do with whether you get “the gene” or not. The gene doesn’t follow sentimental or prejudicial naming preferences. It goes wherever the hell it wants to go. Sometimes it even goes to girls.
I think my father realized this long before I ever did. It’s why he started sending me the documents, the photos, and the books. It’s why he reached out after all those years of distance. He saw the “book gene” in me and he somehow knew that I was going to carry all this nonsense forward – if anyone chose to carry it at all.
Lord, I do digress….
In researching the family history, I discovered another gene; one no less curious and awesome and inspiring than the “book gene”, upon which all this family insanity is founded.
I wish I had my father here with me to discuss this with. Lacking him, you’ll have to do. You won’t be nearly as excited as he would have been. But never mind, here we go…
It’s the “Wanderlust Gene”. (Smile. I like that name.)
It occurred to me as I researched and wrote the accounts of so many of my ancestors who lived across nearly three centuries, that most of them had this absolutely pure loyalty and lifelong bond to their homeland of Wales. So much so that they were willing to endure just about anything – censure, shunning, even jail – to defend and improve Wales, the Welsh language, and the general condition of the Welsh population. But – oddly – there were a few others in the very same family who could not wait to shake the dust of Wales off their soles and see what adventures the wide world had to offer.
Richard Evan Jones and Lewis Evan Jones were just such young men as I describe. At sixteen years old Lewis left Wales and signed on-board a frigate, destined for Constantinople. He saw the greater part of Europe and America before returning to Wales to fetch his younger brother; the two of them heading out for the port city of New Orleans.
If you have children, can you imagine your sixteen year old boy having the maturity and sense of things to safely conduct himself across half the known world, and then establish himself successfully and profitably in a new country? I would imagine not. But that’s just what Lewis and Richard Jones did – quite on their own without a soul in the world to guide them except their genetic sense of adventure and survival. (There may be a few Roman Centurions in our genetic pool, after all.)
My brother, just like Richard and Lewis, left home at sixteen years old. He’s been from Japan to the South Sea Islands, from one end of Mexico’s California, all the way up to Vancouver, British Columbia.
When he was a kid (his teens and twenties) my brother liked to jump out of perfectly good airplanes, just for the thrill of it. He got his pilot’s license to fly those same airplanes as soon as the law would allow. He’s surfed giant waves from Hawaii to Fiji to Baja (and still does every chance he gets.) And at fifty years old he successfully ascended Mt. Rainier with a group of twenty-something’s coughing and wheezing behind him. He’s hiked the Cascades and cycled from Mexico to Los Angeles. He hand-builds Galileo type telescopes in his spare time, because he loves to study the stars, the planets, the cosmos. He wanted to be an astronaut when he was a boy, and I’m still not quite sure why he didn’t pursue that. His adventurous spirit is without known limits. Today, in his mid-fifties, he’s still tempting avalanches along the crazy-difficult ski runs not far from his home.
He’s made his way, wholly independent of his East Coast family or ties to any particular place, lo these forty years. What’s more, he’s thriving! He loves the adrenaline-charged life of the barely tethered, adventure junkie.
Not me. I got the “book gene”. I write. I read. I pontificate. I piddle in my garden and mess with my honey bees. I like to talk to my chickens, and when I’m really feeling adventurous, I carry an old worn copy of Thomas Harriot’s escapades in Virginia and take a long walk through the grove on my property. I have traveled extensively (not as extensively as my brother.) From my perspective the best part of any trip I ever took was when the plane’s wheel touched down on home soil.
Thomas Harriot, (explorer, writer, astronomer, genius, friend of Sir Walter Raleigh, etc.), and my brother were kindred spirits. They would have reveled in one another’s company. I would love to be the third-wheel at their introduction, just listening to them recount every detail of their adventures in the world. Two fearless minds discussing the as-yet undiscovered opportunities awaiting us in the cosmos. Good Lord what a conversation that would be to record for posterity!
Lewis Evan Jones and Richard Evan Jones were just like my brother. Adventurers. They knew no fear. They were not sentimental. This is a recurring gene in our Jones family history. It’s not as common (I think the bio-science-PhD-types call it “recessive”), and not as well documented as the “book gene”; but it’s no less real.
Without this gene extant in our family line, I would not be here today, writing these lines. Thomas Norcliffe Jones got the “Wanderlust Gene” gene – though perhaps in somewhat of a lesser full-on expression than my brother, Richard, or Evan. He got it none the less. As a result I am here to pass along this small observation about my family, its genetic eccentrics, and how we all came to be precisely who, what, and where we are – and may yet be.
I hope the current and future generations are paying attention. Their genes are making some pretty important decisions for them (which is just as it should be. Don’t fight it!)
I’m not done yet with this whole line of Genetic Predestination, Genetic Memory, Genetic Conundrum thing… There’s more to come and this one stinks!