Saturday, August 19, 2017

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Tell me then what is this glory
That come to our fighting Sons
Tell then what is the honor
To be killed by German guns…

Last month, the Douglas Library showcased female Hebron authors in honor of Women’s History Month.  One of those was the book Reflections:  Poems of Lucille Porter Jones. 

Hebron is fortunate to count many famous women poets in its history, including Susan Bingham Pendleton, Ethel Rogers Brehant, and Dorothy Brehant Taggart.  But it is the poetry of “Lulu” Jones that, at times, is so gut-wrenching that men and women alike find themselves fighting tears when reading it. 

Who was this compelling woman, who, at the tender age of 16, married Carlton “Gil” Jones, one of Hebron’s most famous baseball players?  What kind of suffering must she have known, having lost her uncle, Merle Jones, in World War I, and both her brother, Marshall, and her beloved son, Carlton, in World War II?  Through her poetry, much of which was influenced by her losses, Lulu has left a legacy that will live forever.

Lucille, born in 1905, was the daughter of the “other” Porter line in Hebron, Elihu and his wife Flora Williams.  Elihu and Flora owned the large Porter Farm on Old Andover Road, and it was here that Lulu worked after completing her 8th grade studies at Hebron Center School.  It is not known how she met the handsome Carlton Hills Jones, four years her senior, and the son of Hebron’s famous auctioneer and probate judge, Carlton Blish “Carly B.” Jones.  The Jones family had been in Hebron for generations; Elihu and Flora were first generation Hebronians.  Regardless, shortly after their meeting, Lulu and Gil were married in 1920, and by the following year, had a son, Carlton Porter Jones.  Not surprising for that day and time, Lulu’s mother gave birth a year after that to Marshall, making Lulu’s brother younger than her own son. 

It was a busy decade for Lulu and her husband.  Gil was already an established baseball player, and Hebron, like so many other small rural Connecticut communities, was thoroughly consumed by baseball.  An outstanding pitcher, the 230-pound Gil had many nicknames in the press:  Cannonball Jones, Farmer Gil and Farmer Jones (which was interesting since he wasn’t a farmer!)  He played for a number of well-known teams, including the Eastern Connecticut State League, the Fitchville Athletic Club, the Yantic Twilights, Glastonbury, East Hampton Bellringers, and the Waterbury Brasscos.  He often left Lulu on her own as he traveled the state, auditioning or playing for a number of teams.  But he always sent her postcards, letting his beloved wife know what was going on.  It appears from the address on the 1927 postcards that Lulu was staying with her parents, who by then were living in Andover, having already sold their farm to Claude Jones. 

In the late 1920’s, Gil returned to Hebron permanently and opened his garage in the center of town, across the street from his father’s house (the Mobil station now occupies that parcel of land.)  Even though he continued to play baseball well into his 50’s, the garage was his primary source of income.  In 1931, ten years after Carlton was born, Lulu and Gil celebrated the birth of their second, and last, child, daughter, Betty.

There weren’t that many cars in the 30’s but still, the need was there for a garage and gasoline pumps.  “Alma Porter had gas pumps in front of her post office and store, and so did Dad,” remembers daughter Betty.  “As more and more people bought cars, which always seemed to need repair, they would come to Dad’s garage, and just got in the habit of buying their gas from him too.”  Like so many Hebron properties, it fell victim to fire, and burned to the ground.  But Gil rebuilt it in 1930, and found a new passion in the fledgling Hebron Volunteer Fire Department.  He was its first Chief at its official date of incorporation.  It was Gil who argued furiously for the town to invest in its first fire truck, delivered in 1937.

 “Mother was a quiet person, basically a housewife, but she was a fantastic cook!” says Betty.  “The back half of the garage had a hot dog stand, and Mother ran that for several years.  That may be where she got her reputation for good cooking.”  Lulu was also active in the First Congregational Church, serving as a Sunday School teacher, and the original Hebron Women’s Club.  All the while, Carlton played frequently with her younger brother, Marshall.

The Hurricane of 1938 profoundly affected Gil and Lulu.  Betty remembers being let out of Hebron Center school early, and running the short distance to her house, where she ran from window to window, watching the trees fall.  Many people were stranded, and they founded their way to the Jones house, where Lulu worked almost round the clock feeding them.  It was maybe the best of times for Lulu, who felt great satisfaction in helping out those less fortunate than herself.

Lulu felt dread when World War II commenced.  Hebron had lost only one member during World War I, and it was her uncle, George Merle Porter.  Gil immediately signed up with the Hebron War Council, and was named the official Air Raid Warden.  In 1943, Lulu’s brother was called up, then her son.  In addition, many of the children that had surrounded her for years, including Lloyd Gray, the son of her best friend Susan Miner Gray, Hebron’s Town Clerk, were also called up.   Lulu turned her inner anxiety to writing, first to brother Marshall at Fort Devens in Massachusetts:

I wish you luck in this new adventure
Your country calls you to,
May you have success, courage and valor
In everything you do.

She also wrote about Carlton, who had been sent to Fort Riley, Kansas:

I went about my work today
The same old work, the same old way…
I miss your happy smiling face
I miss your things strewn ‘round the place
I miss the things you always do
In other words, I just miss You.

Marshall, a member of the Air Force, was declared missing in action on June 10, 1944.  It is believed that his plane went down over the English Channel, and he is even today official “Missing In Action.”  The devastated Lulu, referring to her brother as “my son” wrote: 

Little boy, don’t reach so high…
Maybe when you’ve grown my son
And you’ve had your share of fun
You can try your wings in flight
And reach that moon some starry night.

Just six weeks later, the telegram from the War Department came again.  Betty, who was visiting Uncle Claude at the Andover Road farm, heard the telephone ring, and was told to go home immediately.  She flew on her bike, only to find the house filled with people.  Reverend George Milne stayed with Lulu, but nothing could really console her.  Lulu stopped going to church, and pictures of Carlton disappeared from the walls.  She poured her emotions into writing, remembering the day Carlton had left:

“Don’t worry Mom, I’ll hurry back
as soon as this war is won.
I’ll finish all the things and such
That I had just begun.
We’ll take that trip we talked about
There’s lots of things to see.
Don’t worry Mom, I’ll be right back”
Is what he said to me.

The war is not yet over
The victory not yet won.
But he will never finish
The things he’d just begun.
He told me not to worry
And he asked me not to cry
“Don’t worry Mom,” is what he said….

And then he said Goodbye.

 In her poem “Heartache”, Lulu wrote:

I prayed for you while you were there
It did no good – my mother’s prayer
The war will end and peace will come
But not to us….

As with all tragedy, time somewhat healed the wounds.  Pictures of Carlton slowly but surely reappeared on the walls of the Jones’ home, and Lulu ultimately began attending Betty’s church in Westchester.  Trips to Maine helped ease her soul, as did Gil’s constant support.  Indeed, says Betty, Gil was frequently teased for always holding Lulu’s hand, or having his arm around her.  Their love grew even deeper as a result of the tragedies.

Gil continued working at his garage until 1976, shortly before his death of cancer.  Lulu joined him in the peace and serenity of God’s heaven in 1980.  Appropriately, Reverend Milne eulogized Lucille Porter Jones at her service, “Lulu’s life was a quiet one; faithful, strong and good – a reminder of the deep, strong goodness that often passes unnoticed, but that holds the world together…”

The old Jones garage is today the home of Daisies and Daffodils florist shop.  The Jones homestead, inaccurately referred to as the “Ous House,” was torn down as part of the Douglas Library expansion project in 1997.  The legacy of Gil and Lulu Jones will live on forever.