So I got the dreaded phone call this morning; my first cousin-once-removed, Dean C. Jones, passed away overnight.
Dean Cicero Jones, Jr. (thus the “Dean C”) was a surgeon in Ashe County, North Carolina for his entire adult life. He was the son of a surgeon, the grandson of a surgeon, and the father of a surgeon – all of whom practiced (or practice) in Ashe County as well. There were few people who were better known or better loved in that county.
My particular connection to Dean C was twofold: he was a walking talking history of the county in which my father’s parents grew up and which had housed generations of my paternal family for over 200 years. Even in his latest years, Dean C’s recollection of people, places, and events was encyclopedic. I could listen for hours to his stories of the people whose DNA inhabits half of me and the world that shaped them.
How did I hear those stories? Fishing trips.
From his earliest days, Dean C. was a trout fisherman, learning at the hip waders of his father, Dr. Dean Jones, Sr. With both of them, when the fishing career was over, the life very nearly was too.
I had only fished with Dean C. once or twice until my 1996 sabbatical from Silicon Valley. I was staying at my family’s summer cabin in Ashe County and had dinner with Dean C and his wife Evelyn, whom he’d courted and brought down from Whitetop, VA.
“You fly-fishing or spinning?” he asked.
“Spinning – I don’t know how to fly fish.”
That evening, I was lent a fly-rod and the necessary accouterments. I went out on the nearby trout stream the next day and caught four trout on a dry fly. The trout were released; I was hooked for life.
Ever thereafter, whenever I’d get up to Ashe County, I’d let him know. The evening that I got there, the phone in the cabin would ring. “This is Dean Jones; you want to go fishing?” Or “This is Dean Jones; I hear they’re biting up at your end of the county.”
He’d pick me up in an old red Explorer and we’d head off to find trout. At some point during the day, we’d stop and eat deviled ham, canned sardines, and peanut butter crackers off the hood. If we were lucky, Evelyn would have added home-baked banana bread to the menu.
When asked about the fishing, Dean C would say “The fishing’s great even if the catchin’ ain’t much.” And that was the truth – we’d have a glorious time whether we caught fish or not. That said, we usually caught fish – Dean C. had a surgeon’s touch with a fly rod; I would often watch in amazement as he’d drop a fly into a place where I didn’t think one could be dropped. Of course, that’s where the most fish were.
A couple of times, we cooked those trout in his father-in-law’s front yard. He and fishing buddies would set up a propane stove, fry the trout and make hushpuppies. It was good living those days, and we’d routinely not be back until “dark-thirty.”
I don’t think Dean C ever understood one of my quirks about fishing with him. His usual M.O. was to drop me in one portion of the creek and then he’d go fish another; we’d meet up at an appointed time and place. But often I’d want to just trail behind him. Maybe I’d catch a fish he missed, but I delighted in watching him work the stream; I got a bunch of pictures of him that are precious memories (and for which I am now extra grateful). He couldn’t imagine being on the stream and not spending every moment with a fly in the water. But he never got to watch Dean C. Jones, Jr fish.
Most of the years I fished with him, he was pretty deaf and would remove his hearing aids before leaving the truck and heading to the stream. Conversation was mostly one-way, but not much was necessary. We let the stream and the bent rods do the talking. Occasionally one of us would hold up a native brook trout for the other to admire before slipping it back into its mountain stream home. We’d smile at each other; words were extraneous.
Dean C had a pacemaker and congestive heart failure. I guess Evelyn was always afraid he’d die on a trout stream somewhere; I was always afraid he wouldn’t.
He passed away at Ashe County Memorial Hospital, where an oil painting of Dean Jones Sr, one of the founders of the hospital, hangs in the lobby.
I can remember many times when he’d call and I had other things to attend to. Usually work waiting for me on the high-speed Internet that streams into the cabin. I’d pause a beat, then say “Sure – what time you going to be here?” Now, I smile and give myself an internal pat-on-the-back for making the “go fishing” choice every time.
Dean C. Jones, Jr was a blessing to hundreds – probably thousands – of people over his lifetime. I count myself extra fortunate to have shared many trout streams with him.
I’ll let the man himself have the last word: