Thelma Carter was worried about her baby brother. Jack was living at the Downtown YMCA, broke, having been expelled from the Birmingham Schools.
Like many of the Harwells, Jack was fiercely independent, stubborn and brilliant. And it seemed like he’d been in trouble all his life. “Go down there and see if you can help him,” she asked Dad.
I’ll relate the rest of this encounter, as best I can recall, in Dad’s own words:
He was living in the Y, starving, didn’t have a job, so I took him out and bought him a good meal, and I thought maybe the Navy could straighten him out, so I talked him to joining. He went down and enlisted, and the first thing they did was ship him off to Adak, Alaska. Jack never spoke to me again.
But it did change his life. I’m not sure if it happened in the Aleutian Islands (the 2000 Census of Adak showed a population of 316) of sometime afterward, but Jack began to get his act together. He got his diploma, then went on to college and grad school.
By 1965, he was married, and he and Joan were living in Castro Valley, just outside San Francisco, where they had a one-year-old daughter, Jacqueline. He and I had exchanged some letters, and he called Mom to invite me to visit them in California. Mom agreed to let me go, along with my grandmother.
By then, Jack was working as a juvenile probation officer, and continuing to study. From the stories I’d heard, I figured he knew a thing or two about juvenile delinquents. I stayed with them for 12 days, making friends with some neighborhood kids who taught me to ride the horse in the field behind them bareback, seeing San Francisco, and camping under the stars in Yosemite National Park.
But Jack still had a rebellious streak. He smoked, drank beer, and hosted weekly dice games. (He said poker was too slow, but by the time I went home, I was getting pretty good at a dice game called Liar’s Dice.)
“You’ll have a lot of new things to teach your Mama, won’t you,” he said, and he winked.
Jack went on to become a respected sociology professor and textbook author.
We stayed in touch. Years later, when I was covering a convention in Los Angeles, I made arrangements to stay over a day or two and visit him. He was excited about my coming, and had arranged to have his son Clifford, whom I’d never met, there to visit with us as well.
But by the time the convention was ending, I was exhausted, and not feeling well. “I think I just need to get back home,” I told him, and I flew back to Alabama.
The next morning, back home, my phone rang at 7. It was Aunt Ginny, Jack’s sister.
“Jack died during the night,” she said. “They think it was a brain hemorrhage.”
So far as I know, Jack never did speak to Dad again. Harwells can be stubborn. But I know Dad loved him. It was impossible not to.