In Memory of Charles Lynn Jewett

My sister Jennifer and I lost our dad last Monday. I never thought I’d write an essay honoring someone I had lost, but now that this very sad event has happened, it seems like a great idea. Some of you knew him, some of you never had the pleasure, but rest assured our dad lived a great life and was one of the most unique individuals I have ever met. This post will give you a little taste of someone who made it from the Great Depression–era to the Internet age doing things his own way.

Charles Lynn Jewett was born on January 6, 1932 in Hamilton, Ohio to John Samuel and Florence Bell Bailey. From all accounts his parents were pretty unique individuals themselves and surprised friends by getting married one day during a trip back east. When my dad was born his two sisters, Mary and Dorothy, and his brother Jack were all much older. My understanding is that his sisters helped to take care of him since they were so much older. His parents ran a neighborhood grocery store where my dad would sometimes hang out. He loved the malts there. My dad’s nephew John, who would always join us on ski trips, said this of Charles, “Your dad came from a line of very independent personalities.” John’s brother Tom also remembers dad fondly. “When I was just a little tyke I remember him taking the time to describe a basic transistor. He took the time to explain the wonders of computing and all of the possibilities which have become commonplace.”

Dad went to college at Miami University in Ohio and finished at Florida State. He followed his brother Jack (Jack was a pilot who trained other pilots how to train pilots — if that makes sense) into the Air Force where he flew planes and learned about computers. He completed four years of service in 1955. My dad didn’t dwell in the past that much — he was too busy looking ahead — so we never knew much about his service or the little detail that he flew planes. One day, pretty recently, he told my sister this and we couldn’t believe it — if you’ve ever seen my dad drive, you would know why (distractions would totally remove my dad from the process of driving). He shocked us by showing us his USAF pilot certification. Sure enough, he flew planes.

Sometime after completing four years of service my dad picked up and headed to California. I never thought much about how we wound up out here (other than realizing we never saw much of extended family, except for the occasional visit, because nobody else from the family made it to the West Coast). John says this about the move, “True to the Jewett spirit, your dad just up and set out for California one day with nothing much to draw him there except the sheer adventure of the thing, which was, at the time, a pretty gutsy thing to do.”

The move paid off. My dad got involved in the tech industry long before anyone called it that (he would go on to learn some 50 programming languages) and, in 1963, met my mom, Sheila. Dad and his friend Jim lived in one unit in an Anaheim apartment building and my mom and a few fellow teachers lived in another in the same building. By 1964 they were married and by 1967 they had me after a move to Orange. I don’t remember those days, but they must have been idyllic; my mom recalls rolling me through Disneyland in my stroller on a pretty regular basis and learning guitar from a TV program during her pregnancy.

In 1970 my sister Jennifer was born and what followed were moves to New Mexico, Colorado and finally back to California. My dad loved communities of the future and the last place we lived before my parents got divorced in 1977 was Lucas Valley. It was a community full of post-and-beam, glass wall and open-floor-plan Eichler homes carved into a golden Marin hillside. My sister and I would often wait for him to return from work at the Golden Gate Transit stop by our house — he loved when we did that. Memories of building soapbox derby cars with him (he had a secret plan to increase speed that didn’t work), hiking with our golden retriever Tam and riding bikes in the bicentennial parade (which went right down our street) were great.

Divorce happened soon after the parade and my sister and I only saw dad only on visits until later when we would both live with him in another community of the future, Foster City, which was so new it only became an official city in 1971.

It was during these visits that we got to experience our dad’s unique (and sometimes frustrating) take on life and live in a world where nobody was sure who the parent was. We would always bring a bunch of friends and cousin John and his kids (or meet returning families who went at the same time) on ski trips to Snowmass in Colorado or Squaw in California that would last a whole week. I think my dad probably over spent on these (it’s not smart to buy gear for kids who outgrow it the next season) but they made such amazing memories. And it was nice skiing right out of the hotel onto the slopes even if that probably was also expensive.

The thing about ski culture in the 1970s was that it wasn’t really a kid friendly environment — it was much more of an adult pastime in those days. So we always got funny looks in the lodges. Or we’d laugh when the stodgy waiter would ask, “Is everything satisfactory sir?” “Yes, these fries are simply divine,” I wish we would have said in reply (we just laughed hysterically instead).

One night my dad left us in the room for a bit and when he returned we had an apple on a silver platter. “How’d you get that?” he asked. We started laughing and said we didn’t really believe you could just call the front desk and they would bring whatever you wanted — so we tried it, and it worked, we had an apple. “That’s the most expensive apple I’ve ever seen,” my dad said, laughing.

Other trips involved us traveling for camping and hiking trips — my dad loved nature. We’d listen to the Carpenters on the tape deck in the Honda (always Hondas) or old time radio shows like “The Shadow” when it got dark. If we were on an isolated road my dad would offer me the wheel so he could rest, pretty cool for a 14 year old.

Things could get a little frustrating when it was time to go or leave. We always packed every item we could ever possibly need and then some. How did we accomplish this without forgetting something? My dad’s famous check lists. And the standout item on the list? The final one: Bring List. Yes, the list had a line item that related to the need to bring the list itself — that way we could go through the same painfully long process when we packed to leave, making sure that we didn’t forget any of our precious items. Vitamin E gel. Check.

My friends also loved my dad. Some, like Wes, would actually take his side in the arguments that would inevitably happen when all the gang decided our house was the place to hangout. Others friends would come for the cereal that we always had but stay to hear about the latest in technology from my dad or to debate some issue. On more than a few occasions I would come home and find my friend Allen at the table having a bowl of cereal with Charles. Later, my dad would let us have band practice in the garage as long as we did a few chores first.

My dad was also always ahead of the curve. So many times he would mention something he was interested in that seemed really out there and later I would start to hear people talking about it as a real possibility. A classic moment was when he went to a computer convention and came back to tell us,” You kids are all going to be playing a game called Tempest in the next few months.” “You don’t know anything about video games dad, no way were playing some game called Tempest,” I said, being an appropriately skeptical teenager. In a few months we were al lined up at Round Table pizza waiting for our turn to play the Atari classic. We were also one of the first families with a modem with network access (dad had a dial-in laptop for work in the early 80s) and a word processor and home computer. Although it had some design problems, we did all our homework on the ColecoVision Adam, saving to its impossibly slow tape drive storage system and printing to the impossibly loud printer. But we loved it and it helped us both embrace this new method of writing and take advantage of the editing advantages inherent in it.

It would be impossible to mention dad without mentioning vitamins. We drove all the way to Palo Alto to go to one the earliest health food stores (I always found them so odd) so dad could pick up his supplements. Dad never trusted western medicine and always thought he could find a more natural way around it. He had a big interest in antiaging research and the power of vitamin C specifically — I sometimes though Linus Pauling was a long lost uncle. He got into vitamins when I was a child as a way of finding a solution for the ear infections I seemed to always get. I think the vitamin C did help. We were also some of the first adopters of invisible/removable braces (since they are removable I would often remove them and it extended my treatment time by about two years — but they did work well) and soft contact lenses. We met some very interesting care providers as dad took us to appointments with these innovative first adopters.

In the end, our dad died quickly handling his health the way he wanted — on his own terms. He lived an entire life free from the ailments (other than a stroke that slowed him down but didn’t stop him) that sidelined many — no back pain, only one broken bone in his younger years, no dementia or heart disease, no need for hospital care, all while sporting a full head of wavy hair and a Raiders jacket (he didn’t watch football, he just thought the jacket was cool). He refused at-home care and alert devices that may have extended his life after the final stroke we think he had — but what kind of life would that have been? Dad had recently escaped the skilled nursing facility he was in for a short time, called a cab and made it back home (the only one to have done that in the center’s long history we are told). He hated hospitals; he hated people (other my sister and I) fussing over him. But he did love sci-fi and mavericks like Clint Eastwood and Ronald Regan (he actually kept an outdated Ronald Regan calendar on the wall just for the photos). He wanted to leave this world like a cowboy, riding free on the range, not hooked up to machines. He got his wish and he got 83 great years and we got one heck of a dad for all that time. We love him and miss him.

We know our dad would want the same for all of you that he wants for my sister and I and our families, to follow one simple rule (his favorite saying): Live long and prosper.

Donations in Charles Jewett’s name can be made to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Center. jdrf.org

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