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December 15, 2018

5/30/2018 10:14:00 AM
Robinson visit priceless for Jones' granddaughter
Eyrna Jones-Heisler looks on as her mother, Kaylie Jones, thumbs through a copy of James Jones’ “From Here to Eternity.” (Randy Harrison photo)
Eyrna Jones-Heisler looks on as her mother, Kaylie Jones, thumbs through a copy of James Jones’ “From Here to Eternity.” (Randy Harrison photo)
It was just a coincidence that Eyrna Jones-Heisler happened to be in the area during the Memorial Day weekend.

As it turned out, it was the perfect occasion to get in touch with her roots and strengthen her connection to the grandfather she never knew.

The college student is in New Harmony, Ind., this week with her mother, author/publisher Kaylie Jones. Jones is leading the first James Jones Writers Workshop Retreat, now through Sunday, in connection with New Harmony's annual "Arts in Harmony" festival.

Kaylie is the daughter of Robinson native James Jones, legendary author of novels such as From Here to Eternity and Some Came Running.

The elder Jones died in 1977, when his daughter was only 16. Though it had been years since Jones had last returned to the area, "he never forgot where he came from," Kaylie said. Before his death, he had hoped to travel cross-country with his family, giving him the chance to show his daughter his hometown.

Since 1982, Kaylie has visited Robinson several times, but Eyrna had only been to Robinson once. She was about 3 years old and far too young to remember. New Harmony is only a little more than 90 minutes away, so it was decided that a day trip was in order.

"This is a place of deep roots for our family," Kaylie said, explaining her family is "sort of rootless." She believed it was important to see where her father grew up and get to know the community that formed him.

"I never had the chance to know him," Eyrna said of her grandfather. "To come back to the place he referenced so much is very nice. I feel a connection with him here I just don't get from reading his works. I feel his presence."

She pointed to a ring on her finger. "It was his pinky ring," she said, explaining she found it among her mother's jewelry when she was a child.

"I was drawn to it," Eyrna said. "It's one of the little ways I can connect with my grandfather."

Kaylie said she notices qualities in her daughter that remind her of her father, including her direct way of speaking and her surprisingly Midwestern sense of humor.

"I think he would have been crazy about her," Kaylie added.

Eyrna was taken by the fact that the Crawford County countryside was similar to the part of Long Island Jones settled on in the 1970s -- a rural area of empty spaces and cornfields. This was typical of her father, Kaylie pointed out. He followed certain patterns wherever he went.

As a boy, he carved his initials in the bannister of his home. As a successful author, he designed a house with his initials over the entrance. It also featured a private room just for him - a "man cave" decades before the term was coined - and he continued to keep private areas in his later homes.

The Joneses' first stop Saturday was the Crawford County Historical Museum. There, they and historical society members shared reminiscences about James Jones, his family and the friends who knew him best. Kaylie spoke fondly of late local residents such as Hap Fleming and Tinks and Helen Howe and how they helped her learn more about her father during her earlier visits.

She also showed her daughter the desk where her father wrote most of Eternity, taking time to thumb through a copy of the book and idly tap on the keys of Jones' now-ancient typewriter.

"I don't think you're supposed to touch that," Eyrna whispered.

"It's my father's," Kaylie replied. "I think I'm allowed to touch it."

"You're here, too," Eyrna said, pointing to a copy of her mother's book, A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries.

"They have my first book, too," Kaylie responded, touching the spine of As Soon as it Rains and adding she would like to go back and make changes to it.

Eyrna is a writer, too, although she currently keeps mostly to college essays. She is considering becoming an attorney, but she also hopes to develop her writing ability and learn what it is she really wants to write about.

Practicing law is another family trait. Her grandfather's grandfather was a Crawford County judge.

After leaving the museum, the Joneses visited James Jones' boyhood home, which still stands on East Walnut, only yards from what was once the Carnegie Public Library. As a child, Jones would ride his tricycle to the library and, with the help of head librarian Vera Newlin, worked his way through the entire children's section before starting on more "grown-up" material.

They also drove past the house that had belonged to Jones' mentor, Lowney Turner-Handy, and her husband. It was in room built onto the house for Jones where he sat at his desk and wrote Eternity. Inspired by his World War II experiences, his first published novel is now considered a literary classic.

Before leaving Robinson, they visited the graves of Jones' family. Then, the traveled to Marshall to tour the home the author designed and built there. It stood next to the Handy Writers' Colony Jones and Turner-Handy established.

Kaylie explained the colony was one way her father sought to give back to the community. Jones realized there were other like himself who needed help telling the stories they had welling up inside them.

"There were a lot of veterans, a lot of lost souls," she said. It meant a lot to him to help them find their voices.

The workshop in New Harmony was created with the same goal in mind. She and other faculty, including Vincennes native J. Patrick Redmond and Theasa Tuohy, work with attendees to hone their writing skills and learn about publishing.

It is hoped the workshop will annual event and that in the future, winners of another inspired by Jones, will be able to participate. Each year, students at Robinson, Palestine and Marshall high schools are invited to write essays based upon Jones' short story The Valentine. The goal is for winners of the contest, sponsored by the James Jones Literary Society, to attend future workshops.

Kaylie also plans to continue efforts to help her father tell his stories the way he intended. For example, in 2011, she was instrumental in getting an unabridged version of Eternity published for the book's 60th anniversary.

She and Eyrna also intend to continue to keep strong the ties to Jones' local heritage. Eyrna hopes to bring her own children to Robinson one day.

"I want them to have a connection to him, too," she said.

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