Carl Alfred Holmes, Jr. – The Flight of a Lifetime

Carl Alfred Holmes, Junior was born 8 October 1925, the second child born to Carl Alfred Holmes, Senior and Ella Marie Milks Holmes while they were living in Celoron, Chautauqua county in western New York. On the other side of Jamestown, New York, Little Valley in Cattauraugas county and the surrounding farm communities were home to many of the Milks families. These families had settled in the area after several generations had made their way west from the Boston Massachusetts vicinity to which the first Milks settlers came from England in the seventeenth century.

Both of Carl’s grandmothers emigrated from Germany late in the nineteenth century and Carl’s fraternal grandfather emigrated from England during the same period giving him a mix of English and German blood lines. Carl Sr. and Ella Marie attended school together in Little Valley, New York and were married after Carl Sr. returned from serving in the U.S Cavalry during World War I. They moved several times during the first fifteen years of their marriage including residences in Baltimore, Maryland and multiple locations in western New York. Carl’s sisters were born in Jamestown and New Albion but most of Carl’s growing up memories were of Sinclairville, New York to which his parents moved in 1936 into the house where they lived for the remainder of their lives.

At the age of five, while living in Jamestown, Carl with a packed bag left his home and fled the perceived tyranny of his mother’s control. He relates that his mother made no move to resist his departure and his new found independence was short lived as he sat on his friend’s steps for a while and the willingly returned to the protection, care, and instruction of his own mother.

Carl caught the attention of the fairer gender early in life. He told of moving the lawn as a young boy and being followed about by the neighbor girl singing “You are My Sunshine”. The little neighbor girl faded all too quickly from the sphere of influence in Carl’s life, but that song would remain in his repertoire for a lifetime.

It was in Sinclairville that Carl met Ralph (Robbie) Robinson who would be his lifelong close friend. Robbie’s family was very active in the Baptist church in Sinclairville where Carl would later begin his life as a born again Christian.

Carl grew up during the years of the Great Depression and would talk sometimes of the sacrifices and shortages of that period, but his family was among the fortunate as Carl Sr. was employed for much if not all of that time. Carl Sr. was an automobile mechanic and later in life operated a repair shop out of his home garage.

Carl was apparently a very good student. He graduated as the salutatorian from Sinclairville High School in 1943. He would sometimes tell that he would have been the valedictorian, but that someone moved into the high school his last year who passed him by. World War II efforts were in full swing when Carl left high school so Carl applied for and began Navy pilot training in November of 1943. The Navy sent him to a year of concentrated college classes and then to flight school. Carl received his wings in December of 1946 and with the post war reduction in forces was transferred to the inactive reserve in January of 1947.

Carl returned to western New York and for a time worked with his father. In June of 1947 Carl commented to Robbie’s mother that he was going begin living a Christian life. Mrs. Robinson asked him if he had been saved and after his response took him to visit the pastor of the Sinclairville Baptist Church. The pastor shared scripture with Carl, they prayed, and Carl surrendered his life to the lordship of Jesus Christ.

1947 was an important year in Carl’s life. In July of that year he relocated to Longview, Texas to attend LeTouneau Institute and study welding. LeTourneau Institute would become LeTourneau College and, much later, LeTourneau University. Soon after arriving in Longview Carl met Lula Mae Black at a Christian youth gathering and they were married on Easter Sunday, 28 March 1948.

While attending school at LeTouneau Carl acquired for about six hundred dollars a surplus military aircraft, the SNJ trainer with which he had become familiar during his Navy pilot training. Shortly after he and Lula Mae were married he sold the airplane primarily due to his bride’s lack of interest in flying and her concern for his safety while participating in that pastime.

Welding was not new to Carl. He had first been introduced to welding at the age of twelve when his father purchased an electric welder from Sears. Carl would complete studies to become a Welding Engineer and his life’s employment would be as a welder, a welding foreman, then a welding engineer, and then a technical representative for the sales and support of welding supplies and equipment.

Carl’s relationship with Lula Mae brought him into contact with the Church of the Nazarene which would be the denomination of his choice for the rest of his life. With the First Church of the Nazarene of Longview, Texas Carl led services and preached in what was referred to as the church’s “colored mission”. The mission was located in the very poor section of Longview and ministered to the Negro residents of that area.

Carl’s and Lula Mae’s family expanded as their first daughter, Linda Mae, was born 23 October 1949 in Longview. Carl Michael, a son, was born 15 February 1951 and after a move to Springfield, Ohio Donna Lu was born 13 January 1953. The family returned to Longview where Gary Lane, the second son and final child was born on 26 December 1956.

While living in Longview Carl was employed by R.G. LeTouneau. R.G. was an extraordinary man, an inventor and committed Christian who was a hero of sorts to Carl. R.G. Letourneau was responsible for some very innovative developments in earth moving equipment and after several false starts and a few bankruptcies was a very successful businessman. He devoted ninety percent of his income to the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His organization sponsored scientific projects and Christian missions in South America and Antarctica.

Late in the summer of 1957 Carl moved his family to Bethany, Oklahoma as he was hired by Robberson Steel Company of Oklahoma City. Bethany was the home of Lula Mae’s grandmother, Martha Ann McCasson Vawter. Several of the Vawter and Black families were still living where Lula Mae’s grandparents were raised in Bethany and the surrounding communities.

While living in Bethany, the family attended Williams Memorial Church of the Nazarene where Carl served on the church board, taught Sunday School classes, and provided leadership for teenaged boys’ groups. Carl taught Sunday School, mostly senior adult classes, and served on church boards for most of the rest of his life. Carl often quoted from the patriarch, Joshua, “Choose you this day whom you will serve … but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Sometimes on hot summer nights, with all the windows of the house opened wide, Carl could be heard praying loudly and passionately for the hand of God to move in his life and in the lives of those that were dear to him. Although Carl was not a demonstratively emotional man, he testified to the church that he identified with the prophet Jeremiah in his word, “Oh that my … eyes were a fountain of tears.”

While Carl’s primary employment was as an industrial welder, he also worked tirelessly in his own garage maintaining and repairing his own vehicles and those of friends and neighbors. Although he never formally organized a business, he did enough transactions with the automobile parts store in Bethany that they provided him with a professional discount and maintained an account for the “Holmes Garage”.

Carl was innovative in the application of his welding and automotive mechanical skills. He transformed, at different times, three cars into pickups. At one time he received in payment for his services an Oldsmobile V* engine. Having also obtained a Studebaker Commander in need of a power plant, he joined, with many required adjustments, the two. Among the many changes the hood of the Commander was joined with the center section of a Plymouth hood to provide the additional vertical space required by the larger engine. It was a very interesting automobile, but unfortunately required the constant care of a knowledgeable individual. Carl sold the car to a young man most interested in the large engine in a lightweight carriage. He burned the engine up in short order.

Carl had all the skills and creativity in steel fabrication to do the work that has become popular in building custom motorcycles and modified cars, but he lacked one necessary element. He was never concerned with appearance, styling, or what someone else might think of his creations. His was very much a focus on function. Of the popular movement of “non-conformity” of his day he would sometimes say, “Even the nonconformists are conforming to the standard of other nonconformists.” Ironically, in his own way, he was indeed the quintessential nonconformist.

Carl was fond of table games. Other couples from the church would often gather at the Holmes’ house for domino games that lasted well into the night. Carl would play chess with his children, sometimes regularly giving up a queen or a queen and a rook to provide his younger opponent with a better chance of competing. Carl and his son, Gary, pursued the game with a local chess club.

Often when Carl was deeply concentrating during a chess game his breath would measure the tune and rhythm of a musical score, not quite a whistle but recognizable. He did whistle often and well, mostly when his hands were busy, or when they were not.

Carl enjoyed poetry. He would entertain his children, sometimes as they traveled by car, by quoting a Robert W. Service poem, The Cremation of Sam McGee. He would also sometimes quote lines from A Leap for Life, a poem by George Pope Morris and a cute little Ogden Nash poem, “What a Queer Bird”.

In 1967 Carl revived his interest in flying and over the next several years he participated in flying clubs and owned a Piper Cherokee, an Aero Commander Lark, and a Piper Tri-Pacer.

In 1977 Carl divorced his wife of twenty-nine years and married Ann Geneva Rowe, a long time widow whose two sons were grown and had left home as had all four of Carl’s children. Some three and one half years later Carl was teaching a Sunday School lesson concerning adultery and remarriage when he felt convicted by his own words. He determined that to fulfill his responsibility as a Christian husband he should not have left his first wife. After conversations with both Lula Mae and Ann he obtained a divorce from his second wife and on 28 March 1982 Carl and Lula Mae were remarried.

Carl and Lula Mae established a residence in Shawnee, Oklahoma where they lived until Carl’s retirement. In 1988 Carl and Lula Mae with their son, Gary, and his family moved to Cotter, Arkansas. Carl and Gary operated a service station in Cotter for a time. Gary’s family lived in a mobile home which was for a short while on Carl’s and Lula Mae’s lot in Cotter, but then moved to a wooded plot some twenty miles away in Salesville, Arkansas. Although technically retired and drawing social security payments, Carl could not remain idle and worked several part time jobs in welding, construction, and automobile repair while living in Arkansas.

In 1992 while on a trip with Carl from Arkansas to Bethany, Lula Mae suffered a stroke. By the time they had returned to Baxter County and the necessary medical attention, the stroke had left Lula Mae with irreversible damage. She was left incapacitated with damage to her speech and her mobility including her inability to walk. Carl became Lula Mae’s full time caregiver.

In 1995 when Gary’s family moved into the home they had built on the Salesville property, Carl and Lula Mae moved into the mobile home that they had vacated. Carl built for himself a workshop beside the mobile home and continued his lifelong practice of spending as much time as possible surrounded by his tools and things to be fixed. Carl had often described himself as a “shade tree mechanic” and seemed to prefer making things work rather than replacing them. Sometimes that preference was influenced by financial limitations, but often it seemed to be simply the pattern of his life rooted in the years of the Great Depression. He drove an older Dodge Caravan which he modified to accommodate the wheelchair that Lula Mae required to move about. The Caravan’s fuel pump was failing and for a very long time Carl made it work by carrying a small amount of gasoline with him and priming the fuel pump before the vehicle was to be started.

Carl suffered some physical issues and in 1997 it became apparent that Carl could no longer care for Lula Mae alone. Lula Mae was moved into a rest home in Mountain Home, Arkansas. Carl spent every day at the nursing home and interacted regularly with residents of the home. He moved into a mobile home park across the street from the rest home. Eventually he took a semi-official position as a rest home chaplain.

In February of 1999 Lula Mae succumbed to her long term illness and died quietly in her sleep.

In April of 1999 Carl remarried Ann as he had promised some eighteen years previous and she moved from Oklahoma City to live with him in Mountain Home. Almost immediately Carl’s physical issues intensified and he suffered several successive heart problems. He was hospitalized with congestive heart failure and experienced a number of small strokes and heart attacks. Among the results of Carl’s infirmities, his short term memory was seriously impaired and he lost almost entirely his ability to make even the most trivial decisions. Ann became Carl’s full time caregiver.

In October of 2000 Carl and Ann moved from Mountain Home to a small house in Del City, Oklahoma. They lived there together until February 2002 when Ann developed problems with her knees which left her unable to care for Carl alone. They moved into a nursing home in Bethany near where Carl’s daughter, Linda was living.

Linda was devoted in her care for her father and over the next years spent almost every evening after work at the rest home visiting with Ann and assisting in Carl’s care. Carl’s mental condition continue3d to deteriorate and by the summer of 2004 he would nom longer recognize family members who came to visit. In October of 2005 Ann noted that he no longer could recognize her or Linda. Carl fell ill several times during 2005 and more than once the doctor indicated the he was not expected to survive, In December Carl’s health failed increasingly and he slipped into a coma. On the afternoon of 28 December 2005 Carl’s life on this earth officially came to an end.

Those who knew Carl knew him to be a man of continuous thirst for knowledge. His children knew him to be a man who either knew the answer or knew where to find the answer when a question arose. Brilliant was not too strong a word for Carl but he was not arrogant. He was a man who served his country with honor. He was always available to assist his children in whatever way he could. He took his responsibilities very seriously. He was always known as a hard worker. He served his church wherever he was as long as he was able and he served his Lord to the end.

Carl made mistakes. His heart was always bigger than his wallet and he never really learned how to manage money effectively. He did not cry often, but his feelings ran deep and strong. He was a man of compassion and commitment. He was a man of wisdom.

The world is a richer place today for having Carl Alfred Holmes, Jr. in it, and it is poorer for having experienced his departure.

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