I. Family Roots and Early Childhood
I was born September 23, 1977 in Logan Regional Hospital, Cache County, Utah. I was the fifth child born to Gregory Walter and Monti Rae Jones (nee Brunson). Both my parents were born and grew up in Salt Lake City, UT, but my father's father was born in Cache Valley. In Wellsville (Cache Co.) cemetary one can find four generations of Maughans, Leishmans, Adamsons and Joneses, dating back to the earliest settlers of the valley. These families all came from the British Isles (England, Wales, and Scotland) in the mid-1800s as a result of conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. On Memorial Days growing up, my father would drive us around Wellsville showing us where various ancestors were born and grew up. Feeling that connection with the place where I grew up has had a strong influence on my thinking regarding the importance of living in a place where you have roots.
My father's mother's family (Lamberts, Cannons, Snows, Coxes) were also early members of the church. The Lamberts and Cannons came from York, England and The Isle of Man, respectively. They also came to Utah in the mid-1800s, settling in Salt Lake City, UT and Manti, UT. The same is true of my mother's ancestors (Brunsons, Carlings, Mangums, and Tullises) settling mostly around Fillmore and St. George. While I didn't get to know the family history from these ancestors as well, not having grown up in those areas, I have read some of the history and am in admiration of the phenomenal sacrifices they made to leave the comforts of the East, or of the Isles and to come to a rough frontier country to follow their testimony of the truth.
My father and mother both attended East High school in SLC, although they didn't know each other at the time. My mom attended college at the University of Utah, getting a Bachelor's degree in Musicology. My dad went to MIT, studying Mathematics. He served a church mission in Brazil between his first and second years of college. My parents met when my dad was home for summer vacation from MIT, visiting his parents in Salt Lake City. They dated a bit during the summer, then my dad returned to MIT in the Fall. My mom also went East, moving to New York City where she worked in a library. After a few false starts, romance blossomed between Boston and New York, and eventually my parents got engaged. They were married in December of 1966. At the time, my dad still had a year and a half of studies left. They lived in Cambridge, and my mom worked while my dad finished his degree.
After finishing the undergraduate degree, my parents moved to California, where my dad pursued his doctorate at UCLA, studying mathematical logic. While living in California, my parents grew their family by adding three children in the space of three years: my brother David (1968), my sister Jane (1969), and my sister Rebecca (1971). My dad finished his degree in 1972, and began searching for academic or research jobs. However, there was a glut of theoretical logicians just then, and my dad looked further and further afield. Eventually, dad accepted a job at the University of Caracas in Venezuala. Mom and Dad moved their young family to South America.
The years teaching in Caracas were good ones for my parents. They loved the culture and the environment. While they were there, my sister Miriam (1974) was born. But, in 1975, when their oldest child was eight and more fluent in Spanish than English, my parents decided it was time to move their family back to the United States. My dad took a computer programming job in Salt Lake, while looking for an academic position. He joined the faculty at Utah State University in Logan the following year. At first the family of six lived in a trailer park near campus, but in the summer of 1977 they built a home on the South Bench in Providence, UT. This was the home I came back to from the hospital in September of 1977 and where I spent my childhood and adolescence.
Two years after my birth, our family grew one last time when Michael (1979) was born. Michael and I were "the boys," all growing up; I have very few memories that don't involve him in some way. While we weren't always peaceful playmates (there were intermitent death threats, and he nearly sent me to the hospital on occasion), I think its probably true that I was closer to Mike than any one else.
I don't remember anything extraordinary about my childhood. I was happy; my most vivid recollections are of times spent with friends playing baseball, football or basketball, riding bikes off home-made jumps or down at the dirt hills, or hiking in the mountains near my home. However, I imagine if you asked my parents they probably best remember me reading a book or playing video games. I started reading at a young age, and was seldom without a book. This might have had something to do with my role models. Both my parents, but particularly my dad, were avid readers. I remember little leage baseball games and basketball games where my dad would come prepared with a good paperback novel. He'd read until it was my turn to bat, or the ball was passed to me. Then he'd put the book down and cheer me on, until I was done. Then he'd go back to the book.
Besides baseball, basketball and soccer, I also took piano lessons. I never felt good at the piano. My mother had studied music, and teaching her children to appreciate and understand music was very important to her. While the two years of piano lessons weren't enough to teach me how to play the instrument very well, they did give me the ability to read sheet music which has been a huge benefit in my life. Whether it's choral singing (something I do infrequently and not particularly well), picking out melodies on harmonica or sax, or some other musical endeavor, I'm consistently appreciative for the early training I received.
I was also a gymnast for several years. I think my parents liked the idea of me in gym because I was quite small for my age, and that can work to your advantage in gymnastics (unlike the sports I really liked, like basketball and soccer). While I enjoyed gymnastics, and probably was more successful at it than most of the other sports I participated in, I eventually gave it up. A large part of my quitting both piano and gym was that I saw others progressing more quickly than I did. I wouldn't call myself competitive, but that certainly had a big impact on my motivation in those particular activities.
I had lots of friends in the neighborhood. My social world was pretty much defined by our ward (Providence 5th ward) boundaries, which included (at a guess) about 50 families. My earliest good friend that I remember was Brevan Baugh who lived about a half-mile from us. We remained good friends until high school, and I spent lots of time down at his house, playing in the ravine, skating on his ramp, or watching movies in his basement. Besides Brevan, I also remember close friendships with Hugh Theurer and Rod Cook; although I haven't seen any of them in years, I think I'll always feel close to them, no matter where they go or what they go through.
Going to school was a big deal for me. I was young for my grade, and initially they wanted me to wait another year. But I was so ready, that I was driving my mother crazy at home. Two weeks into what would be my kindergarten year she took me down to the school to be tested. I guess my academic and social skills were up to par, because they placed me in a class. I loved school, and I thrived there; even in elementary school I had a feeling that I was in my element. One of my more vivid memories is of having my teacher ask me to describe to the class how I figured out (I'll make up some numbers) 11-7. I explained that I knew that 1-7 was -6, so if you took that and added 10 you got 4. She was somewhat bemused, and the class was somewhat confused, but at least I knew what I was talking about.
My last best friend of childhood was Becky. She moved in next door when I was in 2nd grade, and from that time on we were good friends, but we became particularly good friends around the time we started middle school. She was a year older than I was (almost to the day) and a year ahead in school (hah! an older woman). I remember taking her to see The Little Mermaid (with my whole family; paired-up dating was prohibited by my parents until age 16) and again to Edward Scissorhands (this time with just my younger brother Michael). Becky had a younger brother, Danny, who was a year younger than me. And Mike, my brother was a year younger than him. So the four of us would often do things together. Lots of night games (hide and seek, sardines, kick the bucket, ghosts in the graveyard, etc.), pickup games of basketball and baseball, or going for a hike up to the Bat Cave. Perhaps the most vivid memory I have of this time was returning on a snowy evening from a hike up the canyon. Becky slipped on some ice as we were walking, and I caught her arm to keep her from falling. It was just natural to hold hands afterwards. Walking home down a darkened road, through the cold and snowy evening, but feeling warm from hand to heart is a feeling that everybody should have at least once. And that's all it ever was for me (Becky and I never did hold hands again after that night).
I graduated from Providence Elementary school and went to Spring Creek Middle School. In sixth grade, many of my elementary school friends started to make what I thought were bad decisions. I felt like I couldn't really interact with them, and as a result I felt somewhat alienated. This was particularly bad in seventh grade, when Becky (who was a year ahead of me in school) went to Junior High out at South Cache. At the time I felt very lonely, but I did still have a few really good friends. Among others, I remember spending a lot of lazy afternoons playing basketball with Kevin and James. It was nice that, even though a lot of my former friends were behaving in ways I didn't think were appropriate, there were still some friends that I could do things with without worrying about getting into trouble.
Academically, the flexibility of middle school was wonderful. I particularly remember my sixth grade math class. The class was taught out of workbooks, and students were largely in charge of their own progress. When they finished a module, they would solicit the teacher for a quiz. If they passed the quiz, they could move on to the next module. For me, this was a wonderful method. I had always felt somewhat held back by classes, and when I had the chance to progress at my own speed I quickly ran through all the sixth and seventh grade material. This caused a problem, because after that single year the program was discontinued. I and a few other students were given the option of skipping seventh grade math (Pre-Algebra) entirely and moving on to eighth grade math (Algebra). In my case, although I really wanted to go on, the only option would have been to also take an eighth grade PE class. This was sufficiently intimidating to convince me to stay with the rest of my class, rather than pushing ahead. I think in the end it was a good decision, although not for the reasons I had at the time. Mostly, I think that the opportunity to continue with the same group of students, rather than splitting myself between grades, was a real benefit socially speaking.
After my seventh grade year I went on to Junior High out at South Cache in Hyrum, UT. South Cache was an ancient building, for the area. I believe the main building was built in the early 1900s. One of the main things I remember about eighth grade, was that after several years of competing in the school spelling bee I finally won. I didn't make it past the district level, but it was nice to suceed at something I had tried and failed several times.
Althogh ninth grade is considered the Freshman year of High School, in my case it was actually still held at the Junior High School. However, we were able to participate in high school sports teams. I went out for the diving squad, but was the last one cut. I'd already payed the $40 sports fee, so I decided to stay on with the swimming team (who practised jointly with the dive squad, but didn't have cuts). This was very challenging for me, because I'd never swam well, and I wasn't terribly athletic. My thought was that I'd stick with it for a single year, try out for the dive team again the following year and hopefully do better. It didn't end up working out that way; I did try out again the following year, but again I was cut. I ended up swimming all four years I was in High School, lettering my last two, and serving as one of the team captains my senior year. The swim team was also where I met some of my best friends in high school, particularly Joey and Mark.
Swimming wasn't my only activity in High School. I was involved in debate my Sophmore and Junior year, although I never did as well as I thought I should have. I was on the Academic Olympiad team my Junior and Senior years, as well as the Mock Trial team. I also represented my school as a Sterling Scholar in Math my Senior year. I also contributed to the school literary journal my Sophmore and Senior years, helping to compile the journal my senior year. Creative writing was a great experience for me; all the academic activities were things that I excelled at naturally, but creative writing was something I'd always been interested in but never very good at. It was nice to be recognized for doing something that I didn't necessarily see myself as being very good at.
Although I did have good friends in high school, particularly from the swim and debate teams, it wasn't until Senior year that I really felt like I had a social niche. My last year in high school I fell in with a great group of a dozen or so students, many of whom were in my AP classes. I finally felt like I'd regained what I'd lost when I entered the sixth grade; a large group of fun friends who were as dedicated to personal standards of behavior as I wanted to be.
I graduated from High School in 1995. I was one of the (too) many speakers at graduation. That summer was a great timem, filled with lots of volleyball. I had my first real job, conducting telephone surveys. It wasn't very much fun, but it wasn't bad either and I was able to earn enough money to have something to spend the following year at college.
After high school graduation, most of my friends stayed in the valley to attend Utah State University. I was one of only a handful of students in my graduating class of 425 who went to a university other than USU. I'd gotten a National Merit Scholarship which payed my tuition at BYU. Two of my close friends (Bonnie and Camille) were also going to BYU, so I wasn't totally alone, but I was very worried about losing all these great friends I'd made in high school. As it turns out, though, one thing I didn't lack my Freshman year at college was friends. I was placed on the 1100 floor of Merrill Hall in Helaman Halls, which was the "Honors" floor for the dorm complex. There were about 40 other Freshmen on the floor, most of them involved in the Honors program. Almost immediately there arose a lot of cammeraderie among us, and we had a great time that year going to dorm dances, hanging out after hours at the Brimhall building, going to midnight movies at the Varsity theater, and holding late night "symposia" in peoples' dorm rooms, where we discussed politics and music and philosophy and other things. It was wonderful.
In addition to my friends from my floor, I also found myself in a real romantic relationship for the first time in my life. Although I'd dated some in high school, I'd always been more interested in just hanging out with friends. I'd had my share of crushes, but I was very romantically shy, and had never really pursued them. Soon after I started school I started dating a girl from my ward named Misty. Misty and I soon fell in love, and we spent all of Freshman year in a very serious (sometimes too serious, I suppose) relationship. She was the first girl I kissed (and the only one besides my wife). We never really broke up, but when I left on my mission she sort of moved on. I guess we both did.
Academically, college was great. I declared as an Electrical Engineering major, largely because I was good at math and because engineers got free access to the internet (other students had to pay a monthly fee). Although starting my major was important, I think the most impactful classes I took were called "History of Civilization: The Pen and the Sword" and focused on literary depictions of war and peace throughout the history of Western civilization. I find myself mentally returning to the themes of the class again and again.
After I finished my Freshman year at BYU, I put in papers with the church to be considered for a mission. I was subsequently called to the Netherlands, Amsterdam Mission, entering the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in October, 1996. I spent nine weeks learning basic Dutch, some techniques for approaching people and a set of lessons introducing the history and doctrines of the church. The hardest part of the MTC was learning how to deal with a 24-hour a day companion. My companion's name was Elder Lymon (Elder is an honorific that all LDS male missionaries use; thus, for the two years of my mission I was known only as "Elder Jones," never Peter). Elder Lymon and I had a lot of conflict over what was appropriate behavior for missionaries. Companionships are often hard, and this was the hardest one of my mission, primarily because I had to learn to accept my companion's decisions without being judgmental. That might sound easy, but it was probably one of the hardest things I did on my mission.
The first time ever stepped on an airplane was when I left the MTC for the Netherlands in December, 1996. We were delayed for eight hours due to a frozen engine in Minneapolis, so when we finally got to Schipol Airport in Amsterdam we were pretty exhausted. My mission was presided over by President and Sister Brewster, a wonderful couple from Utah who volunteered for three years to direct the efforts of the 120-150 missionaries. Our mission included all of the Netherlands, and Flanders (the Dutch speaking portion of Belgium). My first assigned area (all area assignments and companionship assignments were made by the President) was called Turnhout, Belgium with a companion named Elder (Steve) Christiansen. Turnhout was a small town with cobblestone streets and a big Catholic church in the centrum. It was known throughout the mission as a hard area, where not many people were interested in learning about the church. I did meet some wonderful people in Turnhout, both members of the church and non-members. I taught a man named Michel who decided to join the church and was baptised a few weeks before I was transferred out of the area. I also taught another young man (Rajj? was that his name?) who got baptised after I left the area and eventually served a mission of his own. Elder Christiansen was a great companion, as was Elder (Spencer) Kyle, who replaced him after my first three months. It wasn't easy; most of my time was spent getting rejected door-to-door, and even my successes weren't always lasting (Michel left the church after just a few weeks, although I found out years later that he came back).
I spent four months in Turnhout, V. Marriage and BYU
VI. Boston, MIT, Lincoln Lab, and Kids