Al Jenkins married my grandmother, Christine, when my mom was in junior high. I don’t remember the story of how they met or how it all happened. But they got married. He’s been part of my family since that time. I grew up knowing him as my grandfather. He and my grandmother carry the names my oldest cousin J gave to them: G-Dad and G-Mom. It was easier for us younger kids to say. The names stuck.
This past week, G-Dad concluded his life. The funeral was yesterday afternoon.
In Orhan Pamuk’s novel “The Museum of Innocence” he structures his chapters by bringing forward objects that remind him of a certain time in his life, of certain people, and explains the stories through these objects. His story telling has a very different goal than mine, but I will use his tool. I will share with you the objects that fill the memories I have of him.
Christmas Tree Train
There was a burnt, metallic smell of the batteries and wires that hung around the Christmas tree each year, emanating from those small and fragile wheels around the small and fragile tracks. Each Christmas, we’d lay on our stomachs to watch the train move, its magic laying primarily in the ways it would switch tracks, somehow knowing which loop it was supposed to take under the tree.
I don’t know what year he stopped setting it up for us. Perhaps as we got older. Perhaps after my family moved away, the family with the youngest kids. There wasn’t anyone left to enchant with its recorded “choo-choo” sound and mechanical wheels. Or maybe it just got too difficult to set up. There was less room anyway once they moved houses.
He gave the train to us at some point, hoping Isaac would set it up and be interested in the mechanics. It’s still in our basement. None of us have the skill to figure out the set up.
It was a room we weren’t allowed to enter because of the tools. We might hurt ourselves. He kept it closed but on some visits, when I was playing outside, I’d see him in there tinkering. I don’t know what he made in there. I know he liked to know how things were made and try his hand at making and tinkering. Perhaps it was mostly fixing things that needed to be fixed around the house. I do remember that he had an Atlanta Braves pennant hung on the wall.
Perhaps it was an Oldsmobile. Perhaps not. The seats were soft and sunk under even my slight weight. The smell was the same as the love seat: a distant cologne, age, dust of use. Any time I saw a gold or tan car, I thought it belonged to him. It would be parked outside of our house when they came to visit on Christmas morning or it would be the one we would look for in the Beech Haven Baptist Church parking lot on the weekends I would stay with them. The click ting click of the turning signal was unlike any other.
I thought he was the one driving any gold or tan car that we passed on the road.
The romping that took place in G-Mom and G-Dad’s living room floor were the sign that we had all gathered for some holiday. It never really decreased through the years, perhaps only in the last five or so. My earliest memories of being told to be careful playing were when the games with the cousins got too close to the “china cabinet”. I can only hear those words in a strong North Georgia accent and usually in my aunt’s voice. Her taking my arm in her hand, leaning down near my head and talking quietly to explain to us that this china cabinet belonged to G-Dad and was from his family in Wales. I didn’t know where Wales was but it was the first time I realized that G-Dad had existed before he married G-Mom, that he came from somewhere else, had a history, another family that I never saw. Stacy made it very clear that the china cabinet was special and important, that we needed to take care of it and not break anything. I learned to walk lightly past it and steer my younger siblings away from it and listen for the faint “ting ting” as the glasses rattled if we walked or ran too close.
I never saw any dish break. A miracle.
The Orange Love Seat
No picture of G-Dad is as true to his loves as the Orange Love Seat. It was purchased sometime in my early childhood and still sits in their living room. It was his spot. When the chaos of our large and loud family would get too much, he could be found on the love seat, leaned back. There would be some baseball game on, year round it seemed. Mostly the Atlanta Braves.
But he let us little ones interrupt him too. We’d climb on the seat next to him or on him, asking him questions, sticking our stuffed animals in his face. He’d take the babies, when there were babies, and let them sit quietly with him as he watched his games.
When I remember him telling stories about his life, he is also sitting on this love seat. Sometimes, when he was in a talkative mood, he’d tell us that he was in the navy during World War II and stationed in Hawaii. He was a cook for some platoon. Or he’d tell a story from Wales. These stories came infrequently. I listened up when they did.
The Love Seat is also where he would sit with G-Mom. They’d hold hands in their love seat, G-Mom talking to anyone and everyone. He’s smile and chuckle, occasionally putting in a witty word or two, but letting her construct the drama. He was always there for her, beside her in church, beside her after open heart surgery, waiting in the hangar after she decided to go skydiving.
When I think of him, it is most often in this chair that I find him. Restful. Happy. Content.
Thank you, G-Dad for your life and your care for us.