Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Memories of the old home place

By Larry Timbs Jr.
The “blue house,” as it’s come to be known in the Valley Forge community of Carter County, is now 85 years old.

Built by the late Ed Jenkins who carried the rocks for its foundation and hewed its wood from nearby forests, the aging (but still very livable structure at 1503 Riverview Drive) has been in the Jenkins and Timbs family for all that time.

And the house has served its purposes well.

Babies came into the world here, children played here and grew into adults, and their mother, the late Maude Simerly Jenkins, eventually died here in 1978.

But not before she had lived a full and happy life with her husband Ed, who passed away in 1962, and with their four rambunctious little ones—J.N., Dixie Nadine, Baby Ruth and Nell.

“If only that old house could talk, what stories it could tell!” Dixie Nadine Jenkins Timbs, now 86, reminisced recently.

The house that she remembers always being warm in the winter, with a stove in the living room, and cool in the summer with its high ceilings, was where her brother J.N. and sister Baby Ruth were born.

And it was where the Bible believing, small in stature and but kind and big-hearted Ed Jenkins, a charter member of the nearby Valley Forge Christian Church, always made sure that God stayed front and center in his family’s life.

“Dad often read from the Bible and instilled in all of us a love for our Lord,” said Mrs. Timbs, whose husband of 66 years, Lawrence C. Timbs, died at the age of 90 earlier this year.

“We had a wash tub and this was filled with water pumped out of the well and heated on the wood burning stove in the kitchen,” she recalled. “And we all had a Saturday night bath and put on clean underwear to wear to church on Sunday.”

A lot of times in those growing up years, the family would come home from church to a delicious meal. And frequently the church’s preacher would join them in partaking of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, pickles, corn, green beans and homemade bread. For dessert, they’d have cake and canned peaches.

“Often our minister would come home with us after church,” Mrs. Timbs notes. “Of course, all the children had to wait till the adults had eaten before we could eat. The good pieces of chicken were all gone by the time we got to eat. . . However, we never went away from our table hungry.”

Even in tough times, Ed and Maude Jenkins’ family had plenty to eat. That’s because on their nine acres of land (stretching from Doe River to Siam Road) they raised chickens and hogs, had a milk cow, grew lots of vegetables and picked apples, strawberries, cherries and blackberries.

A grape vine a few feet from the foundation of the house (and still thriving today) ensured that Maude Jenkins would always be able to can a good supply of jelly.

And boy, did that grape jelly ever taste good on Maude’s hot biscuits!

She cooked a big breakfast every morning, and if the “blue house” could talk today, it would boast that some of the most delightfully delicious gravy and biscuits ever came from its kitchen. Ham or sausage and hot coffee or fresh milk rounded out the meal.

And if J.N., Dixie Nadine, Baby Ruth and Nell even thought about getting out of hand, their gentle but stern father reined them in. He and his wife stressed good manners.

At the table, for example, the four children would pass their plates, and their mother or father would dish the food out to them.

“We never helped ourselves,” Dixie Nadine remembers. “And we couldn’t laugh or talk at the table unless spoken to.”
She also recalls that she and her sisters and brother had a certain place each sat at, and they didn’t eat between meals.
Always looking ahead, the Jenkins family would wash and put away the dishes immediately after eating and set the table, with a big white cloth, for the next meal.

Thirsty? A pump (near the grape vine and still there today) would yield some of the coolest, most refreshing water in Valley Forge.

A few childhood memories
The “blue house,” which in earlier years had a big green grassy pasture between it and state highway 19E, must have been a good place for Ed and Maude to raise their children, as all four of them have done pretty well and have left (or are still leaving) their marks.

J.N., for example, died in 1999, but his legacy is that he never met a stranger, could always make you laugh and loved dearly his two daughters—Teresa and Sharon Ruth (both of whom today live near Raleigh, N.C.).

The outgoing, humorous J.N. had a close call, his sister Nell McQueen (now 89) recalls, as a baby. “Mother had to go to the barn to milk and she told me to hold him till she got back,” Nell remembers, “and I dropped him. He hit his nose on the floor and bloodied it. I just picked him up and put him in his cradle, and that little cradle had blood everywhere. . . When momma got back she saw all that blood and it scared her to death. She jerked him up but he wasn’t hurt.”

Dixie Nadine Jenkins Timbs, like her sisters Ruth and Nell, graduated from Hampton High School where she played a good game of basketball. She relocated with her husband Lawrence at least 35 times over the course of his 20-year career in the U.S. Air Force, and the couple would have three children: Lawrence C. Timbs “Timmy” Jr.; Cheryl Ann Timbs and Edward Taylor Timbs. Dixie, in her later years would also write and self-publish two books—“A Trip Up Jenkins Mountain and the Old Barn” and “People of Valley Forge.”

Nell Jenkins McQueen would spend a good part of her life with her late husband, J.C. “Jack” McQueen who died in 2005. Nell, who also graduated from Hampton High School and from Sneed Business College, went on to have a successful career as a professional secretary. She is a long-time faithful member of Valley Forge Christian Church (where J.C. was a deacon) and where today she is a respected, devoted Sunday School teacher.

Nell remembers vaguely, at age 3, the predecessor of the blue house; it was an old dwelling with two stories, she said. When the structure was in the process of being torn down, in about 1926, Nell scampered up the stairs.
“They were getting ready to push the chimney down, and Daddy said to Uncle Charlie: ‘Hold it!’ He got me and sat me back downstairs and told me to stay out of the way.”

About the blue house, Nell has this very clear recollection: “I remember on a sun shiny morning just laying around out there on the porch, and warm sun hitting me in the face.”

Ruth Jenkins Williams, called “Baby Ruth” by her family members, is now 82 and lives in Newnan, Ga. She was married for many years to the late Jim Williams, who died in 1996 at age 71. The couple bore a daughter, Marcella. Ruth would have a successful career managing a drug store for many years in Newport News, Va.; today she still has a paying job in Newnan. But she each year makes a few trips back to Valley Forge, where she relaxes on the porch with her sisters Dixie Nadine and Nell and gazes upward at the always majestic Jenkins Mountain.

The “blue house,” where Ruth was born, also still calls out to her. How could it not, given all those memories she has there of her parents and siblings?

Dixie Nadine remembers when Ruth was born “and she was just a squabblin' on Laura Suess’ lap. Laura would come over and give Ruth a bath in the morning. . .”

Change of ownership
In mid-March 2012, the Valley Forge Freewill Baptist Church purchased the “blue house” from Larry C. Timbs Jr. This marked the first time in 85 years that the house, which has been lived in by about 10 different families (a few of them Moody Aviation students), has not been owned by a Jenkins or Timbs.

For her part, Dixie Nadine Jenkins Timbs says she feels blessed that the house built so many decades ago by her father, a carpenter, is now owned by a church.

Somehow, Ed Jenkins is at peace.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Old blogster survives "shocking" experience

I had cardioversion early this morning at Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill.

My heart had been out of rhythm, only pumping at about 40%-50% capacity for the past 18 months or so.

Solution: reboot the heart with an electrical shock.

To say I was scared about all this would be, well, quite the understatement of the year.

Think someone with paddles with lots of electrical current coursing through them suddenly pressing those paddles on your chest--right smack-dab where your heart is beating.

My heart was sick.

The song in this YouTube describes how I feel now:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Miss Teen South Carolina--brilliant beyond words!

While I'm on the subject of stereotypes and sensitivity in the press, do you remember Miss Teen South Carolina when she was asked a question? Remember her response?

Is it any wonder that we southerners are stereotyped as dumb, dumb, dumb?!

Here's a clip from that beauty pageant interview a few years ago:

Voices from Mississippi

Been a while since I've blogged but I have to say something about this video--which recently appeared on the Bill Maher show. It shows, among other things, Mississippians talking about President Barack Obama.

You know what the scarey part of this is? If Maher's videographer had taken her camera to parts of South Carolina or North Carolina, she'd probably have come up with the same kind of venom.

I happened to see this video the other night while, coincidentally, trying to come up with a discussion idea for my class in Media Writing. As it so happens, the class at this juncture in the semester is focused on "multicultural sensitivity"--the idea that the press ought not to unfairly stereotype, insult, or belittle, those that it covers.

Is Bill Maher's roaming videographer crossing the line of good taste and sensitivity? You be the judge. Here's the video:

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Missing her

Anna Douglas communicates with us at Winthrop from time to time--from the other side of the planet (Australia.)

We miss you, Anna. Come back to the United States of America!

Monday, March 5, 2012

War couldn't kill him, but asthma did

Anthony Shadid, who twice won the Pulitzer Prize for his international reporting, died recently from an asthma attack while walking behind some horses in Syria.

He reportedly was allergic to horses and had been a heavy smoker--a deadly combination for someone with breathing problems.

And though Mr. Shadid is no longer with us, his work as a journalist will never be forgotten. As I often say to my students, long after we and all our family members are gone, long after we've all turned to dust, the only thing that will bear witness to us is what we've written.

Our words, especially those that we write, tell a lot about who we are or were and what we believed in and accomplished, if anything.

Anthony Shadid (whose photo accompanies this blog post) made his mark with his journalism.

My mentor and good friend in Iowa City, Iowa, Ken Starck, wrote a piece about Shadid published a few days ago in a daily newspaper, the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette. Here is Ken's take on a journalist who for many years shined a light on the truth in a treacherous part of the world:

Anthony Shadid was as fine a human being as you'd ever want to meet.

He also was a great journalist.

Shadid died last week while documenting events in a troubled region of the world. His death reminds us of the debt we owe to those who risk their lives to bear witness to what happens in remote, sometimes alien, parts of the world.

I met Anthony twice. The first was in April 2006, a few months after he had left Iraq. He spoke to a group of our students and faculty at Zayed University in Dubai. His book Night Draws Near (2005) had just been published. The second time was in October 2007, again on the Zayed campus, when he spoke at a conference of Arab and US journalism educators.

I was not alone in taking an immediate liking to Anthony. He was personable. You could chat comfortably with him, oblivious to his growing reputation as arguably the best journalist reporting on the Middle East. He would twice win journalism's highest accolade, the Pulitzer Prize.

One of his tips to aspiring journalists was: “Listen. Really listen.” And he did. He was interested in what you had to say. If there were a Pulitzer for listening, he probably would have won that too.

But it was the quality of his writing that stood out. Here's the opening sentence of Night Draws Near: “Baghdad is a city of lives interrupted, its history a story of loss, waiting, and resilience.”

What often goes unnoticed in a journalist's repertoire is reporting—the simple yet not-so-simple task of gathering information. Consequential facts don't parade in plain sight. Good journalists uncover facts. They may draw wrong conclusions or make inappropriate inferences. But they do not make up stuff.

Integrity manifests itself in many forms. When Anthony, who was fluent in Arabic, came to Dubai, the US Embassy wanted to arrange a public event for him. He would have none of it. He said he wanted to avoid any such collaboration.

That was wise because while in the Emirates he reported on the exploitation of immigrant workers, a hyper-sensitive issue.

His story began: “A sweltering fog still shrouded the East Coast & Hamriah Co. labor camp when, dressed in the equivalent of their Sunday best, the migrant workers set out after dawn Tuesday. They didn't shower beforehand. Water was cut last year to their shantytown, now abandoned by their employer. They didn't eat breakfast. They have no electricity to cook” (“Migrant Workers Creating Splendor Are Abandoned With No Pay,” Washington Post Foreign Service, April 12, 2006).

Unlike the Emirates press, Shadid named names. And unlike some journalists, he saw for himself labor camp conditions and talked and listened to the laborers—not easy things to do in a tightly controlled society.

About the same time I was asked to contribute an essay to a book about the Danish cartoon controversy. The 12 cartoons depicted the Prophet Muhammad, an act prohibited by Muslims objecting to physical representation of the Prophet. Some 200 persons died in widespread protests. Two of my university colleagues who brought up the cartoons in class were fired in this struggle between free expression and religious respect.

I declined the invitation to contribute to the book—I'm a little embarrassed to admit this now—on grounds that I was employed by the government-funded Zayed University, and, hence, a guest of the country.

Anthony, meanwhile, ever faithful to the cause of bearing full and honest witness, had subjected himself often to danger.
In 2002 while on assignment on the West Bank, he was shot. Last year he was among three other New York Times journalists—he had joined the times in late 2009—captured and beaten and held for six days by Qaddafi forces in Libya. Their driver later was found dead.

It is sad irony that Anthony was to succumb to an asthma attack last Thursday (Feb. 16) while on a stealth reporting mission in Syria.

Journalists who risk their lives to keep us accurately and honestly informed deserve our gratitude and respect.

Anthony Shadid was 43.

(Editor's Note: Starck is a former Gazette ombudsman and director of the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication. More recently he served as dean of the College of Communication and Media Sciences at Zayed University, United Arab Emirates. Now retired, he lives in Iowa City.)