A tribute

Published 9:51 am Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Dear Readers:

Those of you that visit this page each Wednesday know I love to come up with sometimes crazy stories about crazy topics and am seldom too serious.

Today I’d like to take a detour and share a few thoughts about a man who left this earth June 26, 2011. His name was Sparky Jenkins.

Sparky and I met — really met — about eight years ago at a most appropriate place. A country store.

You see, that was Sparky’s world. In his younger years, he had worked for the Department of Agriculture and traveled all over the state helping farmers with problems that might arise. His “offices” were country stores, whether Windsor or Franklin or Eastern Shore.

Sparky got to know everybody and vice-versa. He saw the land and the people change. He heard the stories. And after 88 years, he remembered them.

Sparky spoke of mules and county carnivals and “moving picture shows.” He referred to the horse and buggy and farm bells and 100-pound feedbags. He knew when hunt clubs got started and when feuds between families began. He remembered when the first whitetail deer in Isle of Wight County was killed and everyone drove to see it. He knew when the storeowners and the moon shiners were the ones with all the money.

Sparky knew the story behind the story. He knew there was a reason that man drank too much or why that young gal was always getting into trouble, for he knew their parents and their grandparents and had watched them grow up. He was an observer of life.

As a result, his words contained more compassion than judgment. More than once he told me, “Rex, from his upbringing, he did pretty good for himself.”

He thought about other people. Here he had a great family of four daughters and grandkids and great-grandkids, yet came in the store one day and brought me — someone 33 years younger and no relation — an old mule bit saying “I came across this and thought you might like it. Let me tell you how it was used.”

It made me wonder how many others he had reached out to in his lifetime.

Sparky valued simplicity. Things that were beautiful and wonderful and free. Plants growing, walks, a good joke, relationships, character, sweet corn (but not too full). It’s no wonder he showed up in my columns through the years.

But now he’s gone. From this earth, anyway. My goodness, he took a lot with him. I hope you understand, but I couldn’t let this moment pass without honoring him. These words seem feeble, considering all he gave, but they are all I have.

Thank you, Sparky, for what you added to our lives. We are going to miss you.

Rex Alphin is a farmer, businessman and contributing columnist for The Tidewater News. His email address is rexalphin@aol.com.