Leslie Jenks is from another time and place. His father once gave him a whipping for “being careless” and chopping the tip is of his finger off with an ax as he cut wood in the backyard.
He came from a family of 13 and grew up in Vermont along the banks of the Connecticut River. His oldest sister, Blanche, became an impromptu midwife and delivered the rest of her 12 brothers and sisters.
While serving aboard the USS Salt Lake City in the Pacific in World War II, Jenks worked as a machinist — a job he would continue in the civilian world until his retirement. His working quarters were situated under the heavy cruiser’s thundering guns, a position that cost him most of his hearing. But he’s not complaining, he says.
Jenks has so many stories — from the war and kamikazes attacking his ship, his five brothers who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and his career running a machine shop in New Hampshire with his wife, Mary, and the 15 men he employed. But his memory is fading. The years and names have lost traction in his mind, although names and dates don’t mean much anymore, says Mary, pictured above. Now his daughter, Barbara, does most of the talking for her father. She knows all the stories by heart and at 70, works 16-hour days as a Realtor to make sure her parents can grow old together at home.
Together for 71 years, Leslie and Mary have seen war, owned a business, raised a family and outlived all of their friends and siblings. And together they will stay. Jenks can’t be away from his wife for more than a few minutes. The tremors in his right arm and his aging body have reduced his mobility. So he moved from his cluttered workshop in the backyard to the dining room table, where he now builds miniature rocking chairs and knick-knacks out of disassembled wooden clothespins. From the table he can check on Mary, who spends her time daydreaming in her chair and listening to Christmas music on the radio. Every few minutes he shuffles over to give Mary a kiss and help her unclench her arthritic right hand.
“We’re together all the time,” Mary says, closing her eyes. “We always have been. I’d be lost without him.”
Mary recalls the first time she saw her husband Leslie. She was 15 and met him at a swimming hole at the river under the bridge.
“I liked the looks of him,” Mary says. “I still think he’s cute.”
She was Catholic. He was not. So the two teenagers eloped a year later and married in secret.
“We’ve been together quite a few years,” Jenks says.
“Yes we have,” his wife answers.
Leslie smiles. “I hope we get quite a few more.”
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Connect with Tristan Spinski at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tristin-spinski/