Dr. Jamie Jenkins: Our Past Helps Us Remember Who We Are

You probably do not know where Needham, Alabama is. Nor is there any reason for me to expect you to know anything about the small town in south Alabama where I lived for the first few years of my life.

I was born in Butler, the county seat of Choctaw County, which is 13 miles away from the town named after a settler, E. W. Needham. This year's Needham Fall Festival includes a tour of dog trot cabin, a one-mile walk on historical Bogueloosa Creek, food and craft vendors, local singers, cane syrup making, and basket weaving demonstrations. However, the online announcemnt said the date and time of this event has not been confirmed.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 0.6 square miles and as of the census of 2000, there were 97 people, 39 households, and 32 families residing in the town. The racial makeup of the town is 100.00% white. The median income for a household in 2008 was $50,843, and the median value of a house was $69,421.

Since I was only eight years old when we moved from "the country" to Mobile, about 100 miles away, my memories of life in that rural area are limited. My Mama worked in "the shirt factory" in Butler and Daddy worked at "the shipyard" in Mobile. He and my Uncle Cowboy (his real name was Noah but nobody called him that) stayed down there during the week and came home on weekends.

The old house that our family (I am the third of four children) lived in was still standing the last time I was through the area. We had no running water and did not get electricity until I was in the first grade (I remember how bright the lights were). We had a wood stove that Mama cooked on and a fireplace that provided heat for the house.

Uncle Lee and Aunt Eleanor (pronounced el-een-er) lived within sight of our house at the intersection with the road to Land, another community. The roads were not paved during those days. If this sounds like ancient history, you have an idea how old I am.

I remember going to the Assembly of God Church. It was just past Uncle Lee's house and just before you got to the road that led back to the elementary school I attended for first through third grades. I remember the night that my sister Mary was bitten by a snake as she and I were walking along that dirt road.

I remember waiting anxiously for Mr. Bonner, my second grade teacher, to pick me up to go coon hunting with other boys in my class. The day that I got caught stealing a "silver bell" (a two-for-a-penny Hershey's Kiss) from Mr. Hearn's store is etched indelibly in my memory. And the humbling experience of Mama making me go back to the store to pay for it and tell him what I had done.

Although I don't remember much about those beginning years of my life, they are an important part of my heritage. As I grow older (I did not say old) I want to know more about the people and events that contributed to the person I am today. I need to visit Needham and Butler and Mobile more often and learn about my heritage.

Israel is another place where I have significant roots. I never lived there but I am indebted to the people, the land, and the history of that region that gave birth to Christianity. When I have visited the Holy Land I am always greeted with "Welcome home!"

A few years ago my wife and I spent several weeks in England. I studied at the Methodist Studies Centre in Oxford during the week and on the weekends we explored the sites of early Methodism. One trip took us to Wales to find the little church where Charles Wesley and Sarah Gwynne were married in 1749. We stopped for lunch in Cardiff and there we discovered the Jenkins Bakery. We told the clerk that Jenkins was our family name and she said, "And so it is for just about everyone else here." I felt like I had come home.

Aldersgate Street, St. Paul's Cathedral, City Road Chapel, the New Room in Bristol, St. Andrews Church and the Old Rectory in Epworth, Christ Church College in Oxford and many other significant sites from the days of John and Charles Wesley hold a special place in my heart. I want to visit there and to know more about those beginnings.

We are products of our past and we owe so much to many people we know and multiudes of others whom we do not know. It is awesome to think you and I are also providing a heritage for others who will one day want to learn more about their ancestry. God help us to give them a solid foundation and future.

Jamie Jenkins

[Taken with permission from Monday Morning in North Georgia, Nov. 15, 2010. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]