By: Collin Schuck – IceRays Staff
Nov. 11, 2015
I received a picture through the mail on Saturday afternoon. It was encased heavily in bubble wrap with copious amounts of tape sealing its security in its journey halfway across the country. I carefully unwrapped the ceramic frame and looked at it with a smile. The frame is pieced together with hot glue and reads “I LOVE MY GRANDFATHER” in colorful, child-like font with pictures of a young child’s drawings around the edges.
In the photo, an older man is fast asleep in a white t-shirt lying on his left side. His glasses resting on the bridge of his nose, mouth and eyes relaxed in a blissful slumber. Wrapped in his arms is a young boy with blonde, shining hair cut across his head as if a bowl was resting on top, his eyes squinted and cheeks risen to reveal a large, small-toothed smile big enough to almost hear the quiet laughter through the portrait.
That’s my first memory of Old Granddad, captured by my parents in a perfect, serene moment, and kept on his nightstand from that moment and dubbed one of his “favorite pictures.”
Veteran’s Day was initially conceived in 1919 as “Armistice Day” by President Woodrow Wilson has an honor to those who served in World War I on the date of the Treaty of Versailles, then later altered in 1954 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to commemorate soldiers of all wars. According to the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration, over 42 million Americans have served our country from the American Revolution through today. It’s also estimated that over 23 million veterans are still living today.
A number of those names (and those not mentioned in law enforcement) have come from my own family tree. Five of my six direct ancestors were lost in the Battle of Oriskany during the American Revolution, nearly cutting off a pipeline that leads to my existence. My cousin, who now is a police officer in Richmond, Va., served at Guantanamo Bay with the U.S. Coast Guard. His mother (and my aunt) was a police officer for a long time in Gloucester Township, N.J. I’m sure there are others that have served our flag and community over the years that will go unmentioned.
But it wasn’t until recently that this national day of remembrance has taken a new meaning. Now, there’s a name attached. One from my own family and that wasn’t mentioned: Albert Jinks, who served in World War II with the U.S. Navy and the U.S. National Guard following the war.
In August, he passed away at the age of 89 and the first family member in my lifetime that has left us. I don’t open up publicly about my own affairs, but I felt that it was only appropriate that, on this day of remembrance, I share his story and the person he grew to become.
Old Grand-Dad is a brand of bourbon whiskey introduced in 1840 and currently manufactured by Jim Beam. Today, it’s one of the top-10 best selling straight whiskeys and comes in three proofs: 80, 100, 114. And if you’re looking for ingredients for a Bourbon Old Fashioned, that’s your main ingredient. A kick at the outset and smooth the rest of the way down.
Before becoming a grandfather, Albert was asked by his children what he wanted to be referred to by his grandchildren. After a quick thought, he blurted out, “Granddad.”
“Because I’m Old Granddad, 100 proof,” he said with a chuckle. That’s how I knew him for close to 25 years. Old Granddad.
He was in fact part of the oldest set of relatives I had along with his wife, Elinor—she goes by Grammy. As I grew up, he lived in Ormond Beach, Fla., which is about five minutes outside of Daytona Beach and one hour away from Walt Disney World, so seeing him happened every year or every other year, depending on how many free passes to Disney World we accrued through my mom’s night job in the mall. After their ages continued to rise, we convinced them to move closer: Pennsylvania, then New Jersey.
Every time he greeted my brother and I from the time we were toddlers, he would exclaim, “Well, hello there, young fellah!” His arms would stretch wide open in anticipation of a strong embrace and wrap around you, finishing with a vice grip on each side of your body that would bring you to your knees and force you to squirm away in a fit of giggles to escape the “Eagle Claw.” His eyes would wrinkle, his cheeks would turn red, and shoulders bounced up and down while letting out an audible airy laugh as he watched you struggle to contain composure. If the wind caught him right, his thin, white comb-over would flail in the wind like a sheet on a clothesline, adding to the comedic look.
The Eagle Claw would return every so often throughout the trip, most notably on your knees, but from then on he was jolly and always engaged in your life. He inquired about school, work, relationships, friends, interests, and anything he could learn more about how your life is going and ensuring that your happiness and goals were being met to your expectations, all the while smoking a cigar or a pipe on the back patio.
A kick at the outset and smooth the rest of the way.
It’s no coincidence that a Bourbon Old Fashioned was his favorite drink.
Granddad was a Civil War aficionado. Bookshelves lined with historical novels, battle stories and information filled his living room after moving to Pennsylvania and New Jersey—in Florida, this was in his study, where my brother and I would sleep on a pull-out mattress. For one person to read every book from start to finish, it would take over a year to complete if doing nothing but reading, eating and sleeping. After years of reading, all that information was at the tip of his fingers.
He could illustrate tales of battle plans, sites of battle and thoughts by generals from both the Union and the Confederacy. Battle descriptions so intricate you could almost see the gun smoke and imagery rising behind him as he spoke. He moved to a town just outside of Gettysburg, Pa. just so he could visit the historic Civil War cities…and golf. His delivery was dry with much to be desired, and if you were lucky, you could get away with dozing off if one of your parents was there to listen to him speak. If it wasn’t the talking, then it was the history channel documentaries that he watched on television that knocked you out.
Even he drifted off.
But the more interesting stories came from his time serving the country. He was drafted for World War II and enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving in the Pacific on aircraft carriers as an aero engineer. Most of his time was spent designing, constructing and repairing fighter plane engines, and he could take you through each step from beginning to end if you were willing to listen for an hour or two.
Training took place during the heat of the summer, and despite enlisting in the Navy most training took place outside of the water. However, when it was time to swim, he and a couple of his recruits would fail the swim tests every so often. It wasn’t because he couldn’t swim; he wanted to spend more time cooling off in the water while re-taking the tests.
Much of the events of his service are kept in journals and logs, and some of his service time following WWII in Thailand and the Eastern Pacific is muddled, but Granddad did speak fondly of Corpus Christi. He spent six months at Traux Field (Naval Air Station Corpus Christi). When he first learned that I was moving to Corpus Christi, his eyes lit up and he began to spout about his travels in the area. When he and his Naval buddies would drive around town, he noted that they would have to stop every couple blocks. I asked him why.
“Well the guys I was driving would be drinking beer, and we’d have to stop to get more beer.” Every mention brought a hearty laugh and a smile.
And just about every time I spoke with him, whether it be by phone or when I’d return to visit, he’d recall that story and laugh every time, shoulders bouncing all the while.
Granddad grew up in Johnstown, N.Y., a small city of under 10,000 people about an hour Northwest on Interstate 90 from Albany. Streets and houses were carved into the rolling hills of the upper Appalachian Mountains. Along with neighboring town Gloversville, Johnstown was a center for tanning and leather around the nation, its crowning achievement. Since then, the construction of the “Johnstown Mall,” a small handful of stores in an outside strip erected between a Price Chopper and the Johnstown Movieplex.
It’s where he grew up with his family and Grammy, where he returned following World War II, and where he began to raise a family of his own. A small, family-driven town.
And that’s how he was: family-driven. He took great pride in his affection for Grammy, his immediate family, his children, their children, and all of the extended families. Every call to my parents always included an update on his grandchildren, and sometimes that would last longer than the original purpose of the call.
After Grammy’s stroke that nearly cost her life in the summer of 2008 and the Alzheimer’s Disease that followed, Granddad took it upon himself to care for her for the next seven years, even though a man in his 80s was unfit to give the proper care for her. We got through his stubbornness to move him to New Jersey just over two years ago and hire 24-hour nursing care.
Even through his diagnosis and treatment of esophageal cancer and despite his body slowly weakening and allowing the cancer to spread, all he cared about was making sure Grammy was taken care of and that his children would be set and provided for. There was no love he had like the love for all of his family.
In his final days, while laying in bed before falling into his last sleep, he described the love he had for his family and one of his favorite nightstand items: a picture of Grammy. He said every day and every night game him happiness because “he could see the girl I loved.”
That love was evident in the relatives that came together for his funeral in Johnstown over Labor Day Weekend. Though tears were shed throughout the service and the day, laughter emanated from the group even at the lunch following with every mention of Old Granddad. Every relative, from his sister to the youngest grandchild, had at least one story from his days with us. Skiing trips that would end up with him hanging upside down from a tree. Family outings filled with more jokes than a comedy club. Getting carsick over and over from his erratic driving. The guy at the corner store he would talk to excessively just to be kind and polite. The warmth he shared with all of us, and the care he showed with every person he touched.
It was fitting that Granddad was buried in a family plot of land in a small cemetery off the back roads of town, surrounded by family both immediate and distant within the ground and above. He was a family man, and his family loved him just the same. There was no doubt about the man he was.
Just before Old Granddad’s death, when I knew his days were coming to an end, I searched online for a lapel pin. In past seasons, I’ve worn fraternity pins and pins to signify causes special to my employer and to me. But this year, I needed something specific.
It didn’t take very long to find what I was looking for: a silver pin with blue, silver and white designs creating the seal of the U.S. Navy. No bigger than the size of a dime, not flashy. It took about a week to arrive in Corpus Christi, plenty of time to wear to the funeral and to adorn to start the season.
That pin will stay on my lapel for the entire season as an honor to him and what he has done not only for this country but also for my family over the span on his lifetime. We never have enough time to say goodbye or to spend with a single loved one, but there are ways to continue the legacy and tell their story.
Today, through Stars & Stripes Night, and thereafter, I encourage you to share your stories.
He was Albert to many, a hero to his country, dad to some, brother to a few, and a Jinks through and through.
To me, he was a model of a person to aspire to become.
And he always will be Old Granddad, 100 proof.
Collin Schuck is the Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations for the Corpus Christi IceRays. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @CollinDSchuck.