"Ed-Lil, Along The Rappahannock River, Virginia (c) 2002; modified print version, 2016 Stu Jenks.
(From the hardbound book and e-book, Flame Spirals: Journey Through Nocturnal Photography)
Dad's been dead nine months. Mom has to sell the river house so she can invest the cash and survive on the interest. Dad didn't leave Mom enough money to live on. Dad didn't believe in life insurance.
People loved my father, for he had the public persona of a funny, happy-go-lucky, smart, old Southern man. But his private face was darker. At home, he was a cynical loner who feared poverty and preferred his own company to that of his family.
But oddly, all that doesn’t seem to matter now, the man he was when he was alive, for I can feel him around me. I can call him to me, simply by saying his name. He seems to be this pure good soul now: loving, tender, accepting, and kind. I feel he actually likes me today. (And whether I'm making it up in my own head or Ghost Dad is really hovering around, the kind energy of my father is nice to be around.)
Months ago, I had to send Dad away for a week because the new-glowing-light-Dad was interfering with my grieving process of the newly-dead-Dad. I needed to be mad at my father for a while, but when God’s-Light-Bulb-Dad was around, I couldn’t feel that feeling and then let it go. But I called him back after awhile, after I released that rage. Unlike the living Stuart, Ghost Dad understood completely.
When I'm worried about money and going further into debt around my failing art photography business, I hear him softly say, "Don't worry, son. The money will come, and if it doesn't, it doesn't matter. You have the love of your friends, the love of your Art, the love of us." Other times, when I'm filled with self-doubt and internal hatefulness, I hear him whisper off my left shoulder, "I love you just the way you are, Son. You don’t need to change a thing." A month ago, when Ghost Dad was saying another ethereal message of Love, I actually said out loud, "Who is this guy?”
A little about Ed-Lil, The Jenks’ ancestral summer home on the Rappahannock River, which Mom is selling:
It was bought by Papa Edgar Jenks, my grandfather, in the 1920’s from Johnny Mothershead. It consisted of a two story house with five bedrooms and a bath, and a smaller one story house that had the kitchen, the dining room and a tool shed. My father deeply loved the Rappahannock River, the Ed-Lil house, and the people who lived along its banks. Loved them since he was a teenager.
Every August, Mom, Dad, Pamela and I would come to the river for two or three weeks. I hated the river as a kid. Hated the mosquitoes, the fleas, the stinging jellyfish but mostly I hated being around my parents. They were so judgmental, so critical, so volatile in bullshit ways. I couldn’t wait to get back to Raleigh and back to school in September. But then, 25 years ago, I started coming here because I wanted to, not because I had to. I always had a car, so I could come and go as I pleased, if things got too dark.
After Dad retired from IBM in mid 80's, he built himself and Mom a modest three bedroom house next to the old houses. He then tore down the bedroom house and the kitchen and left the old dining room as his workshop. The dining room/tool shed was and is gorgeous, with its ancient tongue-in-groove wood walls, the rusting gas fixtures from the 1920’s that still hang from the ceiling, and the tattered and stained white lace curtains that haven’t been washed since the Eisenhower Administration. The new smell of gasoline is added to the mix, that comes from the riding lawn mower that’s parked on the shed’s stained hardwood floors. An old map of Richmond County is pinned to the wall. It’s been crudely attached there since before I was born. Change is good sometimes, but consistency and tradition are beautiful, too, if they are humble. That is one humble map. This is one humble room.
I'm standing in the old dining room this afternoon, with the lace and the tongue in groove and the old map on the wall. A big rain is coming. Spirit Dad is here, but I sure wish Old Living Stuart were here right now. Dad and I so loved watching big storms cross the river.
The window facing the river looks great. So would a flame spiral next to it. Wonder if I can pull it off. It’ll have to be a short exposure, maybe ten seconds. I put all the red filters I have on the lens of my Rollei and hope for the best.
I open the window, get out the Zippo and wait for the storm.
A line of rain crosses the seven-mile width of the river. The river slowly goes away, replaced by a dark gray of big rain. Halfway across the river now. Just a mile away. Almost here. Now it’s here. The storm is here.
Thunder crackles in the corn fields behind me. Lightning highlights the lace curtains. Heavy dense rain blows in through the open window. The river completely disappears.
I open the Rollei’s shutter and ignite the Zippo. I paint a spiral to the left of the window. I close the shutter after ten seconds. I do this a few times.
Then suddenly, in between exposures, a small gray finch flies through the open window. Confused and wet, it lands on the lens of my camera. We stare at each other. He's scared, fidgety and soaked to the bone. My first thought is, “Don't shit on the lens. Please don’t shit on my camera.” The bird's first thought is probably something like, “Where the hell am I? How did I get in here, and who is that guy?” He stays perched on my camera for at least a minute. We continue to look at each other. I don’t care about bird shit anymore. I just care for the little bird.
Suddenly he flies off the camera, but now, poor thing, he can’t find the open window. He’s feverishly flying around the dining room. I quickly grab a broom. I open the ancient screen door and prop it open with an old gas can. The finch is banging itself on the ceiling of the room, completely frantic now. I gently put the straw broom head on the ceiling and usher the bird to the door. He see the open door and streaks out into the pouring rain. Success for both of us.
I go back and paint another Zippo spiral, this one for the bird. The exposure feels right. I call it a day. I put the lens cap on the camera and sit in an old chair now, looking at a large puddle of water forming under the old cedar tree out front.
I love the River now. I'm going to miss it. But you got to do what you got to do. Mom needs money to survive, and she really doesn’t like living this far away from civilization anyway. She only came here because Stuart came here to live. Now, he’s gone. Now, it’s time for her to live where she wants, for her to have her own life now.
She’ll be soon living in a cute little house next door to the organist from church. Glen’s his name. He’s a wonderful guy. I'm hopeful. For all of us.