IT ONLY GETS BETTER WITH AGE

October 1, 2012 | By More

“Whump, whump, whump, whump.” The little wooden mallet strikes the metal beveler. It’s a percussive duet with the rhythmic tapping of the woodpecker heard through the screen door of Walter Jenkin’s home in Atkins. The woodpecker plays second fiddle. Eighty-two- year-old Walter is by far the more experienced of the two.

As he hammers an outline onto the beige-colored leather, Walter recalls that first leather wallet.

“I made my first billfold in 1949,” says Walter.” I was in the Hospital at Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois. The Red Cross came around and asked if I would like something to do, just to pass the time, and gave me a leather working kit. I made my first wallet with that kit and I gave my sister that wallet. She carried it for 25 years. She gave it back to me before she passed away and I’ve still got it.”

Walter’s home smells of leather; warm and timeless. The smell is engraved into the human mind as comforting. After all, leather working is one of the oldest crafts known to man. We long ago discovered that preserved animal hide was rugged, pliable, and could serve a multitude of tasks. Its earliest uses included clothing, footwear, tool and food transportation, and storage. Leather is still used for these purposes, but Walter specializes in making storage units; storage units for paper money. Walter’s creations meld artisan skill with this practical application.

The engravings on each wallet and clutch purse are done with amazing accuracy and attention to detail. The designs and subtle intricacies speak to meticulous and slow work, but Walter has refined his techniques. He not only turns out some beautiful crafts, he does it fast.

“I can do two wallets a day, but that’s pushing it pretty hard,” says Walter. “About one a day is what I strive for.”

In the corner of Walters’ living room sits a small leather bound table covered with wallets and clutch purses. It would be easy to overlook the table except for the ruddy-colored rose pattern peeking out from underneath that pile of wallets. As Walter arranges the wallets into orderly rows, the border of rose vines comes in to view.

The detail of each individual rose petal is stunning. But, what else would you expect from a man that when speaking of leaving his military career says, “I’m retired Air Force. I retired after 20 years, eight days, three hours, two minutes and 10 seconds.” The table is his pride and joy.

“This is a Samsonite card table that I covered with leather. I did it, fifty…no, forty-six years ago, and it was my most challenging project. It took several days to do the table… many, many sittings to accomplish this.”

The table has the rich sheen of new leather. One of leather’s outstanding qualities is its durability, it just doesn’t wear out. Walter’s reply when asked about maintenance of leather products is simple,

“Very little. This table hasn’t had much of anything put on it. My sister had it for years and when I got it several years back I did put a little conditioner on it. Leather needs a little something on it every now and then to keep it pliable, but not much. She never used it for anything, said it was too pretty, but it does have a few scratches on it. It looks pretty good though. That’s the way leather does, it doesn’t get messed up. It only gets better with age”

Walter exudes a youthful energy and that youthfulness is on full display as he speaks of his idea for the perfect demise.

“I’ve made a plan. I’m going to live to 101 and be shot by a jealous husband.”

In all seriousness, Walter recommends staying busy as a recipe for vitality.

“I volunteer at the hospital two or three days a week and just do whatever they need me to do down there. I try to enjoy my work and to enjoy people. I also volunteer at the Atkins nursing home. I visit some of the people there, it’s just a wonderful situation that I can do that.”

If Walter is not at the hospital, the nursing home, or making delightful leather crafts, he can be found in church. Strong faith plays an important role in Walter’s life.

“I teach a Sunday school class at Atkins First Baptist. They range in age from 45 to 65, they have low mental capacity and I just love them, it’s something really special. I love teaching them, been doing that for about three years now.”

Walter shows no sign of slowing down, his conversation is full of ideas and future plans. He clutches a wallet in his hand and runs his finger across the engraved cross.

“The Lord has given me a talent and I just want to use it. After all, He’s the most important thing in my life.”

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