Monthly Archives: May 2016

Whatever became of Adelbert Jenkins?

When I was a teenager, I belonged to a group called Hi-Y. It was a mentoring group for teens, and covered such things as philosophy, politics, economics, and democracy. Pretty heady stuff for a teen, yet it set me on a path that has influenced the rest of my life.
As part of that program, I was invited to attend a “congress” of Hi-Y members at Oberlin College in Cleveland, Ohio. Hi-Y’ers from throughout the United States and Hawaii were in attendance, and the conference, had a large Canadian contingent. It was one of the biggest youth gatherings of its day.
At that conference I met a young man about my own age (16 or 17 at the time). His name was Adelbert Jenkins, and we hit it off immediately. He was literate, funny and charismatic all at once, and I spent as much time with him as I could during the congress.
I remember walking, talking, and laughing along the streets of downtown Cleveland enjoying the new experience of being away from home, more or less on my own, and involved in what seemed at the time as momentous events. As we walked, I became aware that we were the subject of considerable attention from passers-by—so much so that I began to wonder if my fly was open, or that my pants were falling off. It wasn’t till the following day I learned why.
One of my mentors, an American of great charm and knowledge said to me: “I hear you were visiting downtown yesterday with Adelbert.”
I replied that I was, and wondered why he was asking. It wasn’t against the rules or anything extraordinary to my mind.
“You know, people thought it was quite an unusual sight,” he said. “You were laughing and talking and having a great time.”
“Yes,” I said. “What’s so unusual about that? Although I did notice that people were looking at me strangely.”
“No wonder,” he said. “The fact that Adelbert is black and you are white probably came as a shock to many people, and the reason I’m talking to you about it now is that I have had a call from the Cleveland Plain Dealer wanting to know who you were and what the event was.”
I was flabbergasted. I didn’t think of Adelbert as “black” Adelbert. I thought of him as a great guy. I really wasn’t aware of the colour of his skin, or his racial background. We were just two teen-age boys having a good time.
Looking back on it from considerable age I realize I was having my first encounter with what can only be called racial prejudice. The very fact that two boys, one black and one white could draw the attention of a newspaper with the reputation of the Plain Dealer spoke volumes about America’s race relations, even then. And if it was bad and tense then, it must be a hundred times worse today.
As a boy growing up in Hamilton, Ontario, I had become used to dealing with people of different races and backgrounds. Hamilton is a city of immigrants, and I grew up with Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, Germans, Chinese, Japanese, and Indians. There weren’t many blacks in my school that I knew of, but there was a major black presence in Hamilton as a result of the Underground Railway from the American South in the 1800’s and early 20th century. But that didn’t matter. My grandfather was a restaraunteur and affiliated with the railway, and he introduced me to many of those blacks as a result of his business. I never thought of them as “black” but as grandpa’s friends.
I used to date a Hungarian girl name Pearl Rucza. Her father was a Hungarian minister. I remember he gave me quite an inquisition about my background when I began dating his daughter. He asked me many questions about my attentions to Pearl which today might prove very embarrassing. But I never thought of Pearl as “Hungarian” Pearl. I always thought of her as a charming, bright, intelligent companion who was a pleasure to take to school dances and events.
Our school photographer was a Chinese boy by the name of Eddie Pong. If you wanted a photograph of a dance, a sporting event, or simply something to remember—Eddie was your man. I never thought of him as Chinese Eddie, but Photographer Eddie. Just another one of us trying to get along.
When I went to university I was friends with a Sikh who was a little older than I was. One day I asked him why he wore a turban, since it singled him out from the rest of my dorm-mates. He invited me to his room, unwound his turban, and showed me the astounding length of hair he had grown since he was a young boy of five. Although his background and culture were very different from mine, I never thought of him as Sikh Raj, just as Raj.
There was a black there, too. His name was Jim Coleman. A more urbane and cultured chap it would be impossible to find. He was a mentor to us all, from finding girlfriends to how to act in chapel. He was never “black” Jim to me, but he may have been Sophisticated Jim. He left a lasting impression.
So in the light of current race relations in the United States (and often in Canada, too), I wonder whatever happened to Adelbert Jenkins. We never corresponded or kept in touch after that Hi-Y congress. He would be 83 now if he lived—the same age as me. I wonder if—I hope—his life has been as fulfilling as mine, and that the bogey of racial inequality has left him untouched.
George Hancocks is a former editor of Canadian Homes Magazine, and Alcan News, an industrial publication.

Goodbye Harold: safe journey friend

I had only one real friend from my boyhood days. He was Harold Morrison. Both of us grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, where I was born. I don’t remember much of our early days, but from talking to Harold over the years I know we shared experiences in coal-and-steel town.

I guess my first conscious awareness of Harold was when we both went to work for The Canadian Press at 55 University Avenue, Toronto. We shared paper-bag lunches, incredible bosses (including Bill Boss, one of Canada’s greatest war correspondents) and the rattle of the newsroom from the Ontario Desk where Boss reigned supreme.

We went separate ways from there, but strangely caught up again at CN where we both worked in Public Relations. We shared similar interests and began to take lunch together. Mostly I remember laughing at those lunches. Harold was a great fan of jokes and puns, and I remember waiters and waitresses alike always wondering who the two bufoons were that were always laughing aloud.

Those lunches became a lifelong habit. We’d meet every couple of weeks or so try new places, visit old favorites and share laughs over beer or Seven-Up, whichever we fancied. And we always laughed. Harold always had new stories and puns, and I loved to comment on the human condition and its many ridiculous customs. With Harold gone, the world has suddenly become a less friendly place.

I could ramble on and on about our eccentricities, but I think I’ll just end this by saying we avoided what Gary Lautens used to call TOTS disease (Taking Ourselves To Seriously). I’m sure Harold’s family will feel I’m not taking his death seriously enough, but I’m certain Harold went out laughing–and with a joke ready for St. Peter. I’m still laughing, my friend, and my time is coming soon enough!