Mary Jenks smiled as she looked around the room talking about her daughter, Abigail Jenks, on a hot July afternoon.
A giant wallpaper print of the woods was plastered on one wall. One American flag lay draped across a dresser, another was in a case, properly folded, with Abigail Jenks’ military photo standing on top of it. A box containing her military honors was placed right beside it.
Pieces of Abigail’s artwork, both large and small, were displayed throughout the room, which has become a place of solace for Mary Jenks.
It is where she goes to remember her daughter, known by family and friends as Abby, who was killed on April 19 during a training exercise while stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where she was a U.S. Army Specialist and paratrooper.
“It’s better than going to the cemetery and the gravesite,” Jenks said. “I haven’t even been there. I know some mothers grieve like that but I come in here to reflect.”
It’s Abigail’s art that Mary Jenks is now using to keep her daughter’s memory alive.
Mary Jenks pointed to her favorite: a drawing of a bird.
“She always loved things with wings,” Jenks said. “If you see a lot of her art, you’ll notice she liked to draw the dragons, the angels, the butterflies, the birds and she also earned her wings as a paratrooper.”
Mary Jenks took that drawing of the bird and other pieces of Abigail’s art and made wallet-size images. She gives them to anyone. Everyone.
“I will go up to people and say ‘Hey, have you heard about my daughter Abigail?'” she said. Then Mary Jenks, who carries dozens of the wallet-size drawings in a bag, will ask people to pick out one or she’ll give them one and she’ll tell them who Abigail was.
“She loved to draw ever since she could hold a pencil,” Jenks said.
When she was 8-years-old, Abigail began taking art classes. Now, her mom knows of at least 100 pieces her daughter created, including some that she tattooed on people.
A tattoo is one way Abby’s best friend Cierra Currier is keeping her memory alive. Although it’s not one of Abigail’s drawings, Currier has Abigail’s nickname, Abby, and middle name, Rose, tattooed on her arm. It is surrounded by flowers and butterflies. It’s a tribute to Abigail’s love of tattooing, artwork and nature.
Many of Abigail’s drawings are of animals–turtles, deer and birds to name a few.
Mary Jenks and Abigail’s grandparents Loren and Susan Jenks recalled when Abigail was 3 and she just went right up and picked up a garden snake.
“She loved animals,” Susan Jenks said.
So, Loren and Susan Jenks tried to expose Abigail to as much as they could, including animals and the outdoors.
“She said ‘can I have chickens?,’” Loren Jenks recalled. “I said ‘yea, we’ll do that, but you have to take care of them’ and she did.”
That’s how the family came to have 70 rabbits and lots of chickens at one point.
“She had a way with animals,” Susan Jenks said.
Because of Abigail’s love for the outdoors, Mary Jenks now sees the beauty in everything.
“I was never like a country person, but now I’m like ‘yes the sunset or the animals or the birds,’” Jenks said. “I used to just say ‘oh there’s a bird’ and now I look at them, they’re not invisible to me anymore”.
Along with her love of animals and the outdoors, Abigail’s family recalled her love for just about any adventure.
Abigail’s aunt Diana Klementowski said Abigail started riding motorcycles with her, her uncle Larry and all her siblings when she was 12.
“We’ve been all over,” she said.
Klementowski said now she and her husband ride with the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle group that rides to honor fallen veterans.
Currier recalled the time Abigail talked her into exploring an abandoned building in North Carolina.
“She was great, I miss her so much,” Currier said. “For me, she was that person I could call and talk to about anything and everything.”
But that was just how Abigail lived her life, her mom said.
“She was always learning something new and doing projects and experiencing adventures,” Mary Jenks said. “She couldn’t even watch a movie here, she’s like ‘we got to go,” she was always in a hurry to do something else.”
Mary Jenks believes it was sort of like Abigail knew she was going to die earlier in life “and she left all of these beautiful drawings and pictures for us to have and remember her by,” she said clasping a replica set of Abigail’s dog tags around her neck. Her fiance, Shane Grant, has the originals.
Now, those pictures and drawings help her family and friends cope with their loss.
Currier said she has many photos of her family and “Aunt Abby” around her home.
However, her daughter Dolleiah Rose, serves as one of the biggest reminders of her best friend. Abby not only named her, but the two share the same middle name.
Loren and Susan Jenks are finding both big and small ways to remember Abigail. This year, they’ll head down to All America Week between Aug. 30 and Sept. 3 at Fort Bragg. There the base will dedicate Abigail’s name to a wall of fallen soldiers. Susan Jenks is also planning on paying for someone else’s birthday cake on Abigail’s next birthday. She’ll send along a note detailing who Abigail was as well.
For Mary Jenks, her focus remains on spreading her daughter’s art out into the world, along with her story. She’ll get the chance to do just that at Wesley Health Care Center, where she’ll display Abigail’s artwork for the residents and workers.
Mary Jenks said she welcomes anyone to hear the story of just who her daughter Abigail was as a person.
“By sharing her art what I’m hoping will happen is they will bring that to their home and then they’re going to be talking about Abigail in their own home and then it can even branch out from there,” she said.
“Every day may not be a good day, but there is something good in every day.” –Abigail Jenks