CUMMING — Henry Martin Jr. has always been a “doer.”
“He piddles in the shop, he makes airplanes out of Coke cans ... he’s always been innovative,” said Joyce Millwood of her 85-year-old father. “He always keeps busy and that’s how he stays as young as he is.”
The Forsyth County native and World War II veteran has discovered a new passion in the past few months while caring for his bedridden wife, Bernice, who has Alzheimer’s disease.
He knits caps, coasters and trivets, using plastic looms and yarn he buys from the store.
“We have counted over 400 since October,” Millwood said.
Putting Bernice, who was diagnosed three years ago, in a home of some kind was never an option.
“I’d rather care for her myself,” he said in an interview at his home Sunday afternoon.
The family room in his house on Truman Mountain Road, just a couple of miles from Hall County, has been converted into the couple’s living area.
Other than their beds, the room contains some furniture, including a piano and family pictures on the wall and elsewhere.
A plaque on a wall near an entrance to the room says, “God doesn’t give what we can handle. God helps us handle what we are given.”
Martin rarely leaves the house, let alone his wife’s side, spending most days winding the wool between his thumb and fingers, holding the loom close to his lap.
“He told us when he married her he promised to look after her, and (has told us), ‘It’s my job, it’s not the kids’ job,’” Millwood said.
“We’ve had a hard time convincing him he needed help as far as a sitter. The children come in every fourth day to make sure everything is going OK.”
At first, he was giving out his knitted creations — one hat taking about 2 1/2 hours to complete — to family members.
But then someone suggested he make caps for newborns at the hospital.
He began that project with Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville. Then came the idea that he could start making hats for cancer victims there. One of his daughters, Mavis Burtz, brings regular shipments to the hospital.
“It absolutely lit a fire under him. He had a glow in his eye and a new step because he was helping somebody,” Millwood said. “That’s the name of the game. He always wants to help somebody.”
Each hat has a note attached, “Made with love. Henry Martin Jr., 85. World War II veteran.”
Henry and Bernice Martin married on Aug. 15, 1945, but they’ve known each other since childhood.
“My sisters and her played together,” he said. “We started dating before I went into the service in 1944.”
Henry Martin joined the Army in 1944, fighting in Italy as part of the U.S. Army’s 38th Infantry’s 10th Mountain Division.
They lived in Hall County from 1955 to 1971, moving to the Forsyth County home where they live today in 1972.
He retired as a poultry inspector for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and later did some chicken farming and worked in maintenance at Forsyth Central High School.
Bernice worked as a cafeteria manager at Oakwood Elementary School and Forsyth Central High School before retiring.
The couple have four children, 11 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.
Martin doesn’t talk much about her medical condition. He is doing well, except that he wears a hearing aide.
The knitting helps with “relief of sitting here with nothing to do,” he said.
“I enjoy it and ... (the patients) love it,” he said. “I’ve never gotten a penny out of what I’ve made. I’ve gotten more pleasure than money can buy. This is just rewarding.”
And he is content to stay by Bernice’s side.
“We’ve tried to get him to get away, to go into the den and sit. This is where he wants to be,” Millwood said.
Millwood said the entire family is proud of Martin.
“His mission in life is to help somebody else,” she said.