My Great-Uncle Junior died this week. Harry O. Hendricks Jr. (1924-2008) was my late grandfather’s brother. He lived just down the street from my Grandpa in a town so small everyone is a neighbor (and related, as my wife often reminds me). While we sat around the kitchen table at my Grandpa’s house talking and letting breakfast stretch over a few hours, Junior (as most people knew him) would inevitably stop by to partake in the conversation, usually making a point to chide me or my brother.
The Hendricks family loves to laugh and loves to kid. Hence my Grandpa often called me a turd. One of my favorite memories is sitting around my grandfather’s kitchen after his death and joking and laughing with my cousins. While laughter and ribbing characterized my grandfather, it was even more true of my Uncle Junior. He’d laugh and poke fun and slap his knee.
One rare Christmas when my family went back to Kansas we attended the proper, reserved Christmas Eve service at the church my mom grew up in with her family. Then we drove back to Raymond to see my dad’s family. They were all gathered at Uncle Junior and Aunt Polly’s house, more people than I even knew crammed into their tiny living room. They had come from the Raymond Baptist Church’s Christmas Eve service and had pen lights that were used to read the hymnal during the candlelight service.
Someone discovered that when you lodged a pen light into your nostril, your nose glowed as red as Rudolph’s. Soon everyone was shoving pens up their noses and laughing and singing. My brother and I both left that night with our own pen lights to keep, though I don’t whose nose they had illuminated.
“Ah, hell,” Uncle Junior would say, when the laughter had subsided and it was time to get back to work. Uncle Junior knew all about hard work. He rode horses and farmed and fought in the army (in World War II and Korea) and did the kind of back-breaking labor a cowboy has to do. Even in his final years he was still working, cutting the weeds along the side of the road for the county and volunteering with Reins of Hope, a therapeutic horseback riding program for people with disabilities.
I didn’t know my Uncle Junior well. I saw him at those kitchen table conversations and the few family functions I attended. But he was always a striking character, the kind of person you can never forget. Before he died, Uncle Junior was the strongest living link I had to my Grandpa. Uncle Junior and Les were very close, the two youngest brothers in a family of 11. His mannerisms and character reminded me of my Grandpa, and his stories told me about my Grandpa. I made it a point to check in with Uncle Junior whenever I was back in Kansas, which in the past year or two has actually been more often.
We took Lexi to Kansas for her first Christmas in 2006 and she met Uncle Junior and his stuffed horse on the end of a stick that played music and neighed. She was intimidated. Lexi and I went back to Kansas last September for the annual Raymond Labor Day parade. We watched Uncle Junior ride his horse with the other Reins of Hope volunteers and then Lexi and I talked to him in the Raymond gymnasium while we ate. She was still intimidated, but curious. At Thanksgiving we were back again and Lexi was old enough to remember Uncle Junior and be a little less intimidated. These few interactions with Uncle Junior are as close as Lexi will come to knowing her great-grandpa, at least in this lifetime, and I’m so thankful for that.
The last time I saw Uncle Junior was at Thanksgiving. My dad and I asked Uncle Junior to take us out south of Raymond to show us where his family had lived. He climbed in and out of the Jeep with ease, and trudged across the field without a problem, spry for an 83-year-old. Moments before we left we waited while he finished his lunch, slowly chewing his hamburger and complaining about dentures. He was old, but strong.
When we went south of town Uncle Junior showed us where the two houses they had once lived in stood. He told us stories about growing up on that sandy, unforgiving land which is now virtually abandoned. He pointed out where his father had once lived when he was a boy, the homestead of Uncle Junior’s grandfather, my great-great grandfather (Elijah Allison Hendricks). He told us stories about himself and Les (my grandfather) as boys, getting in fights, sneaking sips of their father’s homemade beer, peeing off the second story of the house because it was too cold to go outside to the outhouse.
And we laughed.
- The Old Miller Place
- The Barn at the Miller Place
- Family History
- Twin Bridges House
- Stories of Life at the Twin Bridges House
- Old Sportsman’s Clubhouse
- Where Elijah Allison Hendricks Lived
You can also check out more pictures of my Uncle Junior from throughout the years.