My Uncle Junior Died

Uncle Junior and Reins of HopeMy 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.

***

Harry O. Hendricks Jr. Obituary

Videos:

You can also check out more pictures of my Uncle Junior from throughout the years.

15 thoughts on “My Uncle Junior Died”

  1. Thank you, Kevin.
    You put into words so elequently the feelings and emotions that I think we all feel about these two men that are part of all of out lives. Grandpa and Junior have always been together in my memories. Whenever I think of one, the other always comes into mind also. They will always be remembered, and live on in all of us.

  2. Kevin, I know you probably dont know who I am but I am Junior’s grand-daughter Geno’s daughter. This is a beautiful story you wrote. It is such a great thing to know that my Grandpa is in so many memories of so many people. I was also wondering if there was any way that you could e-mail that video of Grandpa showing you were our great grandparents lived. Again, it was a beautiful story and really means a lot to me!

  3. Kevin,
    This is your cousin Geno.Your Great Uncle Junior’s youngest. Your words about these two great men, one my Father the other my Uncle confirm what I have felt my entire life. I am very fortunate to have not one but two prime examples of what being a man,husband,father are all about. Thank you Kevin for seeing the true essence of my lifelong HEROS. Dad & Uncles Les.

    Geno H

  4. Uncle Junior. I was saddened to hear that he had died. Uncle Junior was my favorite Uncle. I grew up living in the same town with him. He was a character. He was hardworking, had a heart of gold, and was very close to my Dad. The last 6 years of my Dad’s life, Uncle Junior went to see him every day. He had power of attorney over his affairs the last 3 or 4 years, and took care of all of Dad’s business affairs. We offered to pay him and at least give him gas money, but he refused, saying it was his brother. When Dad died, I asked Uncle Junior if there was anything that Dad had that he would like to have. Junior asked for the 2 acres of land that my Dad had bought from Grandma Hendricks after my Granpa Harry Hendricks (Les and Junior’s dad) died. I bought the land from the estate and sold it to Uncle Junior for $1. I made him pay me the $1 too.

    JoAnne, my wife, says that she will never forget the first time she saw Uncle Junior. He rode up on his horse, looked at her, said hello, and then said to me, “Well hello Dougie, how the hell are you you little son of a bitch”. That was her introduction to a man that she would grow to love as I did.

    The thing that always impressed me was how close Junior was to his kids. He raised 5 good ones. I grew up just down the street from them and we saw each other every day. Junior was also very good with animals. He trained horses for a while and if you rode a horse that he trained, you knew it. He also loved dogs, and always had one.

    Junior lived a full life, and was active right up until the end which is what he would have wanted. He told me several times that he never wanted to have to go through what my dad did and live in a rest home. I thank God that he didn’t.

    When my Dad died, I did not go to the funeral because I wanted to remember Dad as I last saw him, alive with a smile on his face. Junior was really upset when he heard that I was not coming back to the funeral. When I explained why, he stopped yelling at me, and said that he understood and that he was sorry that he yelled at me. He was one of the few people that understood why I did not go to my Dad’s funeral.

    He was a good man, and he will be missed.

  5. Kevin – I’m sorry to hear about your great uncle’s death – but the stories were wonderful.

  6. Thanks for your comments, everybody. It’s been great to hear more about Junior. I especially liked the photo my cousin sent and described as his favorite photo of Uncle Junior.

    And Doug, at Les’ funeral there was just as much laughter in the kitchen after he died as there was before he died. We remembered Les as he was, and reveled in the stories and memories and poking fun at each other.

    Greg even leaned his head against the kitchen wall and tried out the worn spot where Grandpa’s head used to rest. ;-)

  7. I never really had the chance to get to know Les (and from the stories the Hendricks family tells, I missed out on something good) but I did get the chance to get to know Uncle Junior. He was a pretty great guy to hang around with. And from getting to know him, I felt like I knew Les a little better too.

    It’s not going to be quite the same, visiting Kansas without stopping in to see Uncle Junior (and sitting around in his living room with the furnace on way too high).

  8. Hi Kevin, I am “Jr’s” granddaughter from his middle daughter Dianna. I put Jr. in quotation marks because to me he was just “Grandpa”. I did not know about this website until my cousin just told me about it. I live in Oklahoma and didn’t get to see Granpda very much these past few years so seeing videos of him is very bittersweet. I laughed when I read the last comment up there about sitting around the living room with the furnace on way too high….that is a vivid memory of mine too. There weren’t very many spots to sit in the living room and heaven forbid you end up standing by that heater because you would ROAST! I also am mirroring the comment that Doug made that Grandpa did not want to ever die from being sick….he had just spoke those words to my mom not too long ago. Well he got his wish. He was on his way to his beloved Reins of Hope when God decided it was time. I find solace in that and also knowing that he is now with Grandma.

  9. Hi Kevin, I am Jr’s grandaughter from his son Harry III, and I just wanted to thank you for all of the wonderful stories and videos of Grandpa. It gives me and my family a chance to see him again. I grew up in Raymond and also have some good memories of Uncle Les. I used to clean his house when I was in junior high. He would pay me 20 dollars to dust a few things then I would sit with him and look at photo albums!! Later on, when I was 20, Les noticed that I was pregnant with no wedding band on my finger. He then asked me if I was keeping the baby and if I knew who the father was!!! I informed him I was and yes I knew the father quite well! Later my dad said don’t worry that was just Uncle Les. We still laugh at that today, 10 years later.

  10. Hi Kevin, I’m Laverne’s (Les’ 2nd wife) youngest daughter. I remember you from when you were little and you & Rick would visit with my Mom and your Grandpa. She really enjoyed those visits and tried to make them fun for you.

    I went to school with your Mom and your Dad. They are great people. I was the only Raymond girl (I think) that your Dad let drive his precious car, until your Mom came along.

    I have memories of both Les and Junior that span my entire lifetime. Les made my first skate board and let my sister, Jane, and me help birth baby pigs. Les taught my Mom and me how to raise baby calves so I could sell them for college funds. He also made me participate in the “cutting” of the calves for the mountain oysters. My 8th grade boyfriend, Doug Caywood, drove by and I was mortified.

    As for Junior, he was bigger than life. Always gruff but huggy, kissy at the same time. He always called me “Kid”. I probably wasn’t the only one, but he made me feel that way. I loved him like he was my own uncle and loved Les for making me laugh while I was younger and for giving my Mom love and laughter for the last 15 years of her life.

    Dianna, Junior’s daughter, was one of my best friends. There were five of us girls in the same grade while growing up and we were all great friends. Junior would let Dianna go anywhere if I was going, too. If he only knew. I’ve lost touch with Dianna and I would appreciate it if you would forward my email address to her or to one of her daughters.

    I was so sorry to hear of Junior’s passing. I’m living in Mississippi now, but my husband’s sister made sure to tell us. Many, many memories floated through when I heard the news. He touched so many lives with very little effort, that was just his way.

    I certainly enjoyed all of the stories. Thanks for providing them. Give my best to your parents and tell them I don’t like being this old – everything is starting to hurt. Too bad we don’t take good care of ourselves like your Dad did with his car.

  11. I too have many memories of Junior. I remember being in the yard with Mom (Laverne) and Les and he would always stop by on his way home, never arriving or leaving without a big hug and kiss. A man with a big heart!! Love to you all from California.

  12. Hi Kevin, I don’t think we’ve met but I’m the oldest son of James W. Hendricks Uncle Junior’s brother. I also attended the Raymond Schools but left the day after I graduated. My parents moved to southeastern Kansas about that time, 1956. I want to thank you for all of the work you have done with the various websites. I live in Arizona now but have managed to pass through Raymond several times the past few years. I’ve attended some of the family reunions so may have met you and your family on one of those occasions. Uncle Junior and Uncle Les were my closest uncles while growing up. Both were avid fans of the various sports that I took part in while in both grade school and highschool. Les and Junior were always there cheering us on. They both touched many lives in a very positive way.

  13. hi kevin

    I’m the middle son of Uncle Les’ and Uncle Jr’s sister Shirley. I’m also 4 years behind everyone else but just found your tribute to Uncle Junior. There are many stories I remember of him, and some i’ve heard of your grandpa. We laugh at how Uncle Jr talked my older brother Leland into peeing on an electric fence when he was real young.
    you are a good writer, and your tribute is very moving.

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