Henry – Remembrance

I first met Henry for less than a minute in 1974.  I was participating in the Harrisburg Urban Semester, interning at the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office and living with my sister Libby, who worked at the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. Her car was in the shop and I picked her up at work.  I went inside to meet her and she looked past me down the hall and said, “Oh!  There’s Henry.”  The was such a smile in her voice. Being a tall woman, I looked more or less straight ahead and then, seeing only the lower part of a man’s chest, looked up.  Why do I even remember that brief encounter?  Yet seven years later, in November 1981, when he was the Director of the Housing Division, Henry strongly and successfully advocated for my being hired as the first attorney exclusively dedicated to fair housing at PHRC. By January, we were telling Homer Floyd, the Executive Director, that we were dating. By August, we were married.

I got several previews of life with Henry very quickly. The first time we went to lunch together, we decided to get pizza at the food court in Strawberry Square.  We’d discussed our mutual enjoyment of pepperoni pizza. We went to the window and Henry said, “I’d like a large pepperoni pizza.” He then looked at me, “What will you have?”  Early on, I found that when Henry enjoyed his food, he hummed.  Looking at a menu, he hummed.  Even in his last weeks, when nothing but sweet things tasted good, he hummed when I discovered peanut butter pie ice cream.

In February 1982, a month after we started dating, we joined my parents in Rehoboth for my mother’s birthday.  As we drove home, he suggested we go off on a side road from Route One to see the ocean one more time. It was sunset and deserted on this winter day and we were off the beaten path. Next thing I knew, Henry drove straight up onto a sand dune in his Honda Civic station wagon, a decidedly NOT four wheel drive vehicle.  The wheels spun and I was getting agitated for the first of many such adventures. We pondered how to get out of this very uninhabited place.  We were walking distance from nowhere.  Next thing we knew, a father and son duo of fishermen showed up out of the dusky evening and managed to push us out.  Henry’s only comment? “Stick with me.  I’ll show you a good time.”

I quickly learned as well that Henry categorized the world as bears, dogs and snakes.  Bears were the best. Cats are bears. Racoons are racbears.  Dolphins are seabears.  Dogs are harder to define.  They have bad habits, slobber and are often annoying.  I was slightly miffed that because I had a very unlikeable dog when we met, Henry considered me a “dog evolving.”  Seagulls are sea dogs. Snakes, well.  Don’t even mention snakes.  They are the evil scum of the earth.  Long into our marriage, when he could not categorize rabbits and cows, Henry decided on a fourth category:  Food. As a self-proclaimed panda bear, Henry needed to personally greet each cub born at the National Zoo and alluded to having something to do with their paternity.  I just shook my head.

Henry counted squirrels as dogs and possums as bears. One year, frustrated by the many holes dug to bury the acorns from the big oak tree in our back yard, he decided to trap and transport squirrels to the West Shore of the Susquehanna River. Each night, he baited a humane trap with Ritz crackers spread with peanut butter and he kept a running tally on a chart on the side of the fridge, taking each squirrel across the river to some wooded areas.  I imagined a travel agent squirrel offering hors d’oeuvres and a cruise, departing every day. The final tally was dogs 19, bears 1.  He let the possum go.

There was a lot of Winnie the Pooh to Henry – and not a little Eeyore.  On our wedding day, I found this note first thing in the morning taped to the bathroom mirror. “The Bear beside you is getting married in the morning.  Please get him to the church on time – and, please, take care of this Bear otherwise.  He probably should be fed at least once prior to facing large crowds, as shy bears do not adjust well to large crowds on empty stomachs.”  That night, laughing, he told me my father pulled him aside and offered him some fatherly advice about me, to wit, “She’ll drive you crazy, but she’s loyal as hell.”  Truth. Definitely truth.  But in fact, an “I know you are but what am I?” situation. Henry was complex, smart, funny, felt deeply and passionately about human rights, thought deeply, period,  saw things in a unique way, never forgot what he learned from his studies of philosophy, physics, psychology or political matters but routinely forgot what our plans were for the weekend, that we had a wedding to go to next month and the weeks we would be going to Rehoboth. Every year, he’d moan, “I don’t know how I can go on vacation,”  implying we hadn’t even discussed this. Every year, he loved swimming in the ocean and eating crabs and being with friends.

Henry’s mom raised a feminist in the forties and fifties by expecting him to do household chores, garden, help build the stone fireplace, cook and just be part of the family. In pursuit of his deeply held interests, she let him destroy the basement sink with his many chemistry experiments.  Henry was the kid who wrote a philosophy column for the school newspaper. He played basketball but had no drive to win.  Over the years, his classmates remembered him fondly from those days – always — when they learned I was married to him.

Henry’s parents also raised an Eagle scout, Order of the Arrow. He was a guy who could not let the smallest item on his to do list go for long before it was accomplished, while living with a woman whose to do list is the same for months and even years on end. He was a guy who did everything in depth.  If he couldn’t play the piano at competition level, which he did as a teenager, then he wouldn’t play at all.  If he couldn’t spend most of his time painting, then he no longer painted.  He brought that depth to his work and to his family.  He had an enormous knowledge of books and if you go to his website, you will see the great pride he took in his business and in educating people about books.

He loved his children unconditionally and was so proud of them.   Raising Amaya with him was a lesson for me in being silly, in letting children be free to make mistakes, and in just plain loving and accepting who she is all the time, encouraging curiosity and supporting her interests.  Henry enjoyed every minute he could spend with his three older grandchildren, Marshall, Josh and Mackenzie goofing around with them as young children, watching sports, sharing Thanksgiving dinner and always having Christmas at some point, once in April. He was so proud this spring to see two of them graduate, one from four year college and one from community college and to hear about how well the third is doing in school.  After hour-plus long calls with Scott, Henry remembered every detail, as eager to share updates with me late into the night as I was to catch up. He marveled at his luck in having such a wonderful family in his life. Henry fiercely wanted only someone worthy to marry his daughter and had no poker face when he was less then delighted with her early boyfriends.  So he was relieved and very happy when Amaya met and married a man he liked and admired, one who he came to love deeply.  Henry was involved from day one with his fourth grandchild, Selah, who burst onto the scene when her cousins were teenagers and beyond, bringing lots of love, fun and energy to our family. He made sure Selah learned that rule breaking is okay sometimes well before she reached the ripe old age of five, as evidenced by the picture of us together in Rehoboth, gleefully eating ice cream before lunch – because we could.

The thing is, who wants to go through life bored and conventional?  For sure, not me: I’d rather sit next to the guy bobbing around at the symphony than all the earnest people sitting properly and showing no emotion. I’d rather be the class member whose husband jumps into the pool at a deep water exercise class, effectively a cannonball because of his size.  I’d rather be in France with a guy who needs to see the Pompidou Center, opening my eyes to the challenges and intricacies of modern art, but who joins me willingly at the D’Orsay, closely studying each brushstroke of the impressionists. I’d rather take the long and roundabout way, at least sometimes, than never have an adventure. I’d rather learn to be a better person by always trying to do what I think is right and by stretching beyond my comfort levels than stay in a rut and accept things as they are.   I learned so much from this man who didn’t like small talk but who would speak with knowledge and intellect about so many subjects, when I let him get a word in edgewise. We supported each other.  We complemented each other.  We loved each other.  I stuck with him.  He showed me a good time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s