Sunday, February 22, 2009

Wendell Henderson By Kathryn Wood Barron

As I started to write about Wendell, I realized something. While I knew him well, some of the cousins reading this did not. Big bummer for you. Wendell was the best. He managed to fit in between my generation and my Mom’s generation, fitting in each. In many ways, Wendell was the bridge between, and the glue.

Wendell was raised by our Grandparents. Mostly by our Grandmother, Lillian Howland. As long as I can remember, he worked on farms. He lived in the house in Center Lisle, and in the store until it was sold. After that, Grandma bought the farm from Uncle Adin for Wendell. We (The Wood family) lived on the farm at that time, so Grandma had my father (Lester) put in an inside bathroom. That was a lot better than the outhouse we used for years! Grandma gave my Mom the house in Center Lisle, so we moved there and Grandma and Wendell moved up on the hill. Wendell set out and made it a modern farm. He was a real farmer.

Wendell was always a big part of our family. Ma loved him like a brother and a son. My Mom, Gladys, was thirteen when he was born. She spent the next few years with him as a 'little brother'. She also practiced her mothering skills on him. She told me once that it was like he was her first baby. Being second, the slip to third was no big deal. After all, Wendell was worth it! Ma called him ‘Wen-dell-ie” a lot. When she had her youngest daughter, she named her after him. My baby Sis is named Wendy Lee. Sound it out.

When I was a teenager, I introduced him to my friend, Joyce Tillotson. Joyce’s family had a farm outside of Center Lisle and were great. The summer they started dating was a lot of fun. I was dating a guy that worked for Wendell so we double dated. We went to every County fair around. We went to Drive-in movies too. I mentioned that in an earlier post. Wendell was the only one with a license, so when we got there he yelled ‘seat change’ and he and Joyce went to the back, we went to the front. Wendell made sure we didn’t do anything! Joyce and Wendell got married one week after Joyce and I graduated from Whitney Point. It will be 40 years ago this June 28. They got married on my parents’ 24th anniversary, and my 18th birthday. It’s real easy to remember that date!

He was always there and I always knew that he loved me. Much of the time, when I went to New York to visit, I stayed on the farm. It was my home in New York and it still is. When I visited the farm, I cooked with Wendell a lot. We worked together real well. He was in charge and ordered me around. He was a real good cook too! His breakfasts were feasts! We made bacon, hash browns, eggs, and toast. With coffee of course. Milk for creamer. I know that he worked at the pancake breakfasts in Lisle too. After Bob Taylor died, Wendell got me to make cucumber sandwiches for the reunion, because Bob had brought them to reunions. A tribute to Bob, thought of by Wendell.

The day Wendell died, he spent at his daughter Kathleen’s with her and her two boys. Wendell loved his family. He was so proud of his children and loved the Grandchildren with all his heart. Joyce was the partner for him. Truly, his ‘other half’. No ivory tower for her, she worked alongside him on the farm. He loved her completely. He was devoted to his family.

Wendell had a great sense of humor. At Wendell’s funeral, his daughter Kathleen spoke. She started with, "hi boys and squirrels". It was perfect! Wendell had many “Wendell-isims” for all things. He would tell you to 'take a number and step aside'. Eggs were cackle berries. When it was nippy out he called it nippley. You were pointed to the butter and told to grease your toast. Donuts were dog-nuts. Catsup was cat soup. Salt and pepper was salt and . . . . maybe I better leave that one off. All with a straight face. Wendell worked a farm and was well grounded.

My Mom and I used to have ‘mock arguments’ about Wendell. We both decided to claim him as our brother. She would say that he was HER brother. I would say that he was MINE. (Side note- yes I DO realize that he is Helen, Dawn, Rhoda, and Annie’s brother.) Anyhow, Ma and I loved those mock arguments as much as we both loved Wendell. When she died, My Mom left a token amount of money to each of her children in her will. To Chic, to me, to Gail, to Michael, to Laurel, to Wendy, . . . . AND . . . . to Wendell.

HA! So there, Ma!!!! I win!! That proves that Wendell is MY BROTHER!!
They are probably together, laughing at that right now.

Picture One: Wendell and Lil, August 15, 1954
Picture Two: Wendy Lee and Wendell
Picture Three: Wendell and Dylan, Kathleen's oldest, August 2003
Picture Four: Chic, Wendell, Gail and Kathryn, 1955
Picture Five: Wendell and Joyce Henderson, sandwiched by their children, David, Kathleen, Ron; August 8, 2004

Pictures Taken by Kathryn, Wendy and Laurie.


Sue Kinsella said...

Beautiful tribute, Kathryn, I was crying by the end, which also made me laugh out loud. I wish that, the times when I met Wendell, I had been old enough to understand who he was. But I appreciate that at least I get to know a little bit about him from your stories.

We study all about towering great leaders in history, but none of them could have accomplished what they did without the great people in everyday life and everyday families who live hard-working and loving lives with courage and integrity. There are many such people in our family, and I'm so glad that Pat has given us a way to recognize and honor them.

Diana said...

I didn't know Wendell well - I know that my dad thought the world of him. Having been out of state for college and then getting married and staying out here - never made it to many reunions - but I always thought of him as a gentle man who adored his family.

Thank you for sharing your personal memories.

CB said...

Kathryn, I am so proud of you!! [ as your Ma is I am sure]This is a wonderful loving tribute , Wendell would have some goofy thing to say to you but inside he would have been so pleased!
Yes, he was one of a kind that we need more of. He was the pride of Aunt Lil's life and he and Joyce took such good care of her.His homespun wisdom is sadly missed . CB

Pat said...

Thank you, Kathryn!

I love the Wendell and 'Wendy Lee' story.

I was way too young to know Wendell, so these stories help me realize what I missed.

And, as my sister Sue has often said on this site, since we can't go back in time, I try to go slower and dig deeper and try to get to know more about people as I meet them, or see them after time has passed.

Cousins, hugs to all (as my brother, Tom, recently emailed).

Love to you all and we should all try for a huge group hug next time we have a reunion.

Kathryn said...

Thank you for the kind comments!
I have to give Wendell all the credit for this story. He was wonderful inspiration. I will always miss him. I still get the urge to pick up the phone and call him and catch up on everything. I have gotten David (Wendell and Joyce's youngest) on the phone and he is amazingly like Wendell to talk to!
Love you all!

Sue Kinsella said...

I was cleaning up my desk last night and came across some notes I'd written down when I called up David Lochner a few months ago. He's a wonderful story-teller.

I asked him if he remembered any special memories from when he was a kid visiting Center Lisle. He said he remembered visiting Phyllis and Gladys and picking blueberries out back behind the farm house.

He was fairly close in age to Wendell and remembered a couple of his stories. One was about a time when Wendell was a kid and swiped some chewing tobacco from the house. He thought he was safe hiding behind the barn - but when he got caught (by Elmer?), as David says, "he was out of commission for a week."

Wendell was "out of commission" another time, too, but this time he did it to himself. I wish I could have heard Wendell himself tell the story about pissing on the electric fence - and the "whoosh" of learning he got from that real fast!

Pat said...

Oh my!

Never heard the 'Wendell and the electric fence' story--Sue, doesn't it sound like something one of our dear brothers would do?!

CB said...

And as Kathryn and I well know[ Harold too!] those were not blueberries that they were picking but BLACKBERRIES! Made wonderful pies! CB