I guess the biggest constant in our life is that people come into it and people go, around like a carousel. We welcomed a new family member into our lives on August 18th, a little girl we named Sylvia Matilda (more on that later), then a couple of weeks later my Uncle Max left us. To me that loss has been felt little by little for many years, as he suffered from a condition called Pick's Disease for the last fifteen years or so. Pick's is an affliction similar to Alzheimer's where the mind is overtaken and memories are replaced with bits gray nothing, so we have been watching Max's benevolent personality and the light in his eyes slowly fade as the disease stuffed more and more gray where he should have been. My Aunt Pat gave every second of her day and night to care for him as his condition worsened, never faltering in her devotion over all these years. He was able to live at home until his last day, for which I know my dad and all of us are extremely grateful to her for that. She told me once she never thought twice about her role as care giver because she's his partner in all things, so why wouldn't she support him when he needs it most? I remember thinking at the time that it was such a simple plain response that put a true marriage into stark perspective for me Few of us will be lucky enough to find such a partner and cultivate a relationship like theirs. Before his illness, they shared so many loving and fun times with each other, they are countless and precious so I won't try to share their special stories with you. Instead of that huge and likely impossible task, I thought I'd simply share a couple of small, perhaps insignificant seeming, stories about my uncle because to me he was never anything short of the best. And maybe more importantly for all the rest of us, without Max there wouldn't be a well known luthier and musician name Wayne Henderson. About that I am positive.
When I think about my real Uncle Max, the one from my childhood, I simply remember kindness, protection, safety, and love. He never greeted me without the warmest, most genuine smile that made me feel sure he was truly glad to see me when I would spend time in Rugby with my dad and Granny. He often sat in the big scratchy chair in my Granny's living room, the one that stood along the wall that shared the front porch on the opposing side. His and Pat's burgundy GMC Jimmy would usually already be parked on the lawn when we all gathered for Sunday dinner, Max parked in that chair when we walked through the front door, that familiar brush against the bristly carpet as the door welcomed us into the front room. Throughout our visit, when Shirleen rolled out biscuits, Pat and Granny worked on simmering green beans in pork fat, and baking apples in cinnamon, the men talked hunting in the living room, and even when we all sat around the round oak table for dinner, the correspondence from Max's rescue squad radio was turned down, but he never turned it off. I think that is what I remember most, the crackling voices and subsequent beeps coming from his hip pocket, the chance that a community member could be in trouble. He seemed to always be watching out for someone.
ly in the driveway, the big round fenders gleaming in the sunlight. I had just watched Forrest Gump and remembered there were a gang of boys ridiculing Forrest from the bed of a truck that looked exactly like that. I jumped into the back just to see what it would be like standing up behind the cab going fast, not that I wanted to bully anyone who couldn't walk, mind you. In my haste to get up there, I disturbed a nest of yellow jackets hidden under the floorboards of the bed. I remember being stung several times and screaming in pain. My dad and Max tried to figure out what happened as Pat did her best to soothe me and my stung leg. It was Max though who was able to help me feel better. I remember that very clearly. I always had a feeling an inherent trust that he would be able to make it better when there was a crisis such as an angry yellow jacket.
Bees or emergencies or simply being a friend, Max was always there to help in most situations. He provided a solid support and friendship for my dad since the day he was brought home from the hospital. They were buddies first, brothers second. I remember Max always called Daddy Bud I think the most important thing Max did for my dad was to give him the gift of music. He was the one who bought the old Guild from Katherine, our neighbor across the street. He was the one who taught him a few chords even though Max didn't really play himself, but he had gotten the mind to try for a while when noticed my dad's interest and excitement and instead of keeping it for himself, Max passed the guitar to him. After my dad took off and lapped him several times with pure innate ability, Max wasn't jealous or competitive, he just set out to play the mandolin instead so he could accompany my dad as he quickly and easily learned every song he could on that old guitar. As my dad grew more notable in the bluegrass community, Max quietly kept rhythm by his side, backing him up as he had done in every aspect if their lives. In fact, my favorite story Daddy has told me about his brother, whom he looked up to immensely, wasn't even about music, it was about a fish.
There's a large fishing hole in front of my Aunt Shirleen's house. The waters swirling and tugging the rocks toward the earth on its rush to find lower ground. Old native trout spend their days ambling among the current of the cool deep water, feeding on flies and bugs that meet their fate in the bubbling depths of the creek. Five year old Wayne rests his toes as close to the edge of the steep bank as possible without risking the earth giving way underneath his weight, staring at the largest trout meandering among the folds of the water. It is opening day of fishing season and he can hardly wait to drop his lure. The warden makes the rounds ensuring no one begins a second before noon though, so he has to be patient. After what feels like an eternity, though the clock only reads about nine am, Wayne can't wait any longer and quietly drops his hook into the water. The wait time for a trout to bite is so long, and he wanted to get a head start so when noon rolled around maybe he would be close to catching something. Not five minutes pass since his bait hit the water that that largest brown trout he had ben eying in the hole clamps onto his line. He's too stunned and small to lift it himself, but seeing what has happened, Max reaches over to help Bud bring his aquatic beast onto the shore. Max was known around the community as a skilled fisherman, Wayne always wanted to fish with him. Oftentimes, instead of taking the glory of catching a large trout to bring home for dinner, Max would subtly hook a fish, then acting bored and tired, would hand the pole to his little brother to hold, just until something caught of course. After a minute or two, lo and behold, Wayne would have one hooked! Then Max would help him reel it in giving Wayne the pride and happiness of catching a fish for his family to eat. In those days, trout was some of the best food the family could have, so there was no way they were throwing that large a trout back into the water, warden be damned, but they both knew they couldn't afford to pay a citation. Once the trout laid gleaming in the light spring grass, Max, not wanting to implicate them both, slid his brother's slimy catch down into his knee high rubber boot. He walked it the half a mile back up the hill to his sister's house and snuck it to her to be cleaned and filleted for dinner. He never scolded, he never mentioned his damp, pungent sock, he never mentioned the trouble the fish could have caused. He was simply happy for his brother, and did what he could to let him have the glory and happiness of catching that trout.
There aren't many siblings who love and care for each other like my dad's do. Of that I am certain. I have witnessed it; the evidence is everywhere. In the copper hammer that Max made, my dad hammers every fret of every guitar with that hammer no matter that he has others, better suited for the job even, but instead of grabbing one of those, he will spend precious minutes sifting through piles of junk in his shop to find where he mislaid that old copper one with the edges banged soft and the handle scratched by time. It is in the other instrument making tools Max invented long ago to help my dad further his passion. I hear it in the music they played together, Max's signature trill of the mandolin steady behind my dad's hot guitar lick. It is in the strawberry shortcake we have every year on Max's summer birthday, because wild strawberries are what grew in his mom's back yard in June. It's in the cannon Max gave my dad as a Christmas present 40 years ago that we shoot off every Thanksgiving Day. We even did this year, though it wasn't quite Thanksgiving, and it was only a fraction of our regular gathering. That love is still there even though Max physically is not.
|Max, Shirleen and Daddy on a chilly day|
I am not the smartest of folks, but I have gleaned a few important things in my thirty six years. One of the main ones is this: those people who are there for you now, unfalteringly, unassuming, quietly supporting you in the shadows of those big bright dreams you are focused on are not to be taken for granted. Life is precious and delicate. It is as fragile as bringing a file to the narrowest piece of abalone, but those people who hold you up are hopefully not really gone because the lessons they impart and their love for us linger behind them like rosewood dust. It's just time we put our own fish in our boot and walk up the hill.
|My first picture with my Uncle Max|