Note: this is part of an ongoing series of blog entries centered around my recent trip to Texas. I'm publishing it as a series because it's too long to publish as one article.
If you are coming to this series here at the end, or if you have missed some parts, links to each of the previous parts of the series are below:
My Texas Odyssey: Part 1 (Introduction and Chapter 1: Journey To Blossom)
My Texas Odyssey: Part 2 (Chapter 2: Heartlight and Chapter 3: The Early Days)
My Texas Odyssey: Part 3 (Chapter 4: First Things)
My Texas Odyssey: Part 4 (Chapter 5: My Kids)
My Texas Odyssey: Part 5 (Chapter 6: The Vision of J.C.'s House)
And, now, the next chapter of My Texas Odyssey:
Chapter 7: Something About Henry
Most of you are probably familiar with the question sometimes asked of people being interviewed where they ask the person to name the person they'd most like to have dinner with. Most of the time, folks name a famous person (Jesus is a typical answer) from history or a contemporary political or pop-culture figure.
If I was asked that question (and since this is my blog, I'll pretend I was), among a short list of folks I'd have to choose between, there is a man in Austin, Texas, named Henry who would be at the top of the list. You've likely never heard of him, unless you are in the happening scene of Austin, but if you ever met him, you would never forget him. And, like anyone else who's ever met him, even casually and in passing, you would have a story to tell about the encounter. It might begin with, “There's just something about Henry . . .”
So it happened, on this last trip to Texas when I had so many people I wanted to see and not enough time (there never is on those kinds of trips), on Friday, September 28, 2012, I drove 200 miles from Dallas to Austin to spend a few precious hours with this man called Henry. We didn't manage dinner, but we did do a fascinating and enjoyable lunch.
Unlike most of the people I have written about in this series, my history with Henry does not go back decades; indeed, it only measures a few short years. It began about 10 years ago, when my great friend, Terry Roberts, was living in Texas. He kept telling me about this man called Henry. I knew one day, I'd have to meet him for myself if possible.
And, one day, I did. Before I take you back there, though, I will go a little further back, to 2007. I was living in Rome, Georgia, at my Nanny's house (Nanny is what I call my grandmother, and that house will always represent “home” to me), driving a truck for a local company, trying to help delay the time when Nanny would have to go live in a nursing home. By then, Nanny had gone to live with my aunt, Joan, and I was ready to go back on the road, this time to team with my great friend Terry Roberts.
One of the things I had learned about Henry from Terry was that he was very liberal in his politics (I don't know if that's the term Henry would use to describe himself, but in broad terms it fits for my purposes here). I also learned that he absolutely hated Fox News (only half of which is true), and all of that dislike was iconified in their popular host, Bill O'Reilly. (And, for the record, I am also comfortable with being called a liberal or progressive in many areas, though, mostly for my own self-labeling purposes, I probably fall into more libertarian terms. I like President Obama and many of his policy positions, so you can label me what you will from that.)
Anyway, I decided it would be fun to mess with Henry. So I bought a coffee mug from the Bill O'Reilly web site, and it had the words “Bill O'Reilly” and “Patriot” on it somewhere (and for those of us who loathe the Tea Party and what they have done to the Republican Party, “patriot” is particularly an unfortunate word because of the fact that it, like other once-honorable and meaningful terms, has been hijacked by them as though they invented it, and especially when “subversive” would be a more truthful term, in my opinion).
So, I have this Bill O'Reilly mug. And I write this very nice letter to Henry, telling him how I've heard so much about him from Terry. Then I write something along the lines of how I know Henry is a “true patriot” standing for truth and defending the takeover of our country by “left-wing nuts”, and how I imagine that, like me, he loves Bill O'Reilly and Fox News and the service they are providing to our great republic. Laying it on thick. Everything I knew Henry stood for, I complimented him for being the opposite. And, by the way, Henry, here's a Bill O'Reilly Patriot mug to remind you of how you and I stand in solidarity in these things. And I mailed it. It was Henry's introduction to me.
As I expected and hoped, it wasn't long before Terry got a phone call from Henry asking him who this nut-case was who had just sent him a Bill O'Reilly mug. Sometime during the conversation, Henry got it. It was a joke. And there was laughter. And he got ready to return the favor.
It was quite a while after Terry and I started teaming when I finally met Henry. We had been to Laredo, and were coming back up through Austin, on our way to somewhere I can't remember with our next load. We parked at a Cabella's that had truck parking, and Henry came to pick us up.
Henry greeted Terry as an old friend, and then turned his eye to me, looking me up and down, as though he wasn't quite sure about me yet. Then, he said, “Allan, I've got a gift for you that I know you'll appreciate.” Uh-oh. I half expected to get the pieces of the smashed Bill O'Reilly cup I'd sent to him. It was even better. It turned out to be a worn copy of The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx.
We both howled with laughter, and Terry smiled and shook his head. At that moment, I knew Henry and I would be friends.
We decided to go eat at a Chili's restaurant that was nearby. And I got to witness the phenomenon that is Henry. We were greeted by the hostess at the entrance, and Henry began casting about to see where he wanted to sit. A place with not too much noise (so we could talk), not too much or too little light (for the right ambiance), plenty of room. In ten seconds, after charming her and making her smile, that young lady would have taken us back into the kitchen if Henry had directed her to do so.
Our server came over, expecting a boring, slow-afternoon table of sedate diners. What she got was Henry (for her, after that first moment, Terry and I were just set-pieces). Henry regaled her with his charm, told her some stories, and in under two minutes knew her story. She was in college, studying I-don't-remember-what, but when Henry was finished with her, she was inspired and challenged to do her best, pursue her dreams, and do it with laughter.
Henry is one of those people who enters a room, and immediately all conversation stops, and people lean in to each other to whisper, “Who is that?” We've all seen people like that. Sometimes, the result is that all the oxygen and energy is sucked out of the room. Such people are boorish, social vampires who feed on the energy of others and leave them empty, lifeless.
Henry is just the opposite. He brings energy with him, and when he's around, there is more life, more animation. He transmits a zest and love for life that is absorbed by anyone in his orbit.
Henry was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in Miami, Florida. As a young man, he joined the army, and was stationed in Germany much of that time. After leaving the army, Henry stayed in Europe, visiting in 21 countries. He helped excavate at Masada in Israel and worked at a bank in England.
When he returned to the United States, he joined the civil rights movement, and he was part of the protest in Washington against the Vietnam War in 1967. Eventually, he found his true passion and calling in photography, ended up in Austin, Texas, and began a long, productive career as a professional photographer.
Henry has also been a college professor, and he hosted a radio show in Austin for several years. But all those biographical details do not explain the essence of what makes Henry the person he is. Henry is not just someone you know; he is someone you experience. And at the end, perhaps the best explanation of Henry is just this: “there's something about Henry.”
My great friend, Terry Roberts, who introduced me to Henry, recently wrote a poem about Henry that conveys very well the spirit of “there's something about Henry”, and I include it here with his kind permission.
There is a man in Texas whom if you had met when he was a child in Brooklyn or Miami you would not have asked the question "are you from Texas?"
There is a man in TX whom if you had met at boot camp you would perhaps find as angry as some young men you knew from TX, but would never have asked "are you from TX?"
There is a man in TX whom if you had been nursed to health by while recuperating in an army hospital in Germany he may have reminded you of compassionate and skilled men from TX, but you would never have said "you must be from Tx."
There is a man in TX whom if you had offered a lift to as he backpacked across Europe your first question would have been. "American?" But most undoubtedly the second would never have been "Texas, right?"
There is a man in TX who while excavating Masada met Ariel Sharon, ,........ you may have heard them say,"ah yes, the American" but none would have dreamed of TX.
There is a man who while teaching the first photography program at a summer camp in CT (which the program remains til this day, which was 44 years ago at the time of this writing for the present year is 2013 and that year was 1969) took a date who would later become wife number 1 and last, to a picture show in Manhattan to see "Midnigt Cowboy". But even then no one certainly would have supposed he may be from TX.
There is a man in TX who once took a self portrait upon the pallet of a moving bus as he once again discovered the certainty of Newton's law of gravity. A moment in time capturing a panicked man as his camera collided with concert sidewalk. If you were on the bus, diving by in car, be it your own or a taxi, or better yet a limosine, since this was on Wall Street, or perhaps a pedestrian you would have grieved for the poor boy or perhaps laughed. But never in you wildest imaginations have said,"that Texan just dropped his camera."
There is man in TX whom upon meeting for the first time while the both of you are in TX you know immediately and without the slightest equivocation he indeed is not a Texan.
But an Austinite?! Indeed and from the 04 of course where else could such a man exist?
So, now you know a little about Henry, at least as much as my feeble attempt to translate Henry into words on a page can convey.
Special thanks to Shannon Roberts for permission to use a college research paper she did on Henry to glean some of the details of Henry's early life.
Here's Henry's web site (and it's well worth a visit): http://www.friedmanphotog.com/
And, to conclude, a couple of pictures (both properly Photoshopped and approved by Henry).
Concluding Thoughts: The Odyssey Continues
As I write this, it is now five months since the trip to Texas which inspired this series of reflections about my love affair with Texas and people who live there. The personal history, character sketches, and thoughts I've written about have confirmed one thing to me: I still love Texas, I love the people there who have captured my heart over the years, and for me, the personal journey which is My Texas Odyssey will never end.
For me, nothing could conclude a series about Texas any better than Tanya Tucker's awesome tribute “Texas (When I Die)”, so I will leave you with that. Until next time, be well, and thanks for joining me on this journey. (And Go Cowboys!)