Men fascinate me, and have for, oh, I'd say almost the entire 57 years I've been on this spinning orb. Men are deftly driving behemoth trains and trucks, fixing failed computers, making music on guitars and saxophones and turntables, frying fish and jalapenos, grilling steaks and pork tenderloins, coaching teams of youngsters, writing books, kneading bread or shaping burgers, wielding a chef's knife or brush or a computer program or a camera or a potter's wheel or a hammer in the name of creativity—loving and working for their families, friends, their cities and towns—all while expounding and enlightening and entertaining and enlivening.
It won't surprise anyone who is a daughter or the father of a daughter that the first man who fascinated me was my Daddy, George Frederick Henderson, whose nickname was inexplicably Dick, not Fred, Freddie or Rick but Dick—he was George at work, Dick at home.
Daddy's first job that I remember was building cooling towers—those giant fan things that cool water in wooden louvered buildings often seen beside factories or power plants. That job took the four of us to more than half the USA in just under eight years' time. We never stayed anywhere longer than three months and returned to Jackson the year I turned 10.
Often, we'd drive into the night, on our way to the next trailer park, towing our home behind us. I especially loved the night sky in Texas where the stars were poured across the darkness, twinkling and still in the wide-open space. One time Daddy and I were the only ones still awake—Mama and my brother, Howard, had drifted off in the back seat. The radio glowed just enough in the dash, casting a soft light onto the right side of Daddy's face, onto his hand on the steering wheel. Softly, he whistled along with the radio.
I remember thinking I was the safest girl in the whole wide world because my Daddy was there, because he could drive while surely the rest of the world was asleep, that he could keep up with exactly where we were and where we were going—in the dark before lit-up interstate highways crisscrossed the land.
I was enthralled, so lucky to be awake with him in that safe cocoon, my little-girl world fine and filled with the man beside me. He could have looked over at me at that moment and told me to hang on because we were about to drive up among the vividly visible stars, that only we two would ever know it had happened because we'd only be airborne for a few miles, and I would have believed every word of it.
Years passed, and my Daddy helped my Mama raise me so that I was capable of finally finding the next man who fascinated me.
I first laid eyes on him July 31, 1972, at auditions for an original play in a storefront play house in Kansas City, Mo. The Foolkiller and its hippie, commune crowd welcomed newcomers to try out for every new work that emerged from the mind of its leader. This one was entitled "Transcenmental Hippiedations." It was a time loaded with transcendental meditation, and gurus were everywhere.
At the tryouts, there was this one guy with rich, russet brown hair pulled back into a long pony-tail with a cloth-covered band, bell-bottom hip-hugger pants and a wide dark leather belt, a thick not-quite-handle-bar mustache, a wonderfully broad muscled chest, an infectious smile and the cleanest sandal-clad feet I'd ever seen on a man.
Before auditions started, I eavesdropped and learned that he had come from the studio, and, no, he hadn't heard from the stewardess this week. Well, I thought, he's a disc jockey with a "Coffee, Tea or Me" girlfriend. So. Talk about your snowball's chance in hell.
Always corroborate your eavesdropping—your entire future could depend on it. Turned out LeRoy Hanson was a construction laborer who wore heavy boots and thick, clean white socks all day—hence the beautiful feet. He worked part time in a stained-glass studio; he'd only had one date with that stewardess.
Early on, he could read my mind.
I remember one night after rehearsal, as a group stood around trying to decide where to go for some fun—I was thinking that LeRoy's got that El Camino, we could just put my bicycle in the back, drop it off at my apartment, it's between here and there—he looked at me and said, "Why don't we put your bike in the truck and drop it off at your place on the way? You could ride with me." Hell was looking mighty cool right then.
We were inseparable, from that moment on. It was like lightning struck, welding us together.
He could have looked over at me as we rode for the one and only time at opposite ends of that truck's bench seat, and told me we're going to be married in five months, have two splendid sons within the next six years, and move from Kansas City to Jackson and then to Houston, Tex. Going on, he could have said in just over 10 years time, I will look into your eyes, Lynette, as you sit beside my hospital bed and tell you not to spend too much on my funeral, to go home to Mississippi so your family can help raise my sons, that you and those little boys will make it without my physical presence because of all the moments that have gone before, filled with love and learning and life. And I would have chosen to believe the happily-ever-after parts only, not wanting to face losing the perfection we had found.
But happen it did. And survive we did.
Today, the two most fascinating men I know are our sons, Lamont and Leland, whose cosmic, genetic, learned-by-hearing-story-after-story connections with their Daddy are beautiful to behold.
Thanks, Daddy. And thank you, LeRoy.