“I was born in Alva Oklahoma, Woods County, on January 13th, 1946. On a Friday. With a fuulll mooonn!” Being born on Friday the 13th seems to fit Henry; and the number 13 tends to follow him through life.
His family moved to Southern California when Henry was going into the 6th grade, making the trek from Oklahoma to the Golden State as their predecessors had in The Grapes of Wrath. “According to family stories, hearsay evidence, our family had been going out there since I was 6 months old.”
But this move wasn’t like the plight of the Joad family in the John Steinbeck novel. Late 1950s Southern California wasn’t a bad place for an Oakie transplant entering puberty. Music was cutting loose. “Between 1955, when I got to San Bernardino, and 1964 when I went into the service, there were 15 different music changes on the radio.” Times were good.
Television was gaining popularity. Henry remembers watching Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, and The Mickey Mouse Club. “At the neighbor’s house.”
When he grew older and bolder Henry and his friends started hopping freight trains in the Barstow area, and on the San Bernardino “Cajon Pass.” “It was easy catching trains going up the pass, ‘cuz they’re going so slow. Different story heading down.” Henry has a good laugh.
But it wasn’t all fine times, and one day as he was getting close to graduating high school Henry found himself in front of a judge. It wasn’t the first time. “Judge’s orders: Four years in jail, or four years in the military service of your choice.” Henry chose the Navy.
He graduated boot camp and was assigned to the USS Carter Hall (LSD-3), a ship originally commissioned during World War II. “LSD stood for ‘Landing Ship, Dock.’ We were a floating dry dock. If a ship got torpedoed or hit at sea, they could patch it up so it didn’t have to go all the way back to Hawaii.
After delivering their cargo to Da Nang, the ship took its place at sea. Henry was given his high school equivalency diploma. “I graduated high school on a Navy ship. With a GED.” Henry was stationed in Da Nang on an LCU1313, a landing craft unit, for three years. He began to notice that the number 13 was popping up in many places. “Seems every unit I was assigned to and any other numbers I was given was either 13 or added up to 13.” But he served his time and in 1968 was honorably discharged as an E2. When asked if he thought about reenlisting, Henry just shook his head and grinned. They would not allow me to re-enlist.
He was flown back to where it all began, and landed at the new Ontario International Airport near his home in San Bernardino. “They always return you to where you were recruited.”
“Nobody knew I’d returned for two weeks. I liked it that way.”
Time to begin the next chapter. “In 1968 I went to Blythe in the Imperial Valley of Southern California, where I drug canals.” In 1970 Henry got married for nine years.
Henry drifted a bit but landed with something he knew from his youth, the railroad. The Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, immortalized in the song The Rock Island Line, and eventually referred to simply as The Rock. It was one of the major western railroads (passenger and freight) covering over 10,000 miles of track from South Dakota to the Texas Gulf when Henry hired on. “I liked the railroad. Did a lot of things in a lot of places. But I got laid off in the early 80s, after they went out of business.”
Henry worked in the construction trades, homebuilding, landscaping, auto machine shops, metal fabricating and sculpting studios. “And whatever odd jobs I needed to do in between.”
In 1995, Henry moved to Fort Collins. He’s been in Larimer County ever since. He lived in houses and, on two occasions, he had to live on the street. Henry adopted some dogs: Bearisha (Jack Russell Terrier/English Rottweiler), Samson (tri-color Blue Heeler), Cisco (big Black Lab) and Chung-Tao-Li (Lhasa Apso). They are his family. “I might be down to three pretty soon. The oldest one is 13.” There’s that number again. “I used to write short stories and poems and I also painted. I had good clothes and other things.” But he lost all that when the house he was living in caught fire. When asked what happened, he just shook his head and said, “It burned.”