Over the lengthening years of my life I have lost many friends and family members. Some moved on, sometimes I moved on. Some were killed by war, accident or disease, and some were far older than me and time took its toll. But Hank’s death was much harder on me than most.
I grew up with a very large extended family. My four grandparents had over forty siblings. Most of these family members were very prolific; however, my parents were the only surviving children of their parents. But many of my grandparent’s generation lived to be well over one hundred years of age. By the time I was a teenager I had a family of many hundreds of members.
This also meant I attended many funerals. Some months I attended more than one on the same day, and most months had at least one. I was no stranger to losing people I liked and loved. But Hank’s passing was like losing my own brother and best friend at the same time; therefore, writing about him is difficult.
On the positive side, our adventures together were great fun, and I will continue to remember the good times with him in some of my stories. Here is a short one.
One afternoon I had a message waiting for me at a company store I was visiting in Alabama. It was from Hank, and it said he was on his way to do some fishing in Montana. If I could meet up with him in Billings in a few days, we could find out what kind of fish were in the Yellowstone River. I was leaving that afternoon for Cheyenne, Wyoming for a business meeting, but I could take a couple of days to fish up in Montana after it was over.
I flew into the airport at Billings and rented a car to drive down into the city (the Billings airport is high up on a plateau above the city) and catch up with Hank at the hotel where he was staying. When I drove into the parking lot of the hotel, I saw Hank getting out of his car with a big ice chest. I let him struggle with it while I unloaded my baggage and headed in to get a room. About an hour later we met in the lobby.
“I just talked to the chef, and he’s going to prepare dinner for us with the trout I caught today.”
Dinner that night was great. I can’t recall a better trout dinner.
About 4:30 the next morning we left to drive to his fishing hole where he assured me there were more fish than we could handle. However, when we got there, we couldn’t find a place to park. Apparently this fishing hole was known to more than just Hank, so we drove up the highway a few more miles.
We stopped at a small coffee shop for breakfast, and while we were discussing where to go fishing, a gentleman came over to speak with us.
“I couldn’t help but overhear your situation. Around here the best fishing spots are on private property, and you have to know someone to go there. But if you don’t mind me tagging along, we can go to my ranch, and I’ll show you more trout than you’ve ever seen.”
It seems that we hit the jackpot. We finished breakfast, and an hour later we were fishing. Hank sat down on the bank beside the gentleman and started talking. Before long they discovered they had family ties through marriage. I don’t know how that worked out, but apparently they were some kind of cousins. And we had a permanent invitation to visit and fish just about anytime we wanted.
Hank seemed to have relatives everywhere. Over the few years of our adventures, we were joined in Tennessee by a cousin, in Utah by an uncle, in New Hampshire by a, uh, another relative, in New York by his grandfather, in California by some other relative, and in several other places by various family members.
We fished until early afternoon when hunger began to talk to us. After packing things back into the car, Hank and I followed his newly found cousin to the ranch headquarters where lunch was being provided for the nearby workers. For those hands farther out, a truck would be delivering boxed lunches for them.
The afternoon was spent just talking and having fun with our host. He was a fourth generation rancher, and his wife was a fifth generation rancher. Hank’s connection to them was never clear to me, but they figured it out and talked for a solid hour about people they both knew.