Wednesday, February 5, 2020

A word about Maynard

If you’ve spent any time around me, you have most likely heard me crack wise about my in-laws. If you’ve spent any time around them, you would accuse me of understatement.

But one person you’ve never heard me joke about is my father-in-law, Maynard Hennings.

There are two reasons for that: 1, there are only a couple topics off-limits, lest my wife catch word of it, and one of them is any slight toward her father; 2, there’s just no material there because he is such a solid man.

Was. He passed away Sunday night at the age of 84.

Maynard was one of those few guys who I don’t know a soul who could say a bad word about. He was a simple man, but not simple in any derogatory way. Simple, as in the kind of man many of you know, blue collar, devout and unheralded. They’ll never lower flags to half-staff statewide for guys like him, but they should. They don't interrupt your television show with breaking news of his death, but they should.

He worked thirty or so years at Morrell’s until they went on strike and never considered crossing the picket line. He worked many more years as maintenance man at the Cathedral and school before retiring. He was married for over sixty years to the same woman (sorry, no mother-in-law jokes today).

He spoke little, but I suspect he did earlier in life. That was before he had a son and four loud loquacious daughters. Then there was no dead air left to fill. So he just sat back and took it all in. The noise, the laughter, the arguments, the young, dumb son-in-laws.

Maynard and I were never super close or shared any deep thoughts outside of the Minnesota Twins and where the fish were biting. But I always admired him from across the room. I always had the feeling he looked at me like one would look at a three-legged chicken. Kind of like he was wondering about the private-college punk who thought he was hot stuff and what his daughter saw in a guy who couldn’t change his own oil.

But I grew on him, in large part because I gave him three grandchildren. Katie Jo, as he was apt to call her, and Rylee and “Luker,” another pet name used by him. Grandchildren were his thing and he had a ton of them. Sure, he loved his kids, but he adored his grands, and they him.

Fishing, hunting, his dogs (and mine as the photo shows Maynard sharing his ice cream with Stanley) and his grandchildren’s sporting events were his passions. The athletic events were about the only place I heard him speak much, sometimes loudly, and it was primarily directed at the officials and umpires. While he never uttered a cross word about anybody else, he saved them for the folks in striped shirts.

Maynard himself had been a very good athlete, serving as running back for some of Coach Bob Burns’ best Washington Warrior teams in the 1950s. Burns called him “Crazy Legs.”

And Maynard’s grand boys never failed as athletes – in his eyes. If they were tackled, it was because the pulling guard missed his block; if they missed a shot in basketball, it was because they were hacked. Every one of Luke’s pitches was a strike, no matter how high and outside, and if one happened to bean the batter (as was too often the case) it was because the batter "was leaning over the plate.”

He shared his love of hunting with the boys too. As my kids will attest, I was never keen to offer excuses for them to miss school or practices. Yet Luke convinced me a couple times to excuse him early so he could go antelope or turkey hunting with his grandpa. It meant so much to him.

One day I asked him: “So what do you and Grandpa talk about in the turkey blind for eight hours?”

Grandpa would’ve been proud of his one-word answer: “Life.” That's a lucky kid to have had that opportunity. I wish I could’ve had that talk with Maynard when I was 15, or 25. Might’ve done me some good.

Rest in peace, Maynard. You were one of the good ones.

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