This will be longer than the one-minute fiction rules stipulate. But the picture of the old typewriter reminds me of my father-in-law, who, unfortunately, I never got to meet.
My father-in-law passed away a couple of years before I met my wife. She told me about him and believe me he was quite a character. She told me several times that my slang and colloquialisms reminded her of him. I grew up just a couple of hours north of his hometown, so we probably do share some of those traits.
He was also an engineer having worked at the aerospace division of my company, Rockwell, while I worked on the automotive side. Hank, as she called him, worked on the Apollo missions, the booster engines, and several other neat projects before he retired. His retirement came shortly before the shuttle program was launched.
Hank was born in the Eastern Kentucky coal-mining region, in the town of Maysville. It sits on the Ohio River across from Aberdeen, Ohio. While Maysville is small, Aberdeen is what I call a “blink town.” You blink once and you missed it passing through. My wife and I visited there on the way to my mom’s funeral in 2019 to see where he came from. It was a nice enough place, but nothing spectacular to write about.
At some point, Hank wound up in Texas. His birth mother had passed away and his father remarried. My wife doesn’t know much about his childhood years as the family didn’t document or talk about themselves for future generations. What happened in Texas or where ever, stayed there. Her family tree is rather bare on her father’s side.
We do know that there was a possible adopted child in the family. We found papers alluding to the child but nothing to indicate it survived long term. That part of his story is still a mystery. We also know he got married in the territory of Arizona – yes, territory, not state. This marriage didn’t work out well but there was never a divorce. That little tidbit of information would come to light many years afterward when my mother-in-law came to live with us. It seems Hank married my mother-in-law without the little piece of paper saying wife #1 was officially out of the picture. Oops! What can I say? Hank kept things to himself, and he hated conflict.
After he and my mother-in-law split, he moved to Utah for his health. He had a severe case of asthma and felt the Utah mountain weather would suit him more than staying in LA. When he got there, he decided to study his illness and began to keep track of his daily routine. Being an engineer, he kept track of humidity, temperatures, air quality, what he did that triggered an attack. You name it, he kept track of it. Hank was so thorough in his records that he submitted them to a medical magazine as a research paper.
The old typewriter he used to type all of his notes was an ancient Royal model. One of those heavy, big, bulky typewriters that weighed as much as a printing press. My wife and I have it stored here at our home. It still works but you need fingers the size of Popeye’s arms to type on it. Typing takes a lot of persuasion on the keys to work, and you won’t be clicking along at 80 words per minute.
We still have his notes and some correspondence from his submission. Hank was a secretive guy, but he did leave his notes and research behind for his family to read and enjoy. When one of our cats begins to act a little goofy, we chalk it up to Hank chasing them around the house. We say “hi” whenever we see the cats acting that way.
I wish I had known him. My wife often remarks we would have gotten along very well. Hank built stuff hell-for-stout when he made anything. We have a stool he made you could rest a car on and not crush it. I’m the same way. I over-engineer things; am very fussy about details when working on a project, and drive my wife nuts. I get involved in a project and don’t listen to anything going on around me. I know it’s a really bad habit, and I’ve tried to get better about it. But, I’m an engineer, what can I say?
That old typewriter brings a lot of warm memories to my wife. It’s a comfortable way to remember someone she misses every day. Maybe someday Hank and I will meet to swap stories and be ornery together. I hope there are no rules against that on the other side. I’m looking forward to it.