by Barbara (Jeffries) Parmer
From the rambling, bittersweet paths that lead through my early life, I summon a well-remembered image, a beloved figure… bent, worn, stooped with age, but not slouch-weary. Reserved, patient, stubborn—proud, loving. He comes closer in my mind’s telescopic view and I can see him clearly now…small and bent, wearing a battered, sweat-stained old hat and his ever-present galluses and khaki work clothes, walking with his work-worn hands clasped behind his back.
He was the family bachelor to whom all turned for help; he lent money and gave advice. Many times he would say “’Pon my word, what are these young people coming to ?” I believe he had a clear view of what he wished for me to “come to”, a squalling, squirming infant great-niece who had come into his life after he had already passed sixty birthdays. I was to become a happy and successful young lady and I was to be loved unreservedly. He “spoiled” me terribly, my mother says. He would come home from his job on the B& O Railroad and looking for an excuse to pick me up, he’d say “’Pon my word, I bet this baby has not been out of her playpen all day.” And he would pick me up and play with me. As I grew, he would always have money for the geegaws and folderols that kids love and later he helped indulge a teenage girl’s fancy for clothes.
He was a gentle man of few words and fewer harsh judgments. While others around him might lean toward stringent indictments of the faults of neighbors and relatives, he was more generous in his assessments. Although not a regular church-goer, he lived by the Biblical exhortations “Love thy neighbor” and “Judge not lest ye be judged”.
I have many vivid memories of him, particularly on heat-shimmery summer afternoons. He’d take his fishing pole in hand and say “Think I’ll go up the crick”. After awhile, he would return with what he called “a mess of fish”—suckers and “baccer boxes”—which my aunt or grandmother would fix for breakfast the next day. I also recall the summer hours when I sat with him on our side porch swing and looked at clouds and talked about their shapes and the animals they resembled.
Winter vignettes also come to mind—squirrel hunting with his old ’22, helping me memorize “The Night Before Christmas” and proudly listening as I recited it, teaching me old time sayings and nursery rhymes by the fire, playing checkers and letting me win because I cried when I lost. One special winter memory is of a doll bed fashioned by his hands in his secret Santa workshop, and waiting under the tree on Christmas morning. Other cherished remembrances crowd my mind—the Cinderella watch he bought me, the Christmas tree he annually cut and dragged off the hill, the vanilla ice cream which appeared in my sick room when I had the flu.
Those happy, busy years of my growing-up were short. He become lonely at the end of his life because those whom he had loved for so any years died or left the home place. I left for college and would go to see him on weekends in a lonely and empty house with only his dog and the TV set to keep him company. Physically, he began to fail. His body simply wore out and his ailments worsened and accumulated. I finished college and went to another state to live. And on a Thanksgiving Day, he died and left all of us who loved him with the emptiness one feels when a good man is not more. His community paid him a tribute in the county newspaper which is an appropriate epitaph for him. It said: “He was friendly, kind, a good neighbor, indeed a gentleman in every way.”
Rest in peace, Uncle Heater.
July 8, 1883-November 25, 1966
At the top of the page is the author Barbara (Jeffries) Parmer with her Uncle Heater and her brother Tom Jeffries.
At the lower left is Heater Henline as a young man.
At the lower right is Heater and his sister Lula cutting up a bit for the camera.
Heaterhook Henlein was an old guy when I was a kid. I used to go down and sit on the foot [swinging] bridge and watch him sitting on the bank of the creek just down in front of his place with big old wooden pole and he'd pull up suckers one after another. Took me a long time, 'cause when you're little, old people seem scary, but I finally got up the nerve to ask him how come he caught so many more fish than I did. He said "it's the 'baccer juice. I spit 'baccer juice on the worm. He pulled his line out of the water and spit a little tobacco juice on the worm to show me how it was done.