Remembrances of my brother: some of which I said at the celebration of his life

 

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 I’m Newell, Brad’s little brother.

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I thought I’d tell you some stories about Brad’s life before he came to Carbondale. Then I’ll talk a little bit about his recent trips to Boston to visit me and a few other things I have on my mind. But before I talk about Brad, and I know Brad would want this, I want to talk about our father.

George Braddock Hendricks Sr. was raised on a farm as an only child. His parents died when he was a teenager and the farm was mortgaged up to the hilt, so he walked away from it. He earned money playing the sax – at first in speakeasies during prohibition, then in vaudeville orchestras in LA. He quit music after his first year of marriage. The whole time we were growing up, my father was taking night school classes to become an engineer. George was the most humble person I have ever known. When he died last year at the age of 102, there was no memorial service, and that’s exactly the way he would have wanted it. But he was one of the most competent men I have ever known. We grew up in a beautiful 2-story colonial house that he built pretty much by himself. And he had never built a house before. If you measure someone by the distance between their humility and their competence, I’m pretty sure there is no one on this earth that would grade out higher than George.

Neither Brad nor I inherited his humility. But to the extent that either of us had character, we got it from George.

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My sister, Ann, Brad and I were born one year apart – Glendale High Classes of ’58, ’59 and ’60. Even though we were born close together, we grew up in three very different eras. Ann grew up in the ‘50s. I was a late bloomer and woke up as a flower child of the ‘60s. Brad was in that transition period, the era of James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause. Brad was James Dean. Maybe not as good looking, but a better driver, so he survived.

Brad and I led very different lives. I went to church – still do. Brad, not so much. My career, if I had one, was as an opera composer. Again, not really Brad’s comfort zone. And as kids, we had very little to do with each other. I was an introvert, a spaced-out little kid. Brad was your basic juvenile delinquent. You’ve seen his facebook picture with the black eye? I think that was his first driver’s license picture.

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We lived in Verdugo Woodlands, a little valley that led into the town of Glendale in Southern California. It’s a narrow valley with hills on either side. Our house was close to the hills. I don’t how big the fire was that Brad started – maybe 400 or 500 acres. It was a real fire. And I don’t think he really wanted to steal a car – just take it for a ride. But then he, or probably one of his buddies, crashed it.

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Barbara, my wife, says that Brad was a risk taker. Most of you remember him jumping on Gus’s skateboard, flipping and knocking himself out. That wasn’t the first time he had done that. The streets on the other side of our Valley were all dead-end streets that went way up the hill. Brad had a paper route where he had to climb every one of those streets. You couldn’t coast down those hills on your bike for two seconds without using your breaks, they were that steep. Around 1952 we built skateboards by taking apart our metal roller skates and nailing the wheels on a 2’ 2×6. Those little metal wheels did not ride very smoothly on asphalt. But Brad had to go up the steepest hill and try to skateboard down it. I don’t know how many bones he broke, but I called him scab for about 6 months.

Once, in boy scouts, Brad had the idea to climb a 50’ fir, tie a rope around the trunk near the top and get the rest of us to pull hard enough that the tree would bend over. Then we were to let go all at once and he would get a ride.   We pulled until we cracked that trunk in half.

When my father retired as scout master, we gave him a book with a page from each kid in the troop. Brad wrote on his page “I bet I know a doctor in every county we’ve ever camped in.”

Brad and I fought constantly, physically and verbally. My father was sure one of would kill the other before we grew up. I mentioned about Brad’s paper route. Brad never asked me to do anything, he ordered me. One day, a day when Brad had his clarinet with him (yea, Brad played the clarinet – not very well) he didn’t want to lug his clarinet up and down those hills so he said

–           Newell, take my clarinet home.        

–           I’m not taking your clarinet home.

–           I’m going to leave it here on the sidewalk and if you don’t take it home someone is going to steal it and it will be your fault.

–         I’m not taking it home.

–         Neither am I.

Brad rode off and I walked off. Later that night, at dinner, I asked Brad where his clarinet was. My father drove back and found it on the sidewalk.

Brad liked his independence and he liked to have money, so he always worked. One summer he worked as a roofer. It was pretty brutal work in the summer sun. So they worked early hours and quit in the early afternoon. That left most of the day and night for Brad to party and be in no shape to get up the next morning. We shared a big room. My father had built a partition in the middle, for obvious reasons, but it was still one room. Brad would set his alarm to go off at 6:00, but would never hear it. He told me that it was my job to wake him up

–      Newell, you’d better wake me up or I swear to God I will kill you.

 So there I’d be every morning at 6 AM with this hibernating grizzly I had to wake up. But it wasn’t really that bad a deal. I had permission to do almost anything to him. One method was to get my bike set up outside the front door, leave the door open, go up the stairs and open our door, get a pitcher of water and pour it on him and head out of the house as fast as I could slamming doors behind me – jump on my bike and head down the hill before he’d catch up to me.

Eventually, around the end of high school, we developed a little respect for each other. Brad always had cars, and occasionally he would loan me his car. One time it was for the church high school Halloween treasure hunt. He loaned me his 1928 Model A. If you ever borrowed anything from Brad, or bought anything from him, you know about the half hour explanation of what is wrong, how to fix it if this or that happens – that there’s an equipment violation out but receipts for parts in the glove box, etc. The Model A had really bad brakes and Brad had taken off the front bumper so if you bumped into someone, the tires would hit and wouldn’t do any damage. But it was pretty sweet driving a car full of kids around town in that Model A on Halloween night.

 His main ride was a ‘55 mercury – lowered down about 4 inches off the ground. He’d slump down and cruse around. He loaned me that car to go to my senior prom.

Brad hatted the jocks and their coaches. I think he had a bad PE teacher in junior high who had his pets that had played little league and made fun of the kids that didn’t know how to play. So brad always avoided gym classes and never played any sports as a kid. I think he really resented those gym teachers for not teaching what they were supposed to teach. I think that’s why Brad was so enthusiastic about slow-pitch soft-ball here in Carbondale in later life. 

But Brad did run cross-country. We went to a huge high school so he was on the Junior Varsity team. He never practiced and did OK in the meets. Before the league final he went up to the coach and said

–           Hey coach, what will you give me if I win this race?

 There were about 100 kids in the race.

–           You win this race and I’ll buy you a case of beer. 

Brad came in second. Both were pissed. Brad didn’t get his case of beer and the coach realized that Brad could have been his best runner.

The plan was for the three of us to go two years to the Jr. College a mile from the house, then my parents would give us $100/month for room and board to go to a state college. Brad started Glendale Jr. College as an engineering major and flunked out after a year and a half. But I remember kids calling him all the time asking him:

–       Brad, how do you do #15 in the homework?

–       Homework?

He’d get out his book and figure out the problem and explain it. But he never did the homework himself. My father worked for the state highway department, so Brad took a civil service exam and went to work as a surveyor for the state.   He took his money and went to Europe for a year. When he came back, he stayed an engineering major and became the absolute master of the C-.   He would look at the course syllabus and figure out the absolute minimum amount of work he would have to do to barely pass. I swear, he spent more time doing this kind of time-management than he did studying for the courses, but it worked. He got through Jr. College with a C- average. The University of Hawaii and Arizona State were the only two colleges that would accept him. Hawaii was too expensive, so he went to Arizona. 

3 stories from the Arizona State years

Brad had a regular date, I think it was weekly, with an older gay man. This guy figured he looked better if he was with a young stud, so he’d pay for Brad’s dinner and drinks while he checked out the place, and when he had made eye contact he’d tell Brad:

–      OK, I think I got one. You can go anytime. See you next week.

Brad was in a musical production at Arizona State – West Side Story. There’s a scene of a gang fight between the Jets and the Sharks. I think the director saw Brad walking around campus and said:

 –        Now there’s a shark if I’ve ever seen one. I have to have that guy.

 And the last story. There is a time when the recruiters come to campus and all of the seniors sign up for interviews. Brad couldn’t bring himself to sign up. The last day of recruiting, at about five minutes to five, Brad walks in the door. Only one recruiter was left, and he was closing up his briefcase.

–            Did you sign up for an interview?

–            Nah.

–            Were you looking to have an interview?

–           … yea

–            … … Want to go get a beer?

 And he got the job, with a really good firm, Slumberger.

I won’t talk about his time with Slumberger, in Ventura, or here in Colorado, or the Northern Territories, but he wrote me some pretty good letters that winter. Brad was a really good writer

We always assumed Brad would be the first one to die, because of his bad heart. But about four years things changed – my prostate cancer metastasized into my bones.   I wrote a long essay on my thoughts about the world and my place in it and sent a copy to Brad. He wrote back:

I read through the attachment and was struck with similarities and parallels to my life and situation. People have always told me we were much alike and I mostly don’t see it, but sure see myself in some of your writing if I were: a) A better writer. b) A better thinker. c) A better human being. d) Had any ability for faith or the structure of a church of any kind. e) What am I thinking of? I’m entirely lacking in this match-up. I would love to go right through your letter and comment my thoughts but don’t know if I have the discipline. There’s f) of what I don’t have right there. Discipline.

As you can see, Brad was a pretty good writer, so I wouldn’t count on his evaluation of any of the other areas except for maybe the church thing.

Brad took his role as big brother very seriously. He started coming to Boston to visit. At first he made excuses. Once he called me:

–          Hey Newell, I saw a pick-up in Boston advertised in a magazine. Would you take look at it for me and tell me what you think of it? 

Yea, right, like I’m going to check out a truck for Brad. He flew back, spent a week with me, bought the truck and drove it home. That was an expensive visit.

But then he started coming pretty regularly to make sure I was OK.

By the time Brad had his first heart attack, he had created enough of a sense of community around him that people here threw a party and raised enough money to pay for his hospital bill in Glenwood. I think he wanted to make sure that I had support back in Boston. He even came to church with me once. I think he was satisfied that I did have a good supportive network.

The last time he came was just last month. He stopped by Boston on his way to Virginia, spent a day with me, flew to Virginia, did his hiking and spent another day with me on the way home – May 20th. It was a really good day. We went to my oncologist, then he sat with me while I had my chemo injection. On the way home, we were on the “T” and he said

–        Let’s go down to Quincy Market and get some clam chowder.

Quincy Market, Boston, and Brad orders Manhattan clam chowder. But we ate and walked out on a pier, found a bench and talked for about 2 hours. I am really grateful that I had that day with Brad. That was Tuesday. He died on Thursday.   That weekend Barbara and I went to our land in western Massachusetts to put in the garden, so I wasn’t in church. But I left a message for my minister that my brother had died that week. I’ve heard this from 3 or 4 different people, that when the announcement was made during concerns and celebrations that Newell’s brother, Brad, had died that week, there was an audible gasp in the sanctuary. The thought that this incredible life force no longer existed was a shock to those who had barely met him.

Brad was bigger than life. I know he carved out a unique place for himself here in Colorado, and I have somewhat of a unique presence back in Boston. I think it has been said of both of us: 

–        When they made Hendricks, they threw away the mold.

But when Brad came to visit me in my world, or when I came here to visit Brad, and people saw us talking with each other, or arguing – remember I had gone toe to toe with him for 15 years – it often happened that people would open wide their eyes, drop their jaws and say:

–           Oh my God! There are two of them.

Actually there were three of us, George, Brad and me. Now there’s only me.

May11 

In the Bible there’s a tradition that when the eldest son dies and leaves a widow, the next eldest takes that widow as his wife, and cares for the family. That presents certain complications in our society. Maybe… not any more than … I think I’ll leave that one alone.

But I have told Jane, Harmony, Hilary, and Heidi, that I intend to be more present to them now that Brad is gone. And I want to take this occasion to make that a public commitment. Especially to you girls, for outside of you, I’m the closest thing there is in this world to Brad. And today I want to make the public commitment that I will be that presence in your lives for as long as I live.

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About Newell Hendricks

I have lived a good life. Maybe a counterculture life, maybe a normal life. I have written operas, built houses, been involved with cross-cultural education between Latin America and the U.S, and hardly ever had a job I have helped raise two wonderful children with my amazing wife. It's been a good ride. And I go to church. I've just finished a book of stories from my life, I am still connected to an organization in Nicaragua that promotes sister relationships between communities, faith communities, or schoold, and to the extent that my cancer doesn't pull me down, am attempting to share some of what I have learned, or at least tried out. Welcome, and let's share.
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One Response to Remembrances of my brother: some of which I said at the celebration of his life

  1. Melinda Ellison says:

    I really love this story and I’m very grateful to have met you, however briefly, and to know Brad’s girls still have you. Harmony is like a sister to me and I always loved Brad as well, it’s great to hear this version of his life story.
    -Melinda

    Like

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