Memories of Dad

Ten years ago today my father Carlton Hendrickson passed away. Instead of remembering his death, I would much rather remember some of the things that make me smile. I am the oldest of seven children, the youngest was born when I was 25. As his first born I feel like we had a special connection. I’m sure my siblings have different memories of him but these are mine.

My early memories of him are rather vague. I remember that he had multiple jobs and worked very long hours but he still made time to spend time with us. Simple things come to mind like picking blackberries with us in the backyard, playing board games, playing baseball or taking us to the “Airplane Park” in Monroe.

After watching Saturday morning cartoons with my siblings, my dad would come out and join us to watch Creature Features which aired cult classic horror and sci-fi movies. We didn’t go out to the movies often but when we did we could count on him to take us to see something cool like Escape to Witch Mountain, the original Star Wars movie, and best of all the 1970’s Island of Dr. Moreau. I suspect that is why I still enjoy horror and sci-fi genres and old supernatural movies.

Most of my memories during the 70s and 80s with Dad were always tied to his siblings. My dad played for the Waldbaum’s softball team. He didn’t work there but three of my uncles did, and I remember thinking it seemed more like a family team since just about half the members were Hendrickson’s. After watching the game we would usually picnic, have a barbecue afterwards or the gang would head over to someone’s house where everyone would spend the rest of the day.

Dad and his brothers
Dad (upper right) and his brothers, Paul, John and Richie, June 1976

Our families got together as much as they could especially on weekends and holidays. When they did, Dad and his brothers played pinochle. They were obsessed. My siblings and cousins and I liked to call it “Pea-Knuckle” because they took the game so seriously that they banged their knuckles on the table every time they threw out a card. We could always hear them giving each other a hard time and arguing if they didn’t like someone’s move. They hated losing! The games would go on into the late night even if us kids were all cranky and wanted to go home. They never wanted to stop playing. Sometimes Dad and my uncles would come out and show us how to pitch quarters to give us something to do (gamble) while they played a while longer.

When I was about 14, I started working as a cashier in my dad’s fabric store in East New York on weekends and full-time during the summer. On the ride to work, Dad listened to 1010WINS over and over again. To this day, the slogan is crystal clear: “You give us 22 minutes, we’ll give you the world” and “All news. All the time.” That 22 minutes would play at least 3 or 4 times each way. It used to drive me crazy! Working at the store seemed pretty grueling at the time. There was no heat, no air-conditioning, no place to sit, and the days were very long. My dad worked seven days a week, 10-12 hours a day, most holidays, and in a dangerous part of town. It gave me an appreciation for how hard he worked to support our large family.

I remember that in high school math wasn’t my strong-suit, but while working at the store Dad taught me how to calculate yardage at a price and with tax all in my head. Imagine calculating 12 3/4 yards  at $2.69 per yard and then adding 8.25% tax all in your head! And it wasn’t how I learned it in school – Dad had his own system. I didn’t exactly do better in math class and I certainly can’t calculate math in my head the way I used to, but it just goes to show that there can be multiple ways to get the same results.

Dad at the fabric store
Dad at the fabric store

Even though the work was hard, and the hours were long, I considered myself lucky because Dad was fun to be around and I got to spend weekends and summers with him.

I worked at the store through high school and college until one day when my Dad told me I shouldn’t work for him anymore. He said he didn’t send me to college so I could work in his store and that it was time for my brother to step in. So, I was out. Around the same time, it was suggested that I move out. I had just finished college and was still living at home, so it was time to go. As I was apartment shopping he kept telling me that I would hate living alone. I felt like it was his way of saying that he was going to miss me.

I can’t remember when it started, but sometime in my early twenties my father started taking me to the track at Belmont Park to bet on the horses. It was fun and time I got to spend alone with him that didn’t involve work. I was always told that I looked exactly like my father and the track is where I found out for sure. Dad went off to place a bet and I was wandering around when a woman whom I did not know came up to me and said “You must be Carl’s daughter! You look just like him.” Turns out she was an old family friend who hadn’t seen me since I was a toddler. My husband later told me that I looked like my dad wearing a wig!

From pitching quarters and going to the track, we moved on to trips to Atlantic City. Dad would get free rooms and comps for food so I really only had to come up with a few bucks for gambling. Our birthdays were really close to each other so we always went to the Hilton or the Showboat since we were regulars there. The casinos would give us free rooms, food, and sometimes small comps at the table games. Once in a while there was a party for regular patrons with a nice dinner and parting gifts. It was fun and I was happy to have one-on-one time with Dad.

Dad was a smoker – 2 packs a day. One time at a family reunion while playing softball with some family members, I remember him hitting the ball and as he round the bases he grabbed his chest but kept running. We all stood up freaking out that he might be having a heart attack. That wasn’t the case. He had his cigarettes in his shirt pocket and didn’t want them to fall out. In relief, we all burst out laughing. Dad always had to have a pocket in his shirt, for his cigarettes.

Desiree Hendrickson and Carlton Hendrickson on wedding day
Dad and me on my wedding day, 31 October 1999.

Just after I moved out I met my future husband George. I don’t remember when exactly, but sometime before we were married my Dad took me aside and said “That George. He’s okay. He’s a little weird, but he’s okay.” When the big day came I knew my Dad was not well, but no one told me the doctors wanted to schedule surgery for him just days before the wedding. He had that surgery during our honeymoon. I didn’t know until we were on our way back. I found out that he put it off so he could be at the wedding and that he didn’t want me to worry during my honeymoon. I can’t really express how much it meant to me.

With Dad’s health declining, he retired and moved the family from New York to Florida in 2001. I didn’t get to see him as much after that but we would fly down when we could. Dad would call regularly, mostly when I wasn’t home and he would always leave a message on my answering machine that would start out the same way – “Desiree, it’s your father…” It would always give my husband and I a good laugh. Somehow it always reminded me of Darth Vader. I wish I had been able to save some of those messages.

Mom and Dad visited in 2011. We had recently fixed our roof. That’s all I had to say and within a few minutes later he was up on the roof trying to see if the guys did a good job. Of all people that man should not have been on the roof. We were all freaking out until he got down.

But that was the type of guy he was. Even when his health was poor and he was retired he always seemed to need to do something even if it meant doing things he shouldn’t. He always looked for that get-rich-quick scheme whether it was playing lotto, flipping houses or bargain shopping at garage sales. That was his thing and how he spent his retirement.

Dad winking
Dad winking at me while on the phone, about 2008.

When I went down to Florida to visit, we would wind up playing “cods” or dominos or watching sci-fi on TV. Even with the volume on the TV at full-blast it didn’t matter to me as long as I got to spend time with him.

Dad was a winker. Sometimes he would wink as a silent hello, but most often it would be when he was teasing Mom. He would give me a wink and then a little laugh. I can’t remember the conversation he was having on the phone in this picture, but I remember that at one point he started to speak up just loud enough for Mom to hear what he was saying, just to pull her leg. I got the shot at just the right moment. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one he winked at but it always seemed like a secret language between the two of us. It’s one of the things I miss the most.

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