Today is the 121st birthday of my father, John Murdock Henderson. He has been gone for nearly half that time. He died in the “dark ages” of prostate cancer research. Subsequently I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and a series of radiation treatments were prescribed. We check the PSA every six months. The number gets smaller and smaller. To say it’s a cure is a bit gutsy but it’ll do for the time being.

My mother named me Gerald. When she took me to register for the first grade Jeanie Watson, the principle who also taught my mother, asked her, “Ruby, what’s your son’s name?” My mother said it was Gerald. I spoke up and loudly said, “No Mama, my name is Jerry!” – the only name I had ever been called. It was spelled with a “J” to match a favorite uncle’s name. Big Jerry – little jerry. I asked my father why he didn’t give me his name which I loved and still do to this day. I mean, John Murdock! What’s not to like? I know – I may be just a tad biased. It seemed that my mother had read a story in which the protagonist was named Gerald. She liked it. What could a kid do?

My father had six sisters and five brothers. His mother was a McQueen, a woman of Scottish descent. She had an uncle John Gunter who lived to 104 with a Yankee mini-ball in his chest. I don’t know what that’s got to do with anything except that it would have been nice if my father had inherited uncle John Gunter’s longevity gene.

He taught me to fly fish, hunt and drive. He believed I mastered the first two but he never believed I could drive a car. He was mostly concerned with my failure to leave enough room on the right side. When I was driving his body was in a constant cringe – trying to move the car away from the edge. He never said a word to me about sex. I dearly loved him.

Once somewhere in Kansas he was constantly complaining so much that I slammed on the break and got out of the car told him to go on. I vowed I would never get into a car with him again. I’ll walk, I cried. I began walking – in 1940’s Kansas! There was nothing in Kansas. Well, obviously mother prevailed and we drove on to Colorado and enjoyed a nice family vacation.

As a young man he was a telegraph operator on the Union Pacific Rail Road in Kansas. He met a man who taught him to cut hair and subsequently he spent the rest of his life as a barber with a thriving business in Baton Rouge. He was an honorable man. Honest and loyal to his beliefs and friends. He was an actual Christian. More importantly than all the above he was a committed family man, a loving father and husband. Whatever I tried he supported and encouraged me. I had permission and freedom as a child then that would be virtually impossible today. I was lucky and probably blessed.

John Murdock Henderson is seldom far from my thoughts.

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