My father-in-law, Reed Hendrixson, passed away on July 27, 2013. He was 91 years old and died with his overalls on. He had either been working in his garden or was headed that way when his time came.
Reed was a simple man. By that I mean he wasn’t complicated or hard to figure out as a person. I knew him for over thirty-five years and he was always the same. Presidents came and went during his life (16 of them), the economy fluctuated (the Great Depression to the booming post-WW2 years), trends and fashions flew by—but he remained the same. He was about hard work, doing the right thing, and treating people the way you wanted to be treated. He loved his family and He loved God. He enjoyed life. Everyone wants that last one, but Reed understood that you can’t enjoy life unless you do the other things first and he did.
A few weeks before his death, our son, his wife, and their five month old son (also named Reed), were at Cracker Barrel with Reed, his wife, Connie, and some other members of the family. Reed had the Old Timer’s Breakfast (which if you’re not an old timer when you start, you will be by the time you’re finished eating all that food). When he had finished he called for an onion that remained uneaten on someone else’s plate and washed it down with some coffee. As he was leaving the table, he paused to drink some of his wife’s coke, and then made his way around the table to some fried okra and had a few bites of that. (In telling me this later, my son referred to it as the Reed Hendrixson victory lap).
My father-in-law had just as big of an appetite for life. I suppose if you’re going to live 91 years that almost has to be the case. He enjoyed more good times than bad but he knew his share of difficult times. He grew up during the Depression and had to quit school in the seventh grade to help put food on the table. He served in Germany in WW2 and saw the atrocities when they went on in the concentration camps. During his prime earning years, he built up a business with two other partners, only to have one of them take off with all of the assets. Not only did he not become embittered about this, he paid off his debtors. Filing bankruptcy would have been the easy, understandable course of action, but he didn’t think it was the right thing to do.
A little over twenty years ago, he and Connie were in a car accident where their vehicle was hit by someone who was driving while intoxicated. She was in a coma for about a month and has never totally regained her health. But one thing she never lost—Reed’s attention and loving care. She had that for 71 years. He illustrated what it means to be there “in sickness or in health.”
Alan Jackson’s Small Town Southern Man describes him perfectly—right down to the man having four daughters and then a son. The first time I heard the song I told Janice—“Alan Jackson knows your dad!” The chorus sums him up quite well:
And he bowed his head to Jesus
And he stood for Uncle Sam
And he only loved one woman
He was always proud of what he had
He said his greatest contribution is the ones you leave behind
Raised on the ways and gentle kindness of a small town Southern man.
Janice had been up to see him two weeks before his death. She told me what a wonderful visit they had—how they had worked out in the yard with Reed zooming around on his riding lawnmower. Then they cleaned up, had supper, and watched “Big Jake” (a John Wayne movie). When news came that he had died, she said she was so thankful for the blessing of that final visit. At the funeral I mentioned this and said I hoped that everyone had that kind of a last time with him. Then I reminded them that if they belonged to Jesus, no matter how great that final visit was—it wasn’t anything compared to what their next visit with Reed will be like!
That’s gloriously true because we serve a living Savior.