Joe Henning, my good friend of the past 10 years, died last week. He was 62.
That likely means the demise of Sand Hill Media, the all-but-fictitious umbrella company started in our heads to handle all of the creative joint projects that were supposed to flow from my laptop and his pencil or typewriter. Joe occasionally answered his phone, “Sand Hill Media,” but that’s as far as the company got.
His sister bought him a laptop for Christmas a few years ago, but his only real use of it was to type up notes on his planned novel. Eventually, he fell on the laptop and cracked the screen. That may have poetic resonance of some sort, considering the favorite story told by some of his relatives at his visitation.
It seems that, as a boy of about 10, Joe once assisted John Wayne in apprehending some bad guys by covering the Duke with some fancy shooting from his BB gun, thus cracking the screen of the family’s black-and-white television set.
I guess the next question I face is whether I’ll kill off Ronnie Joe Morris, a fictional character I based loosely on Joe in a story I’ve started but not finished. That was Joe’s birth name. He didn’t become Larry Joe Henning until he was adopted later in 1953 by Henry and Thelma Henning when he was about 6 months old.
Larry Joe, as he was called by his mother, drank too much. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis sometime during the early “aughts” of this century. My wife, who has worked in the medical field since the late 1970s and often thinks she’s a doctor, assures me that steady drinking is not a good thing for MS.
Joe loved books. Until some time in December, he walked from his house to the Benton library and back four or five days a week. At the time, I thought the cold was just too much for him, but as winter turned into spring, he still didn’t feel like going anywhere.
Earlier this year, we were talking on the phone about the lost art of letter-writing and Joe said he couldn’t remember the last time he got one. So I wrote him a two-page letter, which consisted of nothing more than one of our usual rants. Maybe it was about people being ignorant because they don’t read anymore or perhaps the subject was the “community watchdog” function of newspapers not being filled by Internet news sites.
I waited a few days, but he didn’t mention the letter in any of our phone conversations. Figuring it shouldn’t take that long for a letter to travel from my mailbox in Little Rock to his in Benton, I finally asked him when was the last time he got his mail. “Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “Probably a few days ago.” So I told him he needed to check it. He was pleased with the letter, but it likely was one of those signs of change in his activity that we should have been noticing.
His sister found Joe dead in his chair last Monday morning. His memorial service was Saturday.
My character Ronnie Joe Morris used to drink, but had stopped. “I noticed one day that I seemed better-looking to women when I did’t drink,” he said, “so I quit.” He and the main character were in Missouri looking for an artist who had been missing for 20 years. I don’t know if Joe Henning’s passing will affect them.