Tag Archives: Smoot Chute

A Father’s Day tribute to Dad

17 Jun

I was thinking about Dad today.  He’s been gone about 14 years now, but his memory and legacy live on in the lives of the Hendrickson family… and the many who knew him.  So I decided to write a little tribute to him on this Father’s Day.  It’s about his ‘homeland’… the island world that greeted him when he entered this world.

Long Island is a 7 mile long island in the middle of the Mississippi River just below Canton, MO.  Three families lived on the island in the early 1900’s.  My grandfather and grandmother and their 5 children were one of those families.  The children’s daily trek to school involved rowing across a small river in the middle of Long Island, walking across Bullock Island, entering another boat and rowing across the main channel of the Mississippi, then walking 3 miles to school in La Grange, MO… and of course they had to follow the same path when returning home each afternoon.  The family lived there until Dad was 12 years old.  As you can imagine that created many stories that were told to the next generations.  The telling of those stories happened on countless occasions through word of mouth… and through a book that my father Jack Hendrickson wrote, entitled; True Tales from Mark Twain Land.

I can remember camping on Long Island when I was just a pup.  We had a 16’ aluminum boat filled with cousins and aunts and uncles and a boxer dog.  I think there were over a dozen of us in that boat. WAY OVER LOADED!  The water was only inches below the gunwales.  Everyone had life jackets but we all knew how to swim.  We rowed across the main channel and about 3 miles downstream from Canton.  Once there, we set up camp on one of Long Island’s sand bars.  Then we traipsed through the itching weeds and undergrowth and swatted myriads of mosquitoes with small leafy branches… all because we were on an almost religious trek back to ‘Mecca’ – the old home place.  The aunts and uncles told big stories that seemed bigger than life to us kids.  It was magical and high adventure.

Much later in life, Dad hired a fisherman to drop off he and my family at the North end of Long Island… then that fisherman returned home.  At the end of our adventure we were going to swim back to a landing on the Illinois side.  Dad told us stories as we walked down the island about a mile to the old home place.  He told us of the white gate… the screech owl… the escaped prisoners… the escaped circus bear… great-grandpa’s fatal fall out of the persimmon tree and if it hadn’t been for great-grandma the pigs would have eaten him, etc.  We walked down the dry bed of what used to be Bullock River and finally arrived at the mound where the house and barn used to stand.  Other than the mound itself, the only evidences of past civilization are some sizable concrete pieces of barn foundation.  Dad told of fun interactions with his siblings, butchering livestock, the cow falling down the barn steps and breaking its neck, rope swinging off of the house roof into Bullock.  He recounted swimming back across Bullock after rounding up the cows from the south end of Bullock Island… they’d catch a cow tail and let the cow pull them across.  Lots of mesmerizing stories that held us all spellbound.

He showed us a humongous sprawling cottonwood tree that was there when he was a kid… 60+ years earlier.  Somewhere over the years he brought a start from the wild rosebush that was near their home on the mound… and planted it at his home in Quincy.  In later years, I got a start of that same rosebush and it grows in my back yard to this day.  It’s vines are fairly unruly and it only blooms about 2 weeks out of the year… but boy is it fragrant!!!

Map of Long Island

Map of Long Island

After hearing all the stories about the old home place, it was time to return home.  We headed across the island to what was left of the old Tenvorde white house to cross the Canton Chute.  We had all been carrying life jackets for swimming back to the Ursa landing on the Illinois side of the river, which was about a mile downriver.  Our 3 boys, about 6 and 8 and 10 years old, were with us.  So Dad, Debbie my wife, the boys and I plunged into the river.  I told everyone that they had to swim like the dickens so as to make it safely around the head of Shandrew Island… otherwise we’d get trapped drifting down the wrong channel that would probably take us most of the way to Quincy!!!  Well, you probably already guessed… those kids soon pooped out.  So what was I to do???  It was going to be up to me to get those kids back across the Canton Chute channel.  So I took off my life jacket and shirt, tied a strap of it around my waist and then let the life jacket, straps and my shirt trail behind.  The boys had to grab any part of it and at least kick… AT LEAST KICK THEIR FEET!!!!!  A caravan of bodies was trying to cross that river.  So, I did back strokes the whole way as I towed them behind me like so much dead weight.  (I’ve swam across a channel of the Mississippi 3 times in my life.)  But guess what, we made it safely and perfectly to the Ursa landing, right where we had left our car.

That was the last time my family was on Long Island.  But just a few months before Dad died, I borrowed a small boat and motor.  I propped him up in cushions and made sure that he was as comfortable as possible.  He and I motored up Canton Chute and Smoot Chute to the head of Long Island… and there we began halfheartedly fishing… (neither of us were avid fishermen).  You see it wasn’t about making a great catch today, it was about spending quality time.  We lazily drifted, catching as many eddies as possible, all the way back to Ursa landing… several miles.  It was very touching for both of us…….. we knew this would probably be the last time he would see his beloved world where he began life’s journey and had lived so many life-forging experiences.  We talked heart… and easy… and tenderly.  It was a precious event in my life… to take a fading generation back to his ‘homeland’ and give him and his homeland the time and value they deserved… to allow time-honored golden memories to slowly emerge up out of the deep places of his heart.  We both knew we were having an epic and timeless encounter.  It satisfied his longings to be with his homeland… and it satisfied my desire to give him… and his life, esteem and honor.  No rush, no push, nothing in particular to accomplish except to be together one last time… near his precious memories.

I think we caught one or two fish that day… which we enjoyed back at the house that evening.

Reliving and retelling his early-years always caused Dad’s eyes to light up.  During his last 9 years before departing this earth, those wonder-filled Long Island memories inspired him to craft True Tales book.  Long Island had formed a boy into a man, and given a soul character, and that character and his God had held a life secure and unshakable in times of testing and shaking.  Less noble men would have likely shipwrecked… or at least capitulated.  I treasure those facets of his life-moorings that became inextricably woven into the fabric of his life.

One of his greatest desires was to pass his venerable values and principles on to the next generation.  Well… I think he did!!!  All of our family (my mother, my sister and her husband… my wife and our four children and their spouses) are passionate Jesus lovers, are involved in ministry (music and speaking), travel the world, and love to give Jesus away wherever we can.

Thank you, Dad!!  Great job!  A life well lived.  I’m so proud of you!!!

— MLH