Monday, July 23, 2007
My namesake passed away from cancer yesterday. Wayne Henley was my daddy's best friend in grade school and however far along in high school they got. He worked for a trucking company that went bankrupt and so he moved to Madisonville, KY near his wife Bobbi's family and for a decade or so ran a general store. We hardly get to Kentucky much since my Grandaddy Grover died in 96, but we were in Shelbyville in the summer of 03, and with several nudges, I was able to get Wayne, Bobbi, and their oldest son David, to make the two hour drive to my Auntie Dorothy's house to surprise my dad. It was fascinating to hear them talk, about as close as I ever got to being inside the head of one of Nelson Algren's Division Street characters, as they talked about when my dad lived on Willard Court and how they'd each walk a mile from opposite directions to meet at Peabody School and hang out. No one had cars, no one had much money. How they were visiting my mom and her younger sister Ceil and had to jump from a bathroom window when my Uncle Ed showed up home from work early. (Ed and Flo took care of mom and Ceil after their parents died around 1935, though no one really knows how my mom's mom died or where she went, she just left). I like that memory best, I had been aware of some of their misadventures already. We had exchanged letters over the years--Wayne and I--his letters were always in pencil on unlined paper, mine often bemoaning how little news I had to impart. In just the past two weeks, I've been emailing another son, Jeff, and playing catchup. I dedicated FIENDS BY TORCHLIGHT to Wayne, and when he received his copy, he decided to tell me about his cancer, but I was at work and my father spoke with him instead. Jeff gave me more details, mainly that his daddy lived 19 months longer than the doctors expected. I did one good thing, one correct and right thing, just this once. Wayne pestered me that summer four years past to write a western story, as he loved westerns, read them on his front porch every day. I told him that I'd create a character and call him Gun And A Half Henley. As I fought my brain to write the story, I would visit the Gallery Bookstore on Belmont and purchase early Elmore Leonard and Loren Estleman westerns and send them southward. I finally wrote the closest thing to a western I ever would, a kind of small town monster story where everyone flees but the sheriff, which of course had to be called "High Moon." The character is Wayne in an abstract way, because the events and thoughts revolving around why he is called Gun And A Half (one hand is crippled up)have no bearing on his true beliefs. I threw in a bunch of werewolf in-jokes such as naming a nearby town Talbott, things like that. Some of you reading this might not realize that about a dozen of my published stories are set in Shelby County, Kentucky. Well, now you know lots of things. I'm proud to hold Wayne Henley's name.