Shared Stories: My Dad's Hands

We are sad to report that a longtime member of the memoirs class, Owen Heninger, recently passed away. Owen was a talented man in so many ways: knowledgeable, creative, well-read, and with a rich personal history. He was also very modest about his accomplishments. Owen’s writing reflected his joy of life, and everyone looked forward to his stories when it was his turn to share.

Growing up in Provo, Utah, during the Depression, Owen knew rural life, learning how to fish and hunt deer. As a teenager, he earned extra money by raising rabbits. Owen continued to enjoy outdoor activities all through his life, and he was proud of being an assistant scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts. He also belonged to that elite group of hikers who climbed Mt. Whitney.  

Owen was a man of science who followed in his father’s footsteps and became a psychiatrist himself. Owen attributed his successful rehabilitation from a terrible bicycle accident as a young boy to his father’s medical skills. As a psychiatrist, Owen explored the therapeutic benefits of poetry writing for his patients.

Readers may remember Owen’s last story, “Duffel Stew”, that appeared in this column. It described his emotional attachment to the duffel bag he acquired during his military service in the Korean War. The essay is a good example of Owen’s ability to shine a deserving spotlight, through humor, on an item and experience that, at first glance, seems quite ordinary.
Owen was a talented writer who liked to play with words and explore different genres. The prose poem below is Owen’s tribute to his father. Written nine years ago, the words reveal Owen’s love and reverence as they describe the arc of his father’s life.

Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns

By Owen Heninger, MD

My dad’s hands gathered eggs, milked the cows and churned the milk. They sloped the pigs, held the reins and were bronzed.

My dad’s hands pitched the hay, managed a plow and wielded a pick.  They hove a shovel, farmed the land, were strong and calloused.

My dad’s hands fired a gun, turned a wrench, held a salute and were disciplined.

My dad’s hands were pious, braced in prayer and carried “The Book of Mormon.”  They were ministering, devout and baptizing.

My dad’s hands held a pen, grasped Tennyson, griped geology and embraced science.  They split rocks, laid open a dogfish and were energetically steady.

My dad’s hands mastered a scalpel, dissected a cadaver and focused his microscope. They used a syringe, wrote prescriptions, delivered life and were accomplished.

My dad’s hands tossed us kids, froze ice cream and guided our family. They cleaned a deer, built my backboard, controlled his outboard, held a fishing pole and were resolutely brave.

My dad’s hands sewed up my cheek, cast my arm, sewed up my nose, cast my neck and saved my life.  They built our pulley chair, taped up my back, got me crutches and were confidently tender.

My dad’s hands superintended a hospital, helped us move and arrowed a deer. They wrote his memoirs, folded in repose and turned into mine.
Whittier, CA, April 2, 2006