The front door of my grandparents’ house was never locked.
You didn’t even have to knock when you arrived. You could just walk right in. It always felt a little strange to me, because I couldn’t imagine people just walking in to my own house. But my grandparents didn’t mind at all.
It was a grand house, with large, square brick columns that extended all the way from the ground to the roof. The never-locked door was the front of the house in name only, as it pointed east, while the home’s true face – its essence – looked out west over Big Lake in Mount Vernon. I loved that house as a child and I loved that house as an adult. I still love that house, and it is difficult for me to fathom that I will never again set foot inside its many walls.
It was a house filled with rooms, and the rooms were filled with things.
As a child, it appealed to me greatly because I loved the idea of a house that you could get lost in. It was an adventurous house, and you could look around and see new things every time you were there. There were secrets there, just waiting for somebody like me to retrieve them.
Every year they had a huge 3rd of July party that all were welcome to attend. The Big Lake Fire Department does fireworks on the 3rd at Big Lake, and the party was always huge and sunny with tons of food. I always think of fireworks when I think of Big Lake.
There was a pool table downstairs, and a leopard-print chaise lounge. The chaise was draped with an actual bear skin rug, which captivated me as a child. And there was a whole extra living room down there. You could be down there and do whatever you wanted, even if you were a kid. There was freedom there, because all the adults were upstairs in the other living room watching sports.
That’s where my grandfather was.
Any time I picture my grandfather, I visualize him in one of two places. He is either in the living room of his lakefront house, in his chair, or he’s behind his desk at Hendrickson Realty. In both places, he always held a lanky brown “More” cigarette in between his fingers, usually with a full ashtray lingering nearby. At home, a can of Budweiser accompanied the cigarette like a chaperone. At the office, it was coffee.
My step-grandmother, Ida, held an identical pose.
My grandfather, Willard M. Hendrickson, was an intense man. He was a force of nature. He was a perfectionist, who expected perfection from others. I always viewed him as a strong, imposing man, even though from my earliest memories, he walked with an unsteady gait from an injury long passed that left him without depth perception. He spoke of the incident often, but I can’t recall whether it was a logging accident or something that happened to him as a paratrooper in World War II.
His gaze was often steely, sometimes mischievous, but always filled with life and fire.
Even on his deathbed.
All my life I felt very close to him. Out of everyone in my family, I feel I am most like my grandfather.
Even though there were many places inside the Big Lake house that I never saw my grandfather go, every corner of it absorbed his essence. It breathed and expelled my grandfather’s air. It too, was filled with life. There was a huge aquarium at the top of the stairs, inside of which was a round fish that swam lazily. And there was always a myna bird named Joe, who conversed with my grandfather often.
I have a million stories about my grandfather. By the time I was born, he had gotten divorced from my biological grandmother, Elsie, and had been married to Ida for almost a decade. Grandma Elsie lived in Depoe Bay, Oregon, with my step grandfather, Captain Stan. As a kid, I felt very lucky. I had a whole extra set of grandparents on my father’s side. Not everybody had that.
After Willard and Ida had been married for a while, they decided they wanted a child of their own. My grandfather had four kids with my Grandma Elsie; my dad, my uncles; Norm and Rich, and my aunt Diane. He and Ida adopted a baby girl and called her Wilida, cleverly combining both of their first names. When she got older, Wilida started going by the name Wendy instead, but to me, she was always Wilida. I don’t think she liked the name very much, but I always loved it.
I bet there’s nobody else in the world named Wilida.
I loved having an aunt that was only three years older than me. None of my friends had aunts that young. When I was a kid, my grandfather bought a small RV, and they’d take Wilida and I on trips.
That’s how I know that despite his demanding nature and brave face, there were things that gave my grandfather pause.
On one trip, for whatever reason, we drove through Depoe Bay. I’ll never ever forget it. As we drove down U.S. 101 we passed Tradewinds Charters, which was owned by my step grandfather, Captain Stan. Grandma Elsie was in there, helping customers. I could see her rosy cheeks and the red hat she always wore. But we couldn’t stop – my grandfather would not. It felt so odd to be in Oregon, driving right past my grandmother, with her never knowing I was there.
I think we went back at some point, and spent time with Grandpa Stan, but only after Elsie had died.
When I was older, I lived at the Big Lake house. I got my real estate license and worked at the family business. To get my license, I had to take a course and pass an exam. My grandfather never for a second doubted that I passed that test the first time I took it. There was simply no question in his mind. I was not so sure. I was terrified. It was a hard test. I was sure I had failed.
But I passed, and he looked at me with undiminished pride.
My grandfather and I would drive for hours all over Skagit County. My week-long real estate crash course had left me ill-equipped to sell vacant land, so my grandfather filled those gaps.
He would sometimes say that I reminded him of his daughter, Diane. My aunt Diane died in 1981, when I was 11 years old. I remember her only in bits and pieces. I wish I could have known her better.
You have the Hendrickson gene, he would tell me, as though it were a coveted prize. I’ve often laughed at the curse of the “Hendrickson gene,” but maybe it’s not all bad.
Willard was a brilliant man. Nobody can argue that. All his kids are brilliant. He may not have been spry enough to exercise in his later years, but he never stopped studying things and learning. He was passionate about information. He was forever an entrepreneur, which makes perfect sense to me now. I can’t ever imagine him working for another person. This is something else I can relate to very much.
I never would have thought of myself as having an entrepreneurial spirit, but this past year has taught me much about such things.
I have a million stories about my grandfather, but I have one that is my favorite. I can’t remember exactly how old I was when it happened, but I vividly remember the aftermath: my grandfather’s knees, torn and tattered, covered in wounds that looked vicious and unruly, even as they were healing.
He had been off exploring properties located along an old logging road, which is something he did frequently. He was a logger for many years, before transitioning into real estate and land development. His first office was in Smokey Point, which he later relocated to Sedro Woolley. He knew those old logging roads like the back of his hand, he knew about land, he knew where you could drill a well and where there wasn’t any water for two miles down.
As he got older, I admit he belonged behind the wheel less. His issues with depth perception made driving a challenge. But he loved challenges and he was stubborn. I’m the same.
I wouldn’t want to stop driving either.
This time, he had adventured west of Big Lake, winding up some old logging road, until his car veered off into a ditch that he couldn’t get out of. He left the vehicle and tried to walk out, but walking was not his strong suit. I forever worried about him walking up and down the narrow, steeply-pitched stairways in the Big Lake house. He always seemed more-than-slightly unsteady on his feet.
He walked as far as he could, down what was likely a silent, narrow road of dirt and rocks, and when he couldn’t walk any more, he got down on his hands and knees and crawled. The details are murky to me now, and I would kill for a written account of what happened. I bet you anything there was one, somewhere, at some point. He may have been lost overnight, but I am not 100 percent sure of that.
He was gone long enough that my grandmother became worried and sent people to look for him.
I can guarantee you one thing; giving up would have never occurred to him. “Lay down and die” is something that would have never entered his mind – not even for an instant. He walked as far as he could, and when he couldn’t walk anymore, he crawled. There was blood running down his knees as rocks cut into his flesh, and he continued to crawl.
Eventually, somebody found him, and rescue was at hand. By the time I saw him, he was back in his chair, proudly displaying his wounds of battle.
And even after all that, he never stopped exploring his properties, his logging roads, his territory. I know this because he did it all the time when I worked with him. I know this because it was in his blood.
One time, we were somewhere north of Sedro Woolley, and he showed me a house that was entirely underground. We laughed as we thought about the people who lived there, mowing their roof.
The story of him crawling his way down a deserted logging road is one that I relate to very much. I crawled my way out of addiction in 2012 and was left empty and shaking but with hope. I built a new life which was blasted into rubble in January of 2017, and I’ve spent the past year clawing my way out of a selfish, reprehensible pit of self-indulgent misery. I didn’t last five seconds on my feet before I was forced to crawl, painfully, inch by inch.
Some days, I still feel like I’m crawling.
When you want something bad enough, and you can’t walk, you crawl. It’s just what you do.
My grandfather died on September 11, 2007. He had fire in his eyes even as he fought death. He talked about going in to the office, and I don’t doubt that had he been able to crawl, he would have tried to get there. I miss him. I wish he could have read my work and I wish we could have talked about property rights and land use and the Growth Management Act (GMA). I wish I could visit his house, and breathe in some of his will and spirit, but the house is lost to us now.
I don’t know exactly how it happened, but nobody named Hendrickson owns property on N. West View Road in Mount Vernon.
My mom and I discovered this just a few months ago.
I hopped onto the county assessor’s website. People I have never heard of before in my life now own 23924 N West View Road. It is unbelievable and shouldn’t be. It just shouldn’t be.
I have a million stories about my grandfather. This is only one of them.