Stories: (#2) Elder Hendrickson's First Day
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|This is the second in a series of stories about the California Central/Oakland mission, which we have sent to each of our sons during the first few weeks of their missions. This story had been passed down through several levels of retelling and so I cannot vouch for the exact authenticity of all the details, but this is as it was told to me.
Last week, I told you the story of Elder Hansen. If you would like, I will follow up this week with Elder HendricksonÂs First Day. That is the same Bill Hendrickson who sent you that letter about his experiences in Athletics.
Elder Hendrickson was born into a family of 1 oldest sister and 7 boys. Bill fell in at about boy # 6. I believe he had one younger brother. His motherÂs name was Naomi. Naomi Hendrickson met and married BillÂs Father during the era of the second World War - Korean Conflict. Her husband had served as both a Drill Sergeant and also a war correspondent. While he was away, overseas, she was cleaning out the basement one day when she came across an old tattered book without a cover. She sat down and started to read. She read it all day and throughout the night and in to the next day. She was fascinated with it, but quite frustrated because the cover and first few pages had been torn out. She could not find out where the book came from or what it represented.
Sometime shortly thereafter (I think it was the next day or so), there was a knock on her door. Guess who? White shirts and ties x 2. They spoke with her briefly, not willing to enter the home of a single lady without a chaperone. However, what they said connected with the book she had read and she eagerly invited them back (with a proper chaperone) to tell her more. She was shortly thereafter baptized. During this time, she had, of course, been corresponding with her husband. Now, you have to put yourself in his shoes. Attractive, young wife home alone back in the States being ÂinstructedÂ by two young guysÂ
. Without the gospel, what would you think?
BillÂs dad returned home from overseas shortly after her baptism and within a day or so after arriving home, the Missionaries came knocking at his door. He came to the door, this tough, grizzled veteran, and looked down at the two young men dressed in white shirts, suitcoats, ties and (in those days) dress hats. One of the Missionaries said ÂGood morning Mr. Hendrickson, boy, we know how anxious Mrs. Hendrickson has been for you to return home, and we have sure been looking forward to meeting you!Â. With that, Mr. Hendrickson hauled off and whacked the Senior companion right in the nose. The Elder fell over backward into the snow, which was about 18 inches deep, in the front yard. Sister Hendrickson came in just as this was happening and immediately chastised her husband for his indiscretion. She related later that as she looked out onto the front yard, she saw the young missionary arise from the snow with his nose bleeding and a big lump rising over his nose and middle forehead. With a dripping, nasal rasp, he looked at BillÂs Dad and remarked ÂBrother Hendrickson, someday IÂmb goingk tuhÂ
Babptize you!!!Â With that, the Elders left and Naomi had some soul-searching words with her husband. About 2 months later, true to his promise, Elder Broken Nose baptized Brother Hendrickson.
Mr. and Mrs. Hendrickson had a baby girl about a year later. After the birth of their daughter, they were told by the doctors that Naomi could have no more children. This broke her heart as she wanted very much to give her husband sons, as well as to raise a large family.
One night, she had a dream. In this dream, she saw herself from behind. She saw herself standing in a doorway waving to someone in front of the house. As she peeked over her own shoulder from behind, she saw 7 young men in suits walking down the front walkway from the house she was standing in. Each of these young men had a set of scriptures in his left hand, by his side. In the right hand, each carried a sickle. They exited from a single file, each by the same small gate in front of the house. As they walked away from the front of the house, they fanned out into a huge wheat field across the street. As they entered the wheat field, each began sickling the wheat in turn.
When she awoke from the dream, she turned to her husband and awakened him to explain that they would have 7 more children, all sons. Â
ÂSure dear, whatever you say, now just.. go back to sleep OK?Â About a year later, they had their first son. By the time they had been married 10 years, they had all 7 sons (plus the daughter).
Elder Hendrickson loved to play baseball. From the time he was 7 or 8, he used to come home from school and spend much of the afternoon throwing a baseball core wrapped in electrical tape through a tire tied to the loft post in back of the barn. By the time he was a Sophomore in High School, he was All State. When he graduated, he was recruited into the Farm Leagues. These are pre-professional baseball camps in Central Florida where talent scouts have an opportunity to view young baseball superstars right out of High School and select for the Major Leagues.
By the end of summer, Bill Hendrickson had been offered a first year rookie contract with the Kansas City Royals, fulfilling the dream of a lifetime for him. When he returned to his home in Annandale, Virginia, he had just turned 19. His Bishop invited him into his office shortly after arriving home, and advanced a Mission Call. Now, this was a very hard thing for Bill. All his life, he had wanted to play professional baseball. However, also throughout all of this life, he had prepared to serve a Full Time Mission. The two ambitions were now in mortal conflict. Both could not survive. If he turned down the rookie contract, he would certainly never be given another offer. If, however, he accepted the contract, something told him he would never serve a Full Time Mission.
Accordingly, Bill sent a letter of appreciation to the Baseball farm league management and to the recruiting agent for Kansas City. He then proceeded to process his Paperwork and departed for his mission.
On the day he departed, his mother pulled him aside just before they left for the airport. He was just a bit hesitant about that as, well, you know how moms can be when their younger sons are leaving the nest. He did not want his Mom getting all emotional. She insisted, however, on a private moment with her son and just before leaving for the airport, he granted it. ÂI have something to tell you Bill. Something which I have told all your older Brothers on the very day each of them left for the Mission FieldÂÂ
She then went on to tell him about the Dream. The result of this was that instead of his Mother being the emotional one, Bill was. He sniffled all the way to the Airport.
After a tumultuous week in the Salt Lake City Mission home (which is another story that I must tell you about sometime), Elder Hendrickson arrived in the Central California Mission Field. His first assignment was to Madera where he would serve with an Elder Randy Hansen (whom you know something about from the last letter). Elder Hansen was of the opinion that the best way to break in a new greenie missionary was to take him out tracting, first thing. Accordingly, upon arrival to Madera, Elder Hansen put Elder Hendrickson in their little Chevy Vega and drove down into the east side of town with brand new, unscuffed suitcases still in the trunk.
Madera is an agricultural town in the San Joaquin Valley. Every year, many migrant farm workers transiently settle into the east side to work the fields during harvest. There were low cost housing tenements constructed for this purpose. It was in one of these areas that Elder Hansen decided to start Elder Hendrickson on tracting. After taking the first few doors and showing Elder Hendrickson how to do a proper door approach, Elder Hansen turned things over to Elder Hendrickson for his first door. Bill recalled how nervous he was in his brand new suit and the new silk tie his mom had just given him. He recalled a large, shirtless Mexican man coming to the open main door and standing behind a screen frame door with a big hole in the middle. This man had a large tattoo on his chest and he was clad in baggy trousers with a thin belt around his waist. He looked to be in his late 20Âs or early 30Âs, and he was as big as Goliath. After Elder Hendrickson finished a somewhat hesitant first door approach, the man of the house remarkedÂ
Â Hey, Gringo, do jyou know whhhat I theenk of peeeple like jyou who chome to my house and try to tell me about Releeegion?Â And with that, the big Mexican man gurgled up the nastiest lugger in creation and spit it through the hole in the screen door down on to Elder Hendrickson, splatting smack dab on his rather diminutive chin and rolling down onto his MotherÂs brand new silk tie gift. As he watched the nasty wad roll off his tie and onto the side of his pants before spattering lightly to the ground, he closed his eyes and thought Â
..ÂTWO YEARS OF THIS?!?!?!?!?Â As he was in the process of fomenting that thought, he recalls being pushed aside and hearing the voice of his big cowboy companion, Elder Hansen, say ÂHey Hombre! WhatÂd you do that for!! DonÂt you know that this kid came all the way from the East Coast just to tell you something which you obviously need to hear very muchÂ
where do you come off doing something so humiliatingÂ
Â. They got into a little chat which probably stayed non-violent thanks to the fact that Elder Hansen was at least as big as the Mexican fellow was.
Later, Elder Hansen led Elder Hendrickson back to the street and sat down on one of those deep curbsides which doubled as irrigation conduits in San Joaquin Valley towns. He saidÂ
ÂLook, Elder Hendrickson, people in California are just not like that fellow back there! That is probably the worst door you will have your whole mission. Just think, you got it over and done with right off the bat. Come on. WeÂll just finish this street, and head back to the apartmentÂ.
Elder Hansen took all the rest of the doors on the street, until they came to the last one. As they approached, Elder Hansen remarked ÂElder Hendrickson, why donÂt you take this door? IÂm sure something special is waiting for you after that first reception you hadÂ
With that, Elder Hendrickson knocked on the door. It had a screen front similar to the first one, but unlike the first house, the screen on this door was intact and, with the afternoon sun setting to the west behind them, the screen formed a reflective glare that made it impossible to look into the house. After knocking and giving his approach to the individual who had appeared behind the screen, Elder Hendrickson heard a low, soft spoken voice mutter something ÂGet offfffffÂ
Â Elder Hendrickson could not hear clearly what this Fellow had answered and so he asked ÂExcuse me sirÂ?Â
ÂGet off my mphmm mppmphÂ
Â As the reply was still very muffled, Elder Hendrickson moved his ear right up next to the screen door to hear what the man was saying. He heard now, very clearly the man sayÂ
ÂI said, get off my porch before I blow your head off!Â As his shadow fell across the screen, Elder Hendrickson could see, just inches from his nose, a HUGE gun barrel pointed at him! With that he replied in a bit of a whisperÂ
ÂYes sir, of courseÂ
Â And proceeded to slowly turn and edge back off the porch. About that point he heard Â
ÂGowaaan Mister, if you was gonna shoot, youÂda done it by now. Course, I know that, but this kid doesnÂt realize it. You see, he recently gave up his whole world just to come here to this place and leave you with the most important message you will ever hear in your life, and you have gone and done this thing. I stand here to tell you , sir, that someday, you and I will come together before the judgment bar of God, and I shall testify of what you have done here this day!Â
With that, the two missionaries went to their humble little second story apartment, with a big dip in the floor, and unpacked Elder Hendrickson.
Now, after such an agriedous first day one might think that Elder Hendrickson had been pretty much wasted as a Missionary. Quite the opposite. He served with great distinction, testifying in State Criminal court as an eye witness over an alleged minority beating, serving as District Leader, Zone Leader, and finally, as an Assistant to the Mission President during which time, I had the privilege of calling him my companion. Before leaving Madera, Elder Hendrickson helped baptize the Crown Prince of the Nation of Gana, Africa who went on to bring the gospel back to his own people in Africa, baptizing literally thousands in the first few months of his returnÂ
But, that is another story. For now, I must bid you good night, and send all of our Love to you Son.
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