Hank Reinhardt died today. Hank was a legend in Southern science fiction fandom, an expert in the field of edged weapons, and a founder of Museum Replicas. And Hank was my friend.
Hank had a reputation as an elder figure in fandom... the thing is, he was always an elder figure. When I first met Hank, there were jokes about his age. He knew so much about edged weapons, some would quip, because he'd been there when they were first developed. He joined the Society for Creative Anachronism when it was known as the Current Event Club. The first science fiction novel he read involved a man sailing around the Earth. You can supply your own "old man" jokes. Hank even threw in a few himself. Of course, he acted as if he was greatly bothered by these jokes... but he smiled all the while, and he seemed flattered by the attention. It was an act he perfected over the years, and he played it to the hilt.
Hank's first wife, Janet, died more than thirty years ago, and Hank was devastated. Some wondered if he'd be able to go on. Not only did he go on, he fought his way through the sorrow to start anew and raise his daughters in a loving--albeit quite unusual--home. Hank refused to let almost crippling back problems hold him back; he overcame them and continued an athletic, active life.
Hank was an active part of the original Atlanta Science Fiction Organization; two decades later, he was a friend and supporter of the Atlanta Science Fiction Club when I played an active role in its active years. He was involved in fandom as a writer, a columnist, and a raconteur. He was an editor and a professional writer. His knowledge of Robert E. Howard was voluminous.
Hank loved to play hearts. I have wonderful memories of evening spent with Hank, Ward Batty, Stven Carlberg, Sam Gastfriend, and others, playing cut-throat cards while guzzling iced tea with copious slices of lime. Hank took his cards seriously; he could tolerate jokes at any other time, but once the cards began to fall, Hank wanted the silliness to end. And he was good... better than anyone would tell him, usually.
More recently, Hank married Toni Weiskopf and made a very happy life for himself in the rural outskirts of Atlanta, cutting back on his workload and enjoying his life.
I lost contact with Hank about ten years ago; I kept planning to get together with him, but it never seemed to happen. And today, he left us as the result of complications from a heart surgery that was almost exactly the same as my surgery... except that mine went right, and Hank's somehow went horribly wrong, and he had to undergo a second surgery, and he never could recover. It happens sometimes... but it's not supposed to happen to healthy, active, vital men like Hank Reinhardt.
It makes me more aware of an awareness that's been coalescing for a while now. Death doesn't just deprive us of the presence of the person who passed on; it also denies us further involvement with the accumulated experiences that filled that life. Each of us has thousands of memories, awarenesses, observations, and events that define us, that make us unique; each of us has shared a small fraction of those memories, awarenesses, observations, and events with our friends and acquaintances, but we dole them out in small fragments--a few to these friends, a few other to family, a few to work acquaintances. Those fragments that overlap--those that we share over and over with a number of people whose lives intersect ours--help to define us to those who know us... they become the details by which people identify us.
But there are so very many pieces that have only been shared with one or two others--and there are some details that have never been shared with anyone. Some are secret... others just never came up, or are only remembered in glimpses and dreams. There are eventful meetings, poignant losses, personal victories, moments of joy and sorrow; there are childhood dreams fulfilled and unfulfilled, there are promises made that are kept and unkept. And when one dies, all of that dies as well. Our world is made smaller by the loss of the cumulative experiences of each and every death, and we can never recover that loss.
Hank's life, so full and varied and storied, is a life of a thousand thousand tales and memories and joys and sorrows. I only wish there were some way to hear them recounted, in Hank's bold, resonant voice, punctuated by the gravelly laugh that I will always remember when I see Hank in my mind.
(The picture above, taken from Hank's website, depicts Hank in more recent years, along with his loving wife Toni. I lament her loss.)