Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Silencing the Thunder

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.)


Janice said...

Gerry Page had been keeping us informed about Hank's post-surgical complications but I hadn't seen anything for a couple of days so I guess I should have known...

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.

I was very glad that I got to see Hank at the LA worldcon last year. He twitted me about giving a DSC Hearts tournament away to Guy, and that happened in 1978!!!

This hit me hard - brought back a lot of memories of my days in Atlanta.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

My one memory of Hank Reinhardt is of meeting him at some small convention I was attending with you and Ward. On learning I was a karate instructor and a student of knife fighting, Hank immediately began talking to me about knives and knife fighting like we were old pals. (We were both armed with blades as it turned out.)
Later, I remember coming across a short story Hank had written in an anthology called Barbarians, edited by Robert Adams, and thinking, 'Hey, that's Cliff's Friend."
You make a good point about all that we lose when someone we care about dies. There's a void where they used to be that's larger than the person himself. I wish now I'd had a chance to talk about Robert E.Howard with him. I'm sure we'd have had fun.

Kimberly said...

". . .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."

This is such a beautiful, poignant homage to your friend. The family losses that you and I have suffered over the past 5 years have opened a door to the true appreciation of a life lived and the impact that the loss of life has on us in many more ways than just the day-to-day grieving of that person's physical presence.

I can honestly say that I am lifted-up to know that your life was so positively enhanced by Hank's being in it.

Ward Batty said...

Hank was the first "adult" friend I ever had. For several years, in the 1980s, I got to play hearts on Fridays at Hank's. It was my first regular game night and it somehow marked my entry into the adult world. We'd start around 8 or so and the game would generally run until deep into the next morning, often sunrise and the fact the kids would be waking up was our cue to finally leave. I was lucky enough to be in the middle of the pack enough that what I paid to Hank I mostly got from Pat, so I could afford these evenings.

Maybe because Hank had daughters and no sons he was available to a lot of us who met him as men coming of age and it gave us another role model in addition to our own fathers. But he was also a friend. You weren't equals, you'd never be able to beat Hank in a fight or a hearts game, but once his superiority was acknowledged in these areas, you just had such a great friend and resource for advice and support.

They didn't make men like Hank anymore when Hank was born and there certainly aren't anymore coming in the 21st century. When was Hank born, Cliff and I were trying to guess but he's been "old" so long that the idea of affixing an actual number seemed unnecessary.

I haven't been in touch with Hank too much since he moved to Oxford. But he was there when I most needed him and, looking back, I suspect those hearts games were as good for him as they were for us. No matter what else was happening, Friday nights were an oasis of pure fun and set a pattern for what a night of fun and games can be that has followed me to the weekly boardgame group and that still plays every week, 22 years later, and beyond.

Michele said...

Hi. The Druid Hills High School class of 1968 is planning a reunion. Do you have contact info for Sam Gastfriend, who you mentioned in your post? Michele Alperin (alperinma@aol.com)

Anonymous said...

Sam G. was a friend of mine too. But Internet research shows that he died in an auto accident in May 2006. Shortly before that, he wrote a book called "Manifest O" under the name of Samson Orion.

Geneva (Geni47 at aol dot com)