Henry Connor McKinney at 100 years
My father would’ve been a hundred years old today. September 4th, 1911. Born premature at a pound and a half in a Florida cracker homestead. Central Florida swamps, raised hard in the tropical heat. Two hundred years of Florida family history. I have the letter his principle wrote for him after he graduated from the 8th grade. “Henry is a good boy,” he wrote to potential employers. A different time, a different world.
Daddy served in Panama with the Army Corps of Engineers during the ‘Uprising’ of Twenty-Nine. A boy of seventeen. Came home during the Great Depression to find everyone starving to death, so he joined the SeaBees and fought his way through World War Two, having a couple of ships shot out from under him to wind up in a hospital in San Fransisco, shipped home to Florida at the end of the war.
My mother drove down from Tennessee at the age of 14, because her daddy told her “you’ve got to do it.” So she brought her share cropper family down here to find a better world.
She met my daddy not long after. She’ll be 91 in two weeks. I talked to her today. Still powerful, still living alone with her dog, Cody.
Mom said she never knew people ate fish that small until she married into my daddy’s family. There, they had the ‘coke bottle rule.’ If it didn’t fit into the mouth of a Coke bottle, it was big enough to eat.’
Daddy loved music. It didn’t matter to him, we listened to it all. Hank Williams, Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett. He took us to the drive-in every Friday night to watch the double feature. He’d worked hard all week, and it didn’t matter to him if it was Francis the Talking Mule, Ma and Pa Kettle (with Judy Canova), or John Wayne. He bought us snow cones and had a toddy for himself. He’d just survived another week at work.
Daddy had no formal training, but he played a pretty mean piano, and could sing everything from Big Band to Honky Tonk. He introduced me to music. He listened to it all the time – on his truck radio, at home. Even after he bought that TV on a carpenter’s salary after spending a month parked outside Western Auto with us kids in our pajamas, watching a big Zenith through the plate glass window (sound coming through outdoor speakers as we sat in his 1953 Buick).
I’ll never know how he did it. But he loved music, loved life. Gave me a world of music that I’ll be grateful for the rest of my life. It gave me a freedom I’ll never under-estimate. It gave me Maggie, who I met in 1969 and still, after almost 40 years of marriage, makes my blood pound harder when she walks through the room.
And that’s what this blog is about. If we’re lucky, we inherit a passion for something long before we understand it. And mine is music.
Daddy was pretty cool at playing upright piano and singing all the songs he grew up with, and listened to on the radio. The songs he learned at war. The songs that meant something to him.
I’m the son of my Daddy. He died at the age of 47.
Music means the world to me. So, here’s a blog for Henry Connor McKinney. My dad. The reason I’m here, the reason I can cry while listening to good music, or hearing a well-spoken line. I’d be nothing without him. Thanks, Dad.