“Hank,” Friend, Sept. 1991, 32
“Hank’s going to be our new Webelos leader?” I gasped to my best friend, Rodney. “Old Hank Thomas?”
“That’s what I heard Bishop Willis telling my mom. He said that Sister Franklin has to quit until after she has her baby.”
“But that won’t be for weeks,” I moaned. “Sister Franklin’s the best leader we’ve ever had. Why do we get stuck with Hank Thomas?”
Rodney dropped his chin into his cupped hands. “How’s Bishop Willis going to make Hank do it? He doesn’t even go to church.”
I had never seen Hank in church, although his wife came all the time. Most Sundays he was out working in his yard or driving around in his old green pickup.
The next day six of us Webelos sat on the church lawn, nervously picking at the grass and squinting down the street.
“I bet he doesn’t show,” I muttered.
“He still has two minutes,” Rodney commented, glancing at his watch.
“Here he comes!” KC shouted.
Sure enough, Hank’s pickup was rumbling toward the church. We all jumped up and stared, wondering if Hank would actually stop or drive on toward the DoNut Place, where he liked to hang out.
Hank parked his truck and climbed out. “Are you the Webelos that Bishop Willis told me about?”
One of us must have nodded. “Well, I guess I’m going to be your teacher.” Hank coughed, glaring at us. He pushed his hands deeper into his pockets and looked past us toward the church. “I haven’t been one to go to church much. Bishop Willis said we could have these meetings at my place.” He glanced at our bikes parked on the sidewalk. “Can you meet me over there in about five minutes?”
Nobody spoke as we all dragged up Hank’s driveway while he waited for us in his huge garage. We gaped about as we entered, eyeing the table saw, the drill press, the toolboxes, and the hammers, wrenches, and screwdrivers all carefully hung on the wall or lined neatly on shelves.
“Mrs. Franklin said I was supposed to teach you something about tools,” Hank announced. “I don’t know much about Webelos, but I know a thing or two about tools.”
Rodney raised his hand. “Brother Thomas, are we going to have a prayer? Sister Franklin always started with a prayer.”
Hank stared at Rodney. Rodney gulped.
“Just call me Hank, not Brother Thomas,” he muttered, rubbing his chin. “I guess we could all use a good prayer.” He pulled the battered baseball cap he always wore from his head. “So you give us one,” he said to Rodney.
Rodney gave a short prayer, and then Hank pulled a Webelos book from his back pocket and thumbed through it for a while. “Well,” he finally spoke, “according to this book, you’re supposed to learn to use a saw and a hammer and a few other things. Now all we have to do is figure out what you’re going to build.”
“I think all you have to do is watch us use each of the tools,” I offered. “When we were Wolves, we just had to hammer a nail and use a screwdriver to put in a screw and—”
“What did you make?” Hank cut me short.
“We didn’t make anything,” I told him. “We just had to know how to use the tools.”
“How did anybody know if you really knew how to use the tools if you didn’t make anything with them?”
“Well,” Hank muttered, “I’m not planning to watch a bunch of boys hammer nails and screw screws for nothing.” He studied us from under his cap. “What do you want to build?” When we all just stared at him, he grunted, “When I was your age, I wanted to build a coaster car.”
“What’s a coaster car?” Rodney questioned.
Hank glared at Rodney like he’d asked whether the moon was really made of cheese. “You fellows have skateboards and fancy bikes,” he said. “When I was a kid, we had coaster cars.”
“But we don’t know anything about building coaster cars,” I squeaked.
For the first time a gruff smile cracked Hank’s lips. “You’re going to know something about them before you’re finished being Webelos.”
I figured we’d just watch Hank work, but he didn’t even touch a tool. He made us do it all. Before that first day was over, we had ruined a few of Hank’s good boards, but we finally got the ones cut out that we were going to need.
The next week Hank was glaring down at his watch as we pushed our bikes up his driveway. “When I say three-thirty, I don’t mean three-thirty-two.”
We all gulped and nodded.
“Let’s hurry and get started,” Rodney said, trying to make amends for us.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Hank demanded.
We all looked at each other and then back at Hank.
Hank pulled off his baseball cap and bowed his head. “Rodney forgot to say his prayer.”
I don’t remember a Webelos activity ever going so fast. Hank had us measuring with a square, using his power sander, chiseling boards so they’d fit together. We did all the work, but Hank was always right there telling us the how and why of every little thing. “How long do you fellows stay around?” he finally asked.
“Oh, about an hour,” I answered.
“Well, you’d better head home then. You’ve been here almost two.”
We all looked up in surprise.
“We just got here,” KC protested.
“May we come over a little earlier next time?” Rodney asked shyly.
Hank thought a moment, then nodded.
From then on, we were there right after school.
Gradually our coaster car started taking shape. It looked like a race car with a square back. Hank took us around to bicycle shops and junkyards until we found some good used bike wheels. He showed us how to fix the axles and mount the wheels. We cut the legs off an old kitchen chair and mounted it inside the car. Hank had an old steering wheel he let us use.
Some days we didn’t work on the car. One day Rodney asked why lumber was so expensive. Hank piled us all into his truck and took us to a nearby canyon. He had us hike up into the trees and told us why certain trees grew where they did and why some kinds of lumber cost more than others. The next week he took us to a sawmill and showed us how the lumber was made.
At first we were a little afraid of Hank, but after a while, he was a friend. Rodney and I stopped by his place one Saturday and stayed most of the afternoon. Pretty soon we were stopping by all the time. Sometimes we’d talk. Sometimes we’d help him in his shop or his yard.
One afternoon while Rodney and I were playing a Little League game, I glanced at the stands, and there was Hank cheering for us. I never played a better game, and afterward Hank took us to the DoNut Place for a soda and an eclair.
“Sister Franklin had her baby last night,” Rodney announced one afternoon when we were heading to Hank’s for Webelos.
We all stopped and stared at him.
“Does that mean she’s going to be our Webelos leader again?” KC asked.
“I really like Sister Franklin,” KC said, “but shouldn’t she stay home a while longer and take care of her baby?”
Finally we finished our coaster car. It had a sleek wooden body and polished bicycle wheels. We painted it blue, and on the side, in big green letters, we wrote: WEBELOS WINNER.
The next afternoon we hauled it over to the hill at Adams Park and took turns coasting down. It was better than any skateboard or fancy bike.
As we were lifting the car back into Hank’s truck, he announced, “I guess Mrs. Franklin’s about ready to take you fellows back.”
We were all quiet for a long time. Then Rodney asked, “Is there any way you can be our Webelos leader all the time, Hank?”
All of us held our breath. Hank turned away. “I was just kind of filling in for Mrs. Franklin. I think she’d feel pretty bad if someone took her job.”
“Oh, Bishop Willis can find her another job,” I assured him.
Hank chuckled. “The bishop has to decide that, boys, and I think he wants someone who will go to church and—”
“You can go to church,” Rodney spoke up. “Anybody can go to church. If we’d known you wanted to go to church, we’d have asked you a long time ago.”
Hank smiled and shook his head. “I don’t know anything about going to church.”
“We didn’t know anything about making coaster cars until you taught us. We can teach you about going to church.”
Hank shook his head. “People would drop over dead if I showed up at church. They’d wonder why I was barging in after all these years.”
“You could tell them you showed up to … well, to …” KC stopped and scratched his head. Suddenly he brightened up. “You could go to hear me talk in Primary! I’m giving a talk this Sunday. Honest.”
“Yeah, you could go to hear KC’s talk!” I burst out.
Hank slammed the tailgate of his truck and rubbed his chin. “Boys, it’s been a long time since—” He swallowed and shook his head. “No one would want to see me in church.”
“We would!” we all yelled.
“Honest, Hank,” I said. “And we want you for our Webelos leader too. You just have to.”
“We’ve built your coaster car. What else would we do?”
“We need another coaster car. How are we going to have races in just one car? And how are we going to build another car unless you help us?”
“What would the bishop say?”
“We’ll take care of the bishop,” I promised rashly.
A funny smile tickled Hank’s lips, and all of a sudden he was grinning. “Well, maybe I could—”
“We’ll pick you up Sunday at nine-twenty,” I told him.
“I meant I could help you build another coaster car. I didn’t say anything about going to—”
“And when we say nine-twenty,” Rodney interrupted with a grin, “we don’t mean nine-twenty-two.”
Hank didn’t say yes, but he didn’t say no, either, and we all knew that we were going to build another coaster car and that Hank was going to hear KC’s talk on Sunday.