Henry Wedgworth: We have no replacements'
By By Chatt McGonagill / special to The Star
Aug. 12, 2003
Imagine living to the age of 94 while enjoying robust health and mental alertness. Add to this a life where you have enjoyed each day and what you were doing to the fullest. Thus was the saga of Mr. Henry Wedgworth who departed this life recently.
Mr. Henry, or "just Henry" as he would interject, was born in 1909, before World War I, the Great Depression, World War II and the Space Age. He lived his entire life within a few miles of where he was born near the Lauderdale community.
While his siblings became engineers, teachers and joined the professional ranks, Henry opted to remain a farmer. This was the life that he loved so well. His harmonious relationship with the land and its elements resulted in a thriving and successful farm.
One could easily observe his exhilarating wonderment as his gardens or crops flourished, or a farm animal produced its young, or as he watched the juice from his cane mill turn to syrup. Throughout his life he retained the naivet of his youth … always enjoying the simplicity of his surroundings. He was not one to consternate over problems of which he had no control.
To get to his farm from where he lived, he would cross a high wooden bridge over Ponta Creek that separated the farm from his home. Older members of the area have described how as a younger man he would come galloping across that bridge on a white horse just as day was breaking. He would be heading for the fields to organize the day's work for the hands.
This was the scene of a vibrant young man of yesteryear that never entertained the thought of failure. During the Great Depression, he not only managed to hold on to his farm, but he continued to add to it.
Henry was truly one of those gregarious individuals. He loved people, lots of people, and they all loved him. In years past he would invite the public to his farm for a Fourth of July Picnic. Hundreds would attend and the tables would be laden with mounds of food, which included barbecued pork, fresh farm vegetables and desserts of all kinds, one of which was Mrs. Wedgworth's fried apple pies yumm-yumm.
Through it all you could hear Henry laughing and spinning tales. His pet name for his friends was "Sugar." He would even address an attending physician as "Sugar."
One of the places he enjoyed exchanging yarns was the caf adjoining the Texaco Station in Lauderdale that he and his family operated for many years. Because of his generosity, we finally ceased to dine or obtain gas from their establishment, because Henry would not allow us to pay for anything.
At Christmas time he would scour the country looking for old bikes that could be restored for the less fortunate children. He never owned anything that he would not share. Such was his kindness.
I always enjoyed hearing Henry and his younger brother, Ray, tell stories of their youth. The hilarious part about their stories was how each would have a different version from the other.
One of my favorites surrounded their early awakening as youths growing up on the farm. Henry and Ray shared a room and a bed. It seems their stern old-fashioned father would rouse them early each morning to do the chores before heading to the fields.
According to Henry, on this one particular morning after their dad had awakened them and departed the room, Ray told Henry that he was tired of getting up so early. He said to Henry that he had started shaving, and was old enough to sleep later if he desired.
Again, according to Henry, he attempted to get Ray out of bed, cautioning him that their dad would be back soon. Pretty soon their dad came back by the room and assisted with Ray's departure from the bed with a few strokes of his razor strap.
The same story, but Ray's version goes like this: Henry got out of bed after their dad's first intervention and told Ray to just go ahead and sleep a little longer, and he would awaken him after he got dressed. Ray cautioned Henry not to forget and went back to sleep. Ray said that Henry then eased out of the room, and he was suddenly awakened by his dad's razor strap across his behind.
Each with loving memories for the other would spend countless hours relating stories of their youthful experiences. I still don't know whose version was correct perhaps both a little.
I overheard a prominent and successful local businessman remark at Henry's final visitation, "There is a man we have no replacements for, he not only represents a vanishing generation, but also a vanishing breed."
Henry was a person of impeccable integrity. He treated all people with complete honesty and fairness. He was the kind of friend and neighbor who creates that peaceful and loving atmosphere we all seek in life. His life crossed the path of my family and me, as a friend and a neighbor, for which I am truly thankful. I am certain that many others echo these sentiments. Lauderdale County can be proud of this native icon.