The Henningfield’s…


When we moved to 15th street in 1955, I was almost 5. The house I was born in was on the outskirts of town with only a few places scattered nearby. Suddenly, we were in the middle of a huge neighborhood full of homes with lots of kids.

Neese in kindergarten, 1956…

The downtown business district was about a block and a half away and appeared to have stores as far as this 4 yr. old’s eyes could see. Really, it was 3 or 4 blocks at best.

Our wide, wide Main Street. Plus the famous 1 Stoplight…

To our south across the street and a titch west was the “neighborhood eyesore.” The Henningfield place was a real mess. It boasted a dilapidated shack, no siding, covered with tar paper, something we called a “haukee” in Dutch. A little shack, add-on or lean-to. Had anyone ever been brave enough to walk in the front of the place and passed gas, the house would have collapsed in a heap or exploded in flames and been gone in 30 seconds, tops. The place was somewhat fenced, tall, wobbly, rusty metal with a couple of gates. Half of the lot tried in vain to be a garden, mostly out of protest.

I was petrified of Mr. Henningfield. He was tall, reed-thin, bald, used a walking stick that appeared able to reach our side of the street if needed, (the streets were and are very wide) and wore dirty, grungy overalls that could stand on their own volition. The scary part about him was this bump on his forehead that was very noticeable. Mama Henningfield was tiny, but could fight like a feral cat (yes, of course they had several). Don’t know if they had knock-down-drag-out fights, but the yelling matches between them were legendary, ferocious, and half the town was privy to them. I know, lucky us.

They had 5 grown children when we moved in. Their names were quirky and had their own unique rhythm, kind of a sing-songy-cadence. You ready? Here we go: Rozina, Stellastena, Philomena, Rita Kathryn and Jerome. Jerome was in the military and 3 of the sisters were living in the County Home in Orange City. That left only Rozina living with her folks. Rozina was of unknown age (40-50?) usually barefoot and moving a hoe around or leaning on it in the garden. She was unkempt, long stringy hair, had MASSIVE watermelon (seeded-size) boobs. Never owned or wore a bra, they competed (swing-low) with hoe-hacking at the weeds. From the ages of 5-10 though, I was truly fascinated with Rozina.

Usually waited until I saw Mr. H. leave for parts unknown before I ventured over. Mama H. didn’t stray too far from the house, so it’d just be me and Rozina in the garden. She was lonely and easy to talk to. Even as a little girl, I felt sorry for her and knew I was very lucky to have our home and family. Our neighbor directly across the street from Henningfield’s was Helen Schmidt. One day Helen was talking to Mom and recalled the day before she and a friend had heard horrible screaming coming from the Henningfield abode. The 2 of them ran over and discovered Rozina doing the wash (who knew they did laundry with Mr.’s stand-alone overalls?) with an old wringer washer and had somehow managed to get one (thank heavens it wasn’t the pair) of her boobs stuck in the wringer. Yikes! The pair (neighbors, not boobs) had a terrible time getting the wringer to release the boob (assuming here folks it was a “male” washing machine). Luckily Rozina was a loner and rarely went to town because her one massive, flattened, but wrinkle-free boob was the highlight of conversations for years.

Not too much later Mama H. passed away, soon after Rozina went to live at the County Home with her sisters. Mr. H. started a slow decline when I was in high school, rarely leaving the house anymore. Mom started making an extra meal when we were having supper, while we were cleaning up (ok I confess, I sat and talked about my school day while Mom did dishes, I was such a shit). Dad would bring the meal over to Lawrence (almost positive this was his first name, and I was no longer afraid of him). If Dad was busy, Mom and I would go over. Although he was a very private man, he always welcomed Mom and Dad, and thanked them profusely.

Valley Manor, Rock Valley, Iowa, mid-1960’s…

One day Mom didn’t see any movement from Mr. H. so Dad went over to check on him. He was gravely ill, Dad sent for an ambulance and took him to the hospital. I don’t think he ever returned home, either passed away there or was in Valley Manor Nursing Home for awhile before he died. The homestead was demolished, (yup, all someone did was fart) later sold to Porter Funeral Home for expansion.

I recently heard that the Henningfield’s were influential and instrumental in forming the town of Rock Valley during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. How very cool. I wonder what happened to cause their later decline from society and odd behavior? Perhaps the stock market crash in 1929? Wish I’d have paid closer attention to my conversations about their history with Rozina and my folks. But this was Neese we’re talking about, still the self-centered little brat…


2 thoughts on “The Henningfield’s…

  1. Denise,When I was a kid we had a similar type family near us, mysterious and scary. We moved when I was almost 8 so never got to know them. Wish I had. Bet they were nicer than we thought, just down-on-their-luck. Paul


  2. Even as a little kid, I knew the Henningfield's were a bit odd. They looked different, didn't talk very much and weren't very friendly. I don't think they were as scary as I thought back then, but I was quite young. Thanks for going back to the beginning. Goof ball…


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