Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 2, 2018

“Anecdotes by me”

Many people were already seated when we arrived. Husband Art immediately went to the long tables at the back of the room. They contained a hodge-podge of motors, model cars, miscellaneous tools and gadgets. Art pointed out a device used throughout the world in the meat industry. Another was a prototype of an air particulate sampler, a unit utilized by the Dole banana people and the Environmental Protection Agency. All items were remnants of a long and creative life.

Our friend Tennyson, who turned 90 in August, died in January. We had gathered for his memorial service.

Tennyson had a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s in metallurgy. Wife Anne has several degrees, including a doctor of veterinary medicine. Both had wide and varied interests.

For an online memorial page, Art wrote:

I first met Tennyson when it was suggested I visit his "shop" for the experience. Clutter would be a polite word for it. But I’ve known two other people in my 73 years similarly afflicted and they too were particularly intelligent. Little did I know back in 1985 I would soon look to him to help with my machine shop work. In turn, I helped him with electrical things as he always said, "Electrons hate me." Tennyson loved a good challenge. From area farmers, to local businesses, car enthusiasts to a fellow who fixed old courthouse clocks, his ability to look at a broken part and make a new one was much appreciated ...

Having visited his machine shop, I can vouch that every surface was covered with parts and gizmos. Anne’s office at the university was every bit as disorderly. For a time, it included reptilian friends in terrariums. And, like Tennyson, she knew where everything was.

To say that Tennyson and Anne, both members of the high-IQ society Mensa, were unusual would be an understatement. So it seemed fitting that Tennyson’s service was in the local kennel club, located where the school he had attended as a youngster once stood. The family home, where he, his brother and sister grew up, is just across the street.

Anne began by telling a bit about Tennyson’s life. He contracted polio at 13. When he recovered, his legs were weak and he had to wear braces.

Art recalled him mentioning his feeling pretty low about his situation, when his mother Ursula slapped him on the side of his head and told him if he didn’t pull out of it, there was more where that came from. Tennyson added that this much-needed “attitude adjustment” cured him of feeling sorry for himself.

After that, he never seemed to let his physical limitations hold him back. That was echoed in Anne’s pronouncement: “He did what he could do.” He put handles in strategic spots so he could lift himself into and out of his chair and stand up without depending on help from others. He built himself a motorized tricycle with the rear wheels from a mountain bike and the front end from a bicycle bought at the local police department auction.

Anne told how they met, and then she encouraged others to share their memories of him.

One woman mentioned that Tennyson’s dad Leslie was about the most interesting person she had ever known. It was obvious the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree.

The wife of one of K-State’s former presidents said she admired Tennyson’s loyalty to their Christian Science faith. A man from a different congregation mentioned how Tennyson fashioned a beautiful brass Christmas wreath for their church. Others talked about his knack for fixing anything. Friend Cele talked about how competitive Tennyson was when they played cards.

"He didn’t like to lose, and he was STUBBORN,” she said, emphasizing the last word.

Tennyson knew tidbits about local history and he liked to share them. He sent me a list of neighborhood groceries, adding he helped his father deliver their farm produce to local stores:

I went with Daddy on deliveries sometimes during the 1930s, so I knew where the stores were ... Daddy wanted to get to all of them as fast as possible, so he got out of the truck and hit the pavement running. His feet started to give out, then they introduced shoes with a thick crepe rubber sole. He said those saved his legs.

He also told me about German prisoners of war who worked on his family’s farm. I suggested one of my students interview him. An excerpt from Jesse Riggs’ article follows:

... They were members of the Afrikakorps, the German expeditionary force in Libya and Egypt during the North African Campaign of World War II.

“They were the very cream of Hitler’s army,” Collins said. “They were tall, blond, blue eyed fellows.”

Collins said they were intelligent, well educated and talented.

“In that field east of the farm house, I think we had cantaloupes, maybe watermelons, and there was a group of them,” he said. “They were singing in two or three part harmony.”

Once when Collins’ sister went to borrow a plow horse from the neighbors, the POWs were amazed that such a little girl was controlling such a big animal. The POWs did not speak any English, but knew that Collins’ sister liked horses so they gave her two carved and painted pictures of horses ...

Tennyson and Anne were quite social. They were members of four card-playing groups, regularly attended the Sertoma Club biscuits-and-gravy feed, attended our annual journalism dinners, and even stopped by Mom’s 90th-birthday celebration.

Art said he considers Tennyson one of the five most interesting people he has known. He was smart, clever, determined, knowledgeable and friendly, and he shunned the spotlight.

From one of the tables, I picked up an “Anecdotes by me” booklet. (Using “me,” rather than his name, is an example of his avoiding the limelight.) Like his e-mail tales, the stories bring a smile. His writing has a quality that makes me feel as if we are just sitting as friends while he shares an incident.

Tennyson, I'm glad I knew you.

Top-left: Tennyson speaking with Gloria at her mother's 90th birthday party; bottom-left: Anne and Tennyson a number of years ago; right: This photo was taken by student Jesse Riggs when he wrote the article about POWs on the Collins farm. The painting was inspired by the song "Lili Marlene" and was painted by a POW. Tennyson's enjoyment with being the focus of attention is evident.

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