One day 19 years ago a tall, friendly fellow came to The Quincy Herald-Whig newsroom and asked to see me.
Jack Hendrickson said he was writing a book about the Mississippi River and wanted permission to reprint a story I wrote in July 1992 about monster-sized fish lurking at the bottom of the river. Hendrickson also wanted to reprint a photo that accompanied the article. The photo, taken around 1901, showed a farmer next to a giant catfish he caught while hand-fishing in Bear Creek, which feeds into the Mississippi in northern Adams County.
Hendrickson explained he was writing the book to celebrate his roots. As a boy, Hendrickson's family lived in a cabin on Long Island -- the 71/2-mile-long wilderness paradise in the middle of the Mississippi north of Quincy.
I knew about Long Island, having written about it on several occasions. The island -- part of the Mark Twain National Wildlife Refuge -- is the largest body of land in the Mississippi for at least 100 miles in either direction. Back then it was home to more than 200 species of birds, 37 kinds of trees and 350 species of wildlife. It remains a vital resting area for thousands of ducks and geese that migrate along the Mississippi Flyway.
I didn't realize a handful of families once lived on the government-owned island. Hendrickson lived there while growing up in the early 1930s. The experience left a lasting impression on him, and he wanted to preserve those memories in a book.
I told Hendrickson he could use the story and photo as he wished.
Hendrickson stopped by a couple of other times through the years, but I never heard any more about the book -- until last week when his wife, Mary Hendrickson-Linneman, walked through the door.
Mary had a copy of Jack's 336-page hardcover book, "True Tales from Mark Twain Land," that she wanted to give me for helping her husband.
Jack, it turns out, died in 2003 at age 71 after a battle with cancer. He had spent nine years writing the text and assembling more than 200 photos, maps and illustrations for the book. After he died, Mary and a son, Mark, finished the project in his honor.
The self-published volume came off the presses late last year. Mary had 1,000 copies printed.
"That's a ton and half of books," she said. "It took a semi to get them all in our garage."
For the past six months Mary has been gradually selling the books to people with an interest in the river and local history. A surge of interest came from folks around LaGrange, Mo., just west of Long Island.
"I don't know if I'll ever get my costs back, but we're sure having a lot of fun," she said.
Mary and Jack were married for 52 years and lived in the Quincy area. She got to know Long Island well because Jack took her there about 10 times. "It's like a little bit of heaven," she said.
The book is full of stories about people who lived on the island, including Jack's parents, who were newlyweds when they moved into the cabin.
Jack told how his mother, Ermalie, one day bolted out of the house after a tiff with her husband. She was determined to reach Quincy in a rowboat but couldn't defeat the current as she struggled to row around the northern tip of Shandrew Island. Exhausted, she drifted back to the family's dock, where her husband escorted her lovingly back home.
Other stories tell of fishermen, farmers, swimmers, boatmen and wild critters, including an escaped circus bear that showed up outside the cabin, terrifying Jack's grandmother.
Mary, who now lives in Columbia, Mo., says she's having a ball sharing the book with others. Two years ago she remarried. Her new husband, Eldrin Linneman, accompanies her to book-signing events.
The book can be ordered through www.truetalesbook.com. Copies also are available at Great Debate Books.
Jack's mission is finally complete.