I took care of him for three nights prior to his surgery. He was a wiry old man with thin white hair and a nose “That was made by taking about a thousand punches of the sort boxers don’t remember nor ever gets paid for”, he said in a voice “That come up gradual from drinking too damned much whiskey to kill off the pain”. He sure was a talker.
“Born and raised on a hog farm down in North Carolina. Learned to barbecue a whole pig by the time I was six year old. Started boxing at twelve. 1935. Two hour later, I knocked down a boy twice my size in a three round match. Five year past that, I won the welterweight division at the Atlanta Golden Gloves. Thought I was gonna be the next Joe Louis, till the war blowed in.
“Did three years in the South Pacific, come out with a purple heart, married, and boxed my way around the Gulf, from Biloxi to New Orleans till Virginia got tired of patching me up and seeing me drunk.
“Moved up here in 1956 and did pretty good at the car factory. Raised our kids, and put ‘em all through college. Virginia and me been married fifty-three year now.”
I was giving the old boxer his medications when the doctor came in to explain the procedure to him and his family. “Piece of cake” the doctor said. “A champ like you will be up and about in no time.”
“Look here doc,” he said, “The war ain’t killed me. Boxing ain’t killed me. Whiskey ain’t killed me. Five kids ain’t killed me. And fifty-three year with the same woman ain’t killed me.” He smiled, made a fist, and shook it at the doctor. “I sure ain’t afraid of no man with soft hands and a little bitty knife.”
The next night room 304 was empty. In report the nursing supervisor said, “Henry Leonard coded after surgery. Pulmonary embolism.” She’s not much of a talker.
after his surgery
a wrinkled snapshot
the family left behind