Thomas Hendrikson braced himself against the door frame between the dining room and kitchen of his home knowing his time was limited.
Within a few years, he would be sent off to war. War hadn’t yet been declared by the United States government, but it was only a matter of time. The signs were on the wall each time the newspaper came and with every radio broadcast. If that wasn’t enough, Hendrikson knew that once the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor in five months, the U.S. would be thrust into the war it had tried to avoid since Hitler began rampaging all over Europe.
For Thomas, death was almost certainty to meet him head-on in late December 1944. On a muddy battlefield with a gun in one hand and a letter to his wife in the other, he would breathe his last. When that moment came, the epiphany he felt while in his Midwestern kitchen wouldn’t matter at all. There was almost nothing he could do to avoid his fate. The fear – not of the unknown, but of what was certain – controlled Thomas. It had entered through the backdoor and drifted through the house until it found him, about to enter the kitchen after a long day in the fields. It was fear that kept him rooted to the dark-stained oak floors as sweat stained his white, button-down, cotton shirt in the July heat.
Thomas’ wife, Julia, had left that morning to see her mother in Hurdsfield. Julia and Sue Ellen, their two year old daughter, packed for a week away from home. His mother-in-law was just 10 miles away, but he didn’t expect them back for seven days – possibly more. He didn’t mind Eleanor White, his mother-in-law, but he had other things to do. As a farmer in the middle of North Dakota, there was always work to be done. Even with rain on the horizon, there was plenty for Thomas to keep himself busy at the farm.
Taking a step back, Thomas found the desk in the adjoining room. Julia had always wanted the dining room to be just that – a dining room, with the clean formal table, lacy tablecloth and china cabinet. She’d put all that in the room, but Thomas insisted on keeping a desk in the corner for his personal space. Their home was spacious for a North Dakota farmhouse, but he liked to be near the kitchen while Julia was cooking. She didn’t like it, but she allowed it.
Rummaging through a few bills and invoices stacked together on top of the desk, Thomas found some blank sheets of precious white paper. Nearby, a half-sharpened pencil was ready for his use. He grabbed it while the thoughts that were tormenting his mind were still at the surface, ready to boil over. He needed to get these memories – his memories…or is it his future?… on paper before he forgot it all for good. Some of the images he saw were clear, recognizable – understandable, but most of the thoughts swimming around in his brain were beyond any comprehension he could muster. Thomas had always strived to be a progressive farmer, including the latest technology and techniques on the farm, but what he saw – what he knew to be true – was so unbelievable that the city folk of the 1940’s wouldn’t even understand his visions.
Without Julia on hand to nag him about cleaning up before sitting down to the table, Thomas straddled a chair at the solid cherry table in the dining room. He and Julia had purchased the immense table the year before in Fargo on a trip to see her sister. If Julia had been in the kitchen, she would have yelled at him to sit at the desk. That’s what he’d put it in there for after all. Somehow he knew that he’d need more space than the surface area the desk could provide.
Thomas Hendrikson collected his thoughts. He was used to farming. The consistency of the annual plantings and harvests. The daily grind of milking the cows, feeding the livestock, and checking on his fields. Wheat, corn, barley and sunflowers. He tried out some oats last year, but it didn’t go as well as the salesman promised, so he went back to the basics and was determined to stay with them as long as they worked for him. He knew what worked in the fields of North Dakota and what didn’t.
This? The words and images that flashed through his head were foreign to him. He had no concept of how to handle this. He didn’t plant these seeds. He didn’t know how to harvest this crop.
All he could do – all he could even think to do – was to put pencil to paper and hope to rid himself of the confusion rattling around in his head.
But, when he finally had the pencil at the top left corner of the paper, he was at a loss. How would he start? What would he say? He knew the words he would write tonight and the next few days would affect his great-grandson and hopefully any great-great-grandchildren he might have. To ensure the continuation of the family, he began to write:
Dear Jackson Ellis,
At some point in time, you will be lost. You will not know what to do. The future will be blocked from you and the contents of this letter and the subsequent writings will be vitally important to your survival. As I write to you, the date on my calendar is July 14, 1941.
My name is Thomas Jackson Hendrikson and I am your great-grandfather. I already know that I will be long dead by the time you read this. You see, I share the same ability as you – I can see the future. I’ve known about my ability for some time, but only tonight was my destiny revealed to me.
My future is destined to end on a battlefield in Europe in a few years, but your destiny is still wide open. I don’t want these letters to end up in the wrong hands, so after receiving this, there will be some tasks required to find the others. I believe in you, after all, you are my great-grandson. You are the only hope of keeping the family legacy.
Here is what you need to know right now…
Thomas Hendrikson wrote deep into the night, stopping only when the radio in the living room stopped playing its nightly variety of music. Waking up the next morning, he paused to eat breakfast and then continued, a man on a mission, possessed of the need to protect the child of his own grand-daughter. He continued writing, using up all of the plain white paper in the house. When that supply was exhausted, he used the scraps of paper left on the desk – old invoices, receipts and bills. Somehow his penchant for saving anything and everything over the years came in handy when the future most depended on it.
After that, he sealed the envelopes and made the arrangements that would need to be carried out over 70 years in the future. He couldn’t control the future – it was out of his hands – but the farmer knew he’d done what he could for Jackson Ellis, his great-grandson.