wildman- a tribute to Dennis Handy

I probably met Denny in Darwin in the late 70s early 80s, but it could have been earlier at the Sculpture Center on Cannery Row in Monterey. In either case, Gordon Newell was the bridge that connected us — Gordon, stone, cream sherry,, Robinson Jeffers poems, and the kind of light that tells the sculptor everything they need to know about form, concavity and convexity.

It’s not that hard to picture Denny cruising me as he was a big good looking Bohemian blue-eyed  man, and I was a rare breed — a female sculptor. I remember him working on a bust in Darwin, a female nude torso in alabaster with a very large bust, to my eyes an oversized wet dream sort of bust. But I have to remember that at the time I was a weird combination of feminist/prude/wild woman who had been celibate for a while. I’m sure I signaled “not interested.”

Later when Henry and I lived in Darwin, circa 1984-86, Denny was part of the scene, still carving soft stone and living out of his rusty GMC panel truck named “Jimmy.” Or it might’ve been an old silo or a repurposed short school bus. We Darwinians couldn’t afford to be too choosy about our domiciles or vehicles.

Denny was always a wild man, a joker. When Henry and Denny would drive Jimmy into Lone Pine to shop with a long list of special foods — ground round, zucchini, wheat berry bread and raw milk for Gordon; Pepto-Bismol, vodka, and spam for Gus — Denny would slouch down in the driver’s seat and hang his head out the window while Henry steered from the passenger seat. They timed this stunt for when an oversized recreational vehicle — “runamuckas” as Denny termed them — passed them on the highway to Death Valley beyond the reach of “syphilization.”

Denny had an uncanny ability to show up at our corrugated tin shack just in time for supper. This could have become annoying except that Denny was eager to peel and chop the garlic, plus when he made trips over to the coast, he would bring back artichokes and calamari. Henry and I had married the year before in 1983 and were still working out how to be a couple – you know — telling the truth, fighting fairly, determining when to walk away and when not to — with the added pressure of living in an isolated ghost town of about forty people an hour away from a town. The fact that Denny was a flirt added to the pressure and my confusion.

One late afternoon Henry and I had a fight — it doesn’t matter why — but Henry took off east for the road to China Gardens and Panamint Valley. He came back for matches and newspaper and then stomped off again. I waited in our shack hoping he would cool off and come home. I rode a neighbor’s horse up to Panamint Overlook. No Henry. I walked up to Denny’s and accepted a screwdriver, but couldn’t relax, so I walked back home again to see if Henry had returned. No Henry. I walked back up to Denny’s so we could search the road further. when the sand got soft and deep Denny had to put Jimmy into compound low while I searched for footprints. No Henry. Backtracking to the top of Panamint Overlook, we explored different canyons. Later Denny told me he started to look down mine shafts. No Henry.

It was cold. I was upset. I needed comfort. I let myself soften into Denny’s hug and began to wonder if Henry was truly lost or dead, would I find future comfort in his arms?

Denny suggested we drive back home so I could build up the fire while he went out to look on his own. With the fire in the old cookstove crackling and spitting, I imagined myself a magnet, pulling, pulling, pulling.

Denny came back from his solo search and we went out looking again. Even Gordon was recruited into the search. Still no Henry.

But one time after topping the road, I spotted lights on in our shack, lights I had not left on. Bursting through the door, I saw Henry, pink and steaming from the bathtub. I didn’t know whether to hug him or punch him. I probably did both. I caught Denny’s eye and nodded towards the door. Denny got the message — we could talk about this tomorrow.

That seminal time in Darwin, two years at most, seeded a garden of memories — some painful some profound, some hilarious.

After Darwin, Denny lived in many different places in California, carving, joking, and probably flirting, while Henry and I ended up in Colorado, where we still live. But we kept in touch. Somewhere along that trail after my diagnosis, Denny and I became cancer brother and sister; that gave us a whole other subject to talk and sometimes laugh about.

Henry and I will both miss being regaled by Denny, laughing until our eyes squirt at the wonder and absurdity of our lives, especially when we lived in Darwin.

Denny, may you rest in peace, kick up the dust, cut into a beautiful chunk of stone, or paddle out for a big wave, whatever pleases you most.

2 comments on “wildman- a tribute to Dennis Handy
  1. Debora Hankinson says:

    What a great tale. I love seeing into your life and memories. Thanks for sharing. Denny sounds like a wonderful man. I am sorry for your loss.

  2. Kimberly Anne Phoenix-Rose DeWit says:

    Thank you for this beautiful tribute!
    I went with him to Darwin twice. In the… early 90s…
    What an amazing place. I understand the temporary draw.
    Warm regards

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