Back around 2002 we had this older guy who used to frequent our store. His name was Henry. Now at the time Henry had to have been 90 years old or more. His son, who himself was in his 70’s, would drop him off at our door and come back and pick him up an hour or two later. Let me tell you what little we knew about Henry.
The first day this old guy comes to my counter he has a handful of old black and white photographs that he wants to know if we can make copies of. Our color copier at the time made excellent black reproductions of photos so we were easily able to take care of this for him. He would use a glue stick and place them on a blank piece of paper, leaving room between them which we were told later that he would write notes about that particular photo. It seems that Henry was making a book about his life to leave for his grand kids and great grand kids. Nice idea.
So 2 or 3 days a week my store was visited by this old guy making copies. During his visits he would love to regale us with stories about his past. It seems that Henry and his family used to do USO shows back in the day. He would show us pictures of him and his wife in the Morocco, Spain, Taiwan and so on while performing for the troops. He would show us pictures of him with Bob Hope or some other celebrity, shots of him on stage in front of hundreds of troops and so on, each accompanied by a long-winded story that every employee in my shop heard at least more than once. We saw action shots of his act, heard stories about some questionable women, meeting celebs and on and on. His stories often provided some relief on a busy, hectic day. Nobody minded and we all took turns waiting on him so he could recycle his storeis to everyone.
In late 2006 I noticed that Henry started having us copy bunches of pictures that I know we have copied for him in the past. I want his money but I want to give him a product or service FOR that money. Making repeats just felt like I was taking advantage of someone who’s memory might not be up to par. So one day when his son pulled up to drop him off, I had my counter chick (that is what she called herself) go wait on him while I ran out the other door to intercept the son. I managed to get him before he drove away and told him what was going on. Pretty much told him that we all loved Henry but that we noticed he was making copies of pictures that we all recall running before. I didn’t want him to think we were taking advantage of his dad or anything and asked him what we should do. He told me “just keep taking his money as long as you don’t mind his stories. He loves all you guys and looks forward to coming here. Unless he tries to spend $400 or something, just take it. Thanks for being nice to dad”. So we kept waiting on Henry and listening to his stories. Sometimes we would mention to him that we thought we had copied this picture already and he would say thanks and whip out another one, sometime he would just say that he needed one more copy. And on we went, pictures being copied and stories being past.
Around Christmas that year Henry told us he was going to be gone for a bit. I forget why but I think I remember something about visiting another of his kids for a bit. That was the last we saw of Henry. We didn’t think anything of it at first since he had told us he would be away, but four months later we realized we haven’t seen Henry. We also realized that we didn’t have a phone number or any way to try and get a hold of him and see what’s up. We never saw Henry again and had no clue what had happened.
Just this morning a customer came into my store wanting to make a hardcover ‘memory book’ of her life to give to her grand kids that chronicled her journey from Romania to now in the U.S. of A. After she left I started thinking about Henry again, and with the power of the internet I found out that Henry had passed in March of 2007 at the age of 98. I am so sad, and pissed off at myself, that I had not found this out earlier as I would have surely attended the service out of respect for the man. I don’t like posting real names of non-public figures, but this post is in memory of Henry Balabanow. Below is his obituary.
Henry L. Balabanow, age 98, of Bloomingdale, beloved husband of the late Anna May; loving father of Larry and Carol; dear brother of Walter (Jean), Lilyann Payne and the late Paul (the late Peggy), John, William, Mary (the late Robert) Gardner and Olga Hasslocher. Performed as a theater musician with many celebrities including Bob Hope, the Andrew Sisters and Sammy Davis, Jr. He worked as a stage manager for the U.S.O in battle zones in Germany, France, Italy, Middle East, Morocco, Spain, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, The Phillapene and the Pacific Islands. Henry passed March 11, 2007.