The Kind Historian

Joe Hardy always had a smile and a kind word, whenever I saw him.  In fact, I never heard a mean word come out of his mouth. Now, I was just a kid, maybe 9 or 10, when I was spending time with Joe. And adults often tend to keep their meaner side hidden when more innocents are around — and let this out generally when those they love are in the room. But, I really got the feeling the Joe was just a kind soul — a bit naïve to the ways of the world perhaps, but truly kind.

I found Joe interesting because (a) he knew a lot of history of the tiny corner of Missouri we were living in, and (b) he had a LOT of books. His house was full to the brim with books, magazines, antiques, junk. He was a true hoarder. You could hardly walk in the halls of his early 1900’s house, on the edge of the backwater town I lived in then — Monroe City, MO.

He was often referring to when he ran a museum of the history (and artifacts) of northeast Missouri. And he seemed to be consistently planning to open one again — when “the time was right.” As far as I know, he never did. Then again, we only lived there in Monroe City for 3 years. So, maybe he did reopen his museum.

No matter what though, it was clear he really loved history in particular, and knowledge in general. He and I hit it off, because we both loved books. He loved showing off his collection, and his favorite books, to a willing and intelligent kid, and I loved the attention this wise, old guy gave me — plus, he had some really cool stuff! I remember when he gave me two huge boxes of old National Geographic magazines. They were so shiny and colorful, and full of great photos, and stories of exciting distant places. I spent hours and hours not only reading these, but indexing all the stories. (I was quite the nerd.)

It was Joe who first showed my Dad and I where the old Indian drawings were, on a cave not far from whatever riverbed was near his property. It was my first exposure (that I recall) to living history — an artifact of a real person’s life, so long ago, and so different than my own. My siblings, dad, and I visited that spot many times while we were living there.

I never kept up with Joe Hardy, nor anyone I knew in Monroe City, when we moved on to Dad’s next assignment. Looking back, it was not my favorite place to live, amongst the many places Dad’s career took us. But, I do have very fond memories of Joe, and the love of learning and history that he shared with me.