Cordova Chronicles: They Called Him Hook

Nicknames are really a badge of endearment

From left, Freddie Lantz, Harry Curran, and Kenny Van Brocklin, working the counter at the Cordova Commercial Company in 1954. Shellhorn Family Collection
From left, Freddie Lantz, Harry Curran, and Kenny Van Brocklin, working the counter at the Cordova Commercial Company in 1954. Shellhorn Family Collection

Kenny Van Brocklin passed away on February 3, 2018, in 1000 Palms, California.  He lived to be 91.  And enjoyed every moment of it.

What a character.  What a laugh, what a story teller.  Kenny loved people, and they loved him.  A pretty simple equation, really.

Kenny worked at various jobs, but they were always interpersonal enterprises, be it waiting on folks at People’s Market, razzing customers at the Cordova Commercial, or consoling them as they downed their suds and shared elbows at the Club Bar.

Eventually bowling, and then golf, became his passions.  He and partners Don Van Brocklin and Bill Sherman started the Club Bowling Alley in 1962, and made a living having fun with folks rolling heavy balls down hardwood lanes.

In the early 80’s, when he sold his interests in the Club and moved with wife Barbara to the sunny climes of 1000 Palms, California, it was another ball, this time a tiny white one, that was his source of laughter and joy, as well as probably at the heart of more than one deal in his very successful real estate business.

Ironically, both sports involved what are know as “hooks”.  In bowling, the necessary curve of the ball to create a strike.  In golf, the unappreciated veer of the ball that often leads to disaster in what is termed “the rough.”

Better yet, it was the moniker “Hook” that my dad, Don Shellhorn, routinely used to address Kenny throughout their longtime friendship.

Dad migrated from Seward to Cordova in the mid-30’s. Kenny arrived from Port Angeles, Washington, in the mid-40’s, but you would think the two of them had been buddies forever, given the good times they shared from there on.

Nicknames are really a badge of endearment, and they both had several for the other.  A very popular one was “You H.A.!” , which translated into “You Horse’s Ass!”

It was a phrase heard repeatedly by Kenny’s nephew Randy Bruce and me, in our shared tutelage as fledging duck hunters down at the Boxcar, famous stomping grounds on the Eyak River.  And believe me, the stomping began as soon as the prow of a succession of riverboats, including an unforgettable cabin skiff called “The Shoe” for its sublime profile, left the banks of Eyak Landing.

Yet it was another profile, that of a prominent facial appendage of both, that also keyed their verbal repartee.  Kenny called Dad “Long Nose”; Dad called Kenny “Hook”; and they were off to the races.

(It turns out Kenny also had a very good “hook” shot when wearing a sweat- soaked purple Elks jersey during Men’s League basketball games in the 40’s and 50’s)

Every trip to the Boxcar was an adventure. The safest participants were the ducks, merely an excuse for having such merry escapades, although more than a few probably almost died laughing at the antics of this duo.

The Boxcar was exactly that, abandoned on a siding by the CR&NW railway when it shut down in 1938.  It was floated downriver on a barge and plopped on the banks of a slough off the main Eyak dubbed Little Arc.  When the Van Brocklin’s became owners early in the 1940’s, it was not even on pilings.  They drilled holes in the floor so the water that flooded in on big tides could drain out.  Eventually, Dad helped Kenny jack it up on supports to make it more seaworthy, so to speak.

Randy and I were young impressionable teenagers during our first trips down to Adventure Land and would retreat to the safety of bunks in the far end of the elongated rectangle as Kenny and Dad performed mundane, but ribald tasks such as cooking dinner.

A lifetime memory the two of us share is Glenn Miller Big Band music blaring out over a TransOceanic Radio, Kenny frying steaks, and Dad merrily banging the door of an overhead cabinet, which just happened to be the Grog Locker.  Finally, Kenny asked Dad “What are you doing, you Horse’s Ass?”

“Why, Hook, I’m playing the drums, can’t you tell?”

Indeed, these two did bang the drums, and not slowly.  A love of life, a love of laughter, a love of friends, a love of family.

Lessons and traditions, which to this day, we try to carry on.

In the footsteps of “Hook” and “Long Nose.”