Last Kiss: A barber, his widow and their life of passions
The thing is one of the earliest memories Jenessa Donnellan has of her stepfather.
"From the beginning when we were kids," she says, "he always did it to make us laugh."
Though he lived to 54, Corey Hindes never outgrew his boyishness, never abandoned the child inside. He lived with a kid's sense of delight, a kid's sense of play, a kid's raucousness, a kid's innocence.
Fun. Trusting. Self-assured. At times perhaps, a bit aggravating. He pushed the envelope. He never played soft. Truth be told, Corey was imperfect, as everyone is. His strengths could also be his flaws. He was a big man with an imposing size and appearance but filled with kind intentions, "a teddy bear," as longtime friend Greg Tosto of Palatine described him.
Some knew him as "The Barber." Others viewed him as "The Biker." Many identified him paradoxically as both. Corey, for one, identified himself with the same pairing, except that he saw no paradox in the combination.
So many of his friends, so many of his acquaintances affectionately memorialized him with an identical phrase: Larger than life.
He was gregarious. A man without apparent guile. The genuine article. And for all that, he was beloved.
Jenessa was about 3 and her older brother Brad was about 9 when Corey came into their lives, the year he and their mother Patty fell in love at first sight.
He took naturally to entertaining the kids and frequently regaled them with the facial gag where he moved his lips as if his fingers controlled a marionette's invisible string.
It was the kind of idiosyncratic gag that could make kids laugh endlessly. Jenessa never tired of it and neither, once he came along, did younger brother Connor. The kids so loved it that they gave it a name.
"Do the thing, Dad. Do the thing."
When we lose someone, our memories hang onto fragments. The thing is among the fragments Jenessa will keep.
It's not just one of her first memories. It's also one of the most permanent.
It's not just in her brain. The video of it runs 42 seconds.
For 42 seconds, Corey comes to life again -- mugging for the camera without self-consciousness, grunting with comic effect, flexing his biceps with a self-deprecating twinkle, overtly enjoying his ability to amuse. It reflects who he was better than any words could be strung together to describe.
It also reflects the effect he had on people. Jenessa and Connor roll with laughter in the background audio as if they are toddlers. But they weren't. Jenessa was about 20 when she recorded it in 2014; Connor, about 16.
"Do the thing, Dad. Do the thing."
Patty met Corey on a Saturday night in July 1997 at the Penny Road Pub, an iconic 165-year-old bar and restaurant in South Barrington with live rock 'n' roll and a license to 4 a.m.
She wears a bracelet now with the latitude and longitude, 42.095667 and -88.194407.
He was 35, living in a condo in Palatine. She had just turned 32, living in Addison with the two kids from her first marriage. Both Corey and Patty had gone through difficult divorces. He'd felt especially lonely that week. She'd felt an odd need to go out that night.
Patty went with a friend. She didn't plan to stay more than a half-hour.
Sitting at the bar, she sensed the reflection of a big biker pass behind her. She turned and took her first notice of him as he settled himself on a stool two seats down: burly at 6-foot-4, long graying hair, tattoos on his arms, his cheek sparkling with glitter.
The mix provided her with the first hint that Corey was a man of contradictions and not necessarily the man of most people's first impressions.
"You know you have glitter on your face?" Patty asked.
"Oh, I hugged a princess today."
"Yeah, my friend's daughter."
They hit it off immediately and with ease, two wandering soul mates joined finally by lightning kismet. As Golden Age actress Loretta Young put it long ago: "Love isn't something you find. Love is something that finds you."
Later that night, they dropped Patty's car off at her house and Corey took her bar hopping on his motorcycle.
She spent the next day mesmerized.
"I met this guy, and I can't get him out of my mind," she told one of her sisters.
She had forgotten to ask for his phone number. But she remembered that he was a barber, that he owned a barber shop in Arlington Heights. As it turned out, she had no need to try to track him down.
About 8 a.m. Monday, the doorbell rang at the back of the house. She peeked through the peephole but couldn't see anyone, only a red Corvette in the driveway.
She opened the door. Corey towered on the other side with another smile and a dozen red roses.
"I forgot to get your number," he said.
He had spent his Sunday mesmerized too.
Their love story was torrid and wholehearted. He found in her acceptance, a beautiful and smart woman who shared his sense of humor and sentimentality, and he recognized her inner strength. She found in him thrills and confidence, someone who could break her out of her misgivings and uncertainty, and she sensed the warm heart beneath his rough exterior.
"I wasn't me back then," Patty recalls, saying she was "maybe more a damsel in distress, but he made me strong, successful, happy ... He truly saved me from myself."
Besides, Corey had striking green eyes and a gorgeous smile.
Before long, he moved in with her in Addison. In less than a year, they married and bought a house on the north side of Arlington Heights.
He'd grown up in Medinah, but his barber shop was in Arlington Heights. He loved the town both as a symbol of his success and more importantly, for its sense of community. He embraced it as if it always had been his home.
"How much he loved Arlington Heights," Patty says. "He moved us here 20 years ago because this is where he wanted our children to grow up. He wanted our kids to go to school here."
If they were to make a movie of their lives together, it likely would open with an emerging Google Earth view of the intersection of Rand and Arlington Heights roads -- peering in on the relentless traffic and the sprawling parking lots, then to the northeast on the rooftops of the Chase Bank and Northpoint Shopping Center where his barber shop had been when they first met; to the southeast on the pumps at the Shell gas station; to the southwest on the Golden Arches at McDonald's, then farther up, to the Trader Joe's and the Annex of Arlington strip mall; and finally to the northwest, Arlington Plaza with its Value City Furniture and Harvest Fresh Market.
Just south of that Harvest Fresh, with an understated barber pole painted on the window, the view would settle on Corey's North Arlington Barber Shop, outwardly nondescript and unassuming,
On summer days, Google Earth would often spot one of his motorcycles parked on the sidewalk just outside.
Over the years, the scenery and the storefronts sometimes changed, but the neighborhood of their lives together largely did not.
They lived five blocks from that intersection and spent the vast majority of their minutes and hours, days and years, sleeping and nonsleeping, within a square mile of it. The house and the pool. The barber shop. The spot where that shop had been before he moved it. And the spot where the original shop had been before he bought it.
Corey was bold and adventurous. "Go big or go home," he often said. But this square mile was his refuge, his tranquillity, his sense of place. His home.
That said, tranquillity was not his nature.
"He was always a daredevil," his brother Camdon Hindes remembers. "The earliest memory is of him pulling out the drawers of the dresser in our bedroom and climbing it to jump off to the bed. One time, he fell, hitting his chin on every drawer on the way down. I remember my mom patching him up but not him crying."
Motorcycles weren't just a hobby. They were an obsession. Over the years, there were a lot of them. He loved sports cars and snowmobiles too, anything with a motor that moved fast.
But motorcycles defined him. He loved the culture -- the friendships, the history, the look, the bandanna, the cutoff shirts, the boots, the dream trip to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota -- and even more, he adored the freedom of the road.
"I like to feel the wind," he said.
Such enthusiasms possessed him.
"The passion he had for things he cared about," stepdaughter Jenessa said in a Facebook eulogy, "was unlike anyone else I've ever met."
He loved the Blackhawks, with a particular affection for bad boy Bob Probert, and loved the Cubs, too. He became a huge fan of Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher after Urlacher responded to a friend's sick son.
Classic rock 'n' roll moved him, particularly ACDC and Van Halen. And when his son Connor joined a local band called Peacebloom, Corey became one of its biggest fans.
He enjoyed swimming, taking care of the yard, working out, puttering in his man cave, spending time with the family.
He played Scrabble and threw darts and shot pool and when he did, he played to win. Always. Everything he played, he played to win. If you played one game with him, you might have to play 30.
In it to win it. But not taking himself too seriously.
"I wish I was a rock star," he joked. Then, "Wait a minute! I am a rock star!"
The house had a pool in the back, and on the weekends, friends and the neighborhood kids always were over. All sorts of people came by, Corey at the grill, music playing. A few months after they married, he and Patty celebrated with a wedding reception back there.
"He lived his life full-on all the time," his neighbor Stan Clary says. "Anything Corey liked, he loved. He loved life. He got every ounce out of it."
On Sunday mornings, he and Patty went out for breakfasts. Then, if the weather was good, they'd get on his Harley and go for a ride. If not, they'd go to estate sales. He was an "American Picker" fan and he loved hunting treasures.
"He was a person who was kind of opposites," Patty says.
While he brought such great enthusiasm to his interests and to his family, he seemed unflappable in his response to life's day-to-day tensions.
"Patty," he often counseled when someone had upset her, "there's always two sides to every story."
To his children, he behaved more as counselor than dictator.
"He was always the biggest supporter of everyone in our family," Jenessa says.
"He was mostly laid back," Connor says. "He taught me everything. Everything. Literally. The person I am right now."
He seldom pressured or demanded.
"You just gotta do what makes you happy," he would tell them.
In his last Facebook post, Corey Hindes shared a cheerful photo of himself and Patty at an Oktoberfest in Palatine two nights before he died.
He is holding a beer and sporting a full beard and dressed in biker gear -- a Harley-Davidson bandanna, gold chain and a sleeveless T-shirt -- and clearly enjoying the moment.
In an introspective conversation earlier that week, he had told her how greatly their marriage had affected him.
In the photo, Patty's distinctive with a gray Alpine hat, the brim hanging close above her eyes. In the first comment on the page, their daughter Jenessa takes note of Patty's appearance. "You look pretty mom. :) I like your hat."
Patty Hindes isn't smiling in the photo, but her good spirits are evident in a slight smirk and the dimple in her cheek.
"Much needed break from the hospital" where she'd been visiting her mother, she says in the first comment after Jenessa's.
The next day, while Corey is cutting hair at the barber shop, Patty returns to the Facebook post to join a light conversation about his dyed black hair, some affectionate ribbing since it had turned white years ago.
At 2 p.m., she leaves one last comment: a joyful emoticon that sees with heart-shaped love in its eyes.
THE LAST KISS SERIES
■ Patty & Corey: The Heartbreak.
■ Diana & Joe: A widow's advice: Embrace bereavement, don't avoid it A Straight From the Source story.
■ Janice & Joe A story of someday A Straight From the Source story
■ Janice & Joe Five lessons I've learned so far A Straight From the Source story
■ Patty & Corey: The Love Story.
■ Patricia & Tim: A widow cherishes the memories of her warrior A Straight From the Source story
■ Bill & Marian: A love that lives in dreams A Straight From the Source story
■ Dennis & Maggie: I reread her letters, I played her favorite songs A Straight From the Source story
■ Dennis & Maggie: Just Let Me Talk A Straight From the Source story
■ Patty & Corey: A widow wishes she had asked for one more kiss.
■ Patty & Corey: A widow's mission to sustain her husband's barbershop.
■ Donald & Helen: A widower's essay becomes his daughter's short film A Straight From the Source story
■ Susan & Guy: A widow's guide to dealing with the loss of a spouse A Straight From the Source story
■ Ted & Donna A widower's plan to count his blessing at times of deepest grief A Straight From the Source story
■ Fred & Beverly: Unique and Devastating Loss (by Wifeless) A Straight From the Source story
■ Last Kiss Epilogue: Some widows heal from grief by healing others
■ Ken & Michele: A widower's story of a loving couple's life A Straight From the Source story
For more on the series, please click here.