Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Parting Words for Uncle Cleo . . .

Cleo Louie Harris
'Uncle Cleo'
(Photo from

Cousin Bill or Uncle Cran -- I don't recall which -- sent me a link to Uncle Cleo's obituary in, so this post might be of interest primarily for family, though anyone is free to continue reading:
Master Sergeant (Retired) Cleo Louie Harris was born October 12, 1915, and grew up on his grandparents' farm in Elizabeth, Arkansas. He passed away on June 1, 2010 in Midwest City, Oklahoma. He enlisted in the Army in 1932. As a part of the 344th Field Artillery Battalion, he stormed Omaha Beach during the Normandy invasion. After 28 years of service he retired, and he and his beloved son, Chuck, worked at several service stations he owned in Del City. Cleo was known for his infectious laughter, his yodeling, and his amusing stories. He was an avid poker player and outdoorsman. His finest quality was his ability to make everyone feel special and loved. He deeply loved his Lord and enjoyed reading his Bible in quiet solitude. He was preceded in death by his sister Margaret and his brother Bradley. He is survived by his precious wife of 58 years, Ilse; four children, Carolyn Carpenter and husband Dave, Chuck Harris and wife Sherri, Sherry Seaberg and husband Norm, and Jeanette Harris. Cleo's surviving siblings are his beloved brothers, Elmo, Paul, Jarrell, Woodrow, James, Buel, and Cranford Hodges; and his sweet sisters, Virginia Ashley and Kathryn Burns. He will be lovingly remembered by his ten grandchildren, Aubree Marks, Amber Campo, April Linenger, Lindsey Velazquez, Cole Harris, Callie Harris, Brett Seaberg, Preston Seaberg, Rachel Stewart, and John Roby; as well as 7 great-grandchildren. He taught us how to live, but not how to live without him.
I never realized that Uncle Cleo stormed one of the beaches at Normandy. The stories that I heard were of his 'wild days' as a youth. By 1944, he would have been nearly 30 . . . but I guess that particular D-Day would have been his wildest day ever. I found the obituary's closing words touching: "He taught us how to live, but not how to live without him." After reading that, I posted a comment under the obituary:
Living in South Korea, I was too far away for the funeral, but I recall Uncle Cleo from my childhood, as well as as a few of the many stories about the man from his teenage years on the Ozark farm in northern Arkansas. I wish that I'd have had the opportunity to talk with him after I had grown up, for I know that he would have been a fount of wisdom. He will be missed.
Cousin Bill drove down from Kansas to Oklahoma for the service, which was last Saturday, the fifth of June, and he reports back:
The service was beautiful, and a fitting memorial to Cleo and his accomplishments in life . . . the most notable, his family. In every picture on that screen, from the first to final, we saw a man who loved and was loved. A fitting tribute to a gentleman. I don't think many eyes remained dry during the service. The service was followed by a Military Funeral Honors Ceremony at the cemetery, with Ilse being presented the folded flag. Following, we all gathered at granddaughter Rachel's home, giving everyone a chance to visit and reminisce.
Part of the reason no eye remained dry were the lovely, touching words by his granddaughter Rachel, for he was so much like a father to her that she called him "Papa":
To My First and Last Teacher
I remember sitting with my Papa on the back porch. The humid summer nights made the sky shiver like liquid glass and he would map the stars for me. Some constellations that others had dreamed, but more those only we could see together. We sat in wonder at the sheer magnitude of all those other worlds, all those other lights.

And so he taught me to see and question beyond my own limited frame of reference. And through this I learned that our actions, our thoughts, and our words affected all of life and that empathy was the only path to true self-awareness.

I remember him taking me across the bridge over the creek behind their house. The looming bridge with no end . . . In a panic, I pulled my hand away and refused to go further. But then, his gentle eyes and soothing voice led me across.

And so he taught me to move forward, though paralyzed with fear. And when we were across, I found that the bridge without end led to fields of flowers.

I remember watching with him the dazzling light of the fireflies, the shock of their bright flame in the blackest summer nights. How I wanted to catch them. And for me, he did, his hands far quicker than mine. And so, at my request, he would lower the fireflies into a jar for me to keep. But soon I saw that the lights of the fireflies were fading, and in a panic I ran to him to find out why the lights had gone out. And he said, "See baby, fireflies are no more meant to live in jars than you."

And so he taught that what we love is not to be owned or possessed. Love means to revere with humility. For we cannot trap what we love without stifling its natural light.

Without these gifts he gave me, I might have become bitter. Instead, I am learning to speak my truth. And in this process I must strive to honor his memory by reining in my tendency for cynicism, and learn to find wisdom even in moments of pain, even in this moment because all of them are gifts.

And so I have arrived at the final great lesson . . . The lesson of letting go . . .

One of the last things he told me was that he would wait for me and we would cross the pearly gates together. And I know this to be true. For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come!
Rachel had asked me if I could suggest a poem, perhaps one of my own, for Uncle Cleo's service. I didn't think any of mine appropriate and wasn't able to find time to write a new one because of a deluge of student essays to grade and the shortness of time, but Cousin Rachel has written something far better than a poem.

Uncle Cleo truly must have been a wonderful teacher . . .

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At 1:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My condolences.

Herschel D.

At 1:48 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Herschel.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such sadness tempered by the flavor of love,
all my best to you and his family,

At 5:20 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Jeanie.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your cousin Bill was the one sending this information.
I have been busy doing up hay and spending little time on the computer.
And just yesterday, after battling flulike symptoms, and deciding this was how I felt when contracting Rocky Mountain spotted fever, I checked into the Mt. Home, AR veteran's clinic, and this was confirmed. I'm back on a double dose of doxycycline and a return visit to the clinic in two weeks. I haven't felt like blogging.


At 8:26 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Uncle Cran, for clarifying that point.

Also, I'm sorry to hear that you've again contracted tick fever. I hope that the medicine has a rapid, successful effect.

Jeffery Hodges

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