Friday, December 12, 2008

"Forever . . . coming home on the 3rd day": an unexpected death in the Ozarks

Dawt Mill
Ozark County, Missouri

In response to the obituary that I posted for Sun-Ae's father, my Uncle Cran mentioned how his own father -- my paternal grandfather -- died:
It was about this time of year in 1941 that my father had his leg injury while dragging logs to a sawmill with a team of horses, resulting in his death from blood poisoning (gangrene), and possibly a blood clot that entered his heart.

My memories of him are faint, and almost like dreams, and sister Virginia, being only 4 months old, has none.
That didn't precisely dovetail with the story that I had heard, so I posted a request:
By the way, sometime you might send me an email on how Grandpa Hodges met with his accident. I'd always heard that he was felling a tree that fell on him. Your remark here doesn't fit that story.
A couple of days later, Uncle Cran sent the official story, which is a bit more complicated:
Jeffery, my father, James Horace Hodges had an interesting life. Mom had a trunk that contained his scores on an Arkansas test to qualify as a school instructor. He passed, and taught a country school for a short time.

He was called into military service in World War I, and was an ambulance driver in France. As I understand, some ambulances were horse drawn, and that is what he drove, but I can't say for sure.

I was told that he and your grandfather Perryman were in basic training together, that Henry had a nervous breakdown, and Dad accompanied him back to Salem before returning to the army.
Yes, that fits what Grandpa Perryman told me.
But in any event, dad went on to France while still single, and while there had one or more French girlfriends. I have also been told that Dad and Mom's first child, a girl, was named Marguerite after one of Dad's French girl friends, but again, I can't confirm that. After he came home from the war, he started dating Mom, and married her when my half brother Cleo was about 6 years old. They lived in [the tiny Arkansas community of] Elizabeth with his parents for a while, then built a house on the road about 2 miles north of Mitchell, [Arkansas,] and my older brothers and sisters were born before they bought the farm on Big Creek, where I and also Virginia was born, in an old log cabin.

I faintly remember Dad would take me to the barn before daylight and I would play in the hay manger while he milked the cows. Mom said I would throw a fit if he didn't wake me up and take me along. I can also remember showing him how I could hop like a frog. Mom said I would say, "Daddy, see the geejog bop" (see the toad frog hop).
Uncle Cran, that "geejog" sounds more like "tree frog" to me.
Anyway, to make extra money dad would haul logs from where they were being cut, dragging them to the sawmill. The sawmill owner told him it would save time if he would haul two logs at a time. On the first trip, as the team was dragging the two logs, one caught on a stump, the logs swung around, and ran over his leg, right where a large rock stuck out of the ground. It crushed his leg severely. Dad had to get his leg out from under log, get on one of the horses, lying sidways, and riding to [the Arkansas town of] Viola. The doctor (Dr Roe) bandaged him up as best he could, and said he would have to get him to the VA hospital in [the northwestern Arkansas town of] Fayetteville. While there, infection set up, so they put him in an ambulance and took him to Little Rock. By then he was kind of out of his head from the infection, and his medical records didn't go with him, and they thought he was a mental case, and put him in the psychiatric ward, until his records got there. Then they started treating him, but it was too late. His death certificate said he died from septicemia (blood poisoning).

After the funeral Mom's family was going to get together to partition us kids, since they didn't think Mom could handle such a family, where the farm and all the livestock were mortgaged. Mom said she laid awake three nights wondering what to do. The night before [we would have been partitioned], she lay awake until midnight before the meeting . . . then said aloud, we will all eat together, or starve together . . . and went to sleep. Next day she notified her family, and the rest is history.
Uncle Cran got some information from his older sister, Aunt Kathryn:
Sister Kathryn called and told her story. She was staying with Aunt Cora, and one of the teachers would bring her to school [in Viola]. The morning after the news of Dad's death, she was crossing the wall to school and some girls came running, and yelling, "Your daddy's dead, your daddy's dead!" She started screaming, Woodrow picked her up and carried her to the Superintendent's office . . . and she can't remember anything else that happened until the day of the funeral.

It was a nightmare for all the older kids, but I couldn't understand what was happening, and Virginia was just a baby.

Kathryn said she wanted to go and have [her older brother] Paul hold her, and one of her uncles grabbed her and held her, wouldn't let her go . . . and she hated that man the rest of her life.

It affected all of us, each in a different way. Kathryn had emotional problems for most of her life, and only in the last ten or fifteen years, with psychiatric counseling, did she understand that it started at that time.

Mother somehow kept us together, the boys did the farming, and eventually the farm debts were paid. Her life would be a story in itself.

That is about all I know.
Aunt Kathryn -- who took care of me for about 6 months when I was five years old and staying with her in Kansas City and attending Kindergarten -- has filled in more details:
First of all, I want to offer my condolences to you and your family on losing Sun-Ae's father. It is always sad, even when expected.
Thank you. I'll tell Sun-Ae.

Cran asked me to write some things about our Dad.

First of all, I got to be the pet, because they had lost Marguerite. Then I came along after 7 brothers, then Brad, Cran and finally Virginia. So, I was Dad's pet for almost 7 years. Brad was only a year and a half younger than me. He went with Dad everywhere (stuck like a burr). For instance, every fall they would take the corn to a grist mill to have it ground into cornmeal. The Dawt Mill near Gainesville, MO. They would leave early in the morning have the corn ground next day, come home on the 3rd day. Forever after, I would pretend that Daddy would be coming home on the 3rd day (day dreaming, after he died).

Well, 'ole Brad got to go with him everywhere, I couldn't go because I was a girl. But I beat him out at home. Dad gave me all the attention -- well except for Cran. He was so cute, still remember him doing his frog hop, that was pretty much our entertainment in the evening.

Cran told you about how Marguerite got her name, but Mother told me that Dad had a girlfriend in England, also. Her name was Clementine. He wanted to name me after her. Mom said "NO". So my Aunt Eunice got to name me.

Mother also told me that Elmo and Paul got to go to school where Dad taught, the 2-room school at Cedar Park (I think) near Elizabeth, before they consolidated all those schools with Viola.

The last day that we saw Dad, Mother and all us kids were strung out [along the dirt road] heading to [the tiny community of] Flora to catch the bus to school. She was going to Viola to take care of some business. Dad was coming up from the barn,driving a team of horses, he was singing a hymn and waving good-bye. Both Dad and Mom were good singers. Mother was in town when he got there [with his injured leg], but could not go to the hospital [in Fayetteville] -- too many kids to take care of.

Dad wrote a lot of letters home to Mother -- he always mentioned each kid by name and had a message for each. At the end he always said kiss baby for me.

The last letter that I remember, he told Mom to send one of the older boys to [the big Missouri town of] West Plains with the local store owner to buy a radio. He said you will need to keep up with the war news as they will start drafting the older boys. This was written on Dec. 7th -- he had just heard about [the Japanese attack on] Pearl Harbor. He said to be sure to buy a Philco radio. That radio had a huge battery, like a car battery. Then the refrain that we heard for years was "Turn off that radio we have to save the battery." We were only allowed to listen to a very few programs other than the news.

When Dad got the infection so bad in his ankle, they decided to send him to the VA hospital in Little Rock, but the ambulance drivers got there without his papers. He was running such a high temperature that he was talking out of his head (do not remember medical term for that). Anyway he was put in the psych ward and of course just got worse with the blood poisioning. None of the family could be notified until his papers caught up with him. By then it was too late.

Those girls [at the school in Viola] telling me that my Daddy was dead shocked me so bad that all I remember was Woodrow telling me, "No, he is not."

The next memory was a couple of days later. Aunt Eunice took care of me. We were at the Hodges' old home in Elizabeth for the viewing. But I wouldn't look at Daddy in a casket. I totally refused.

Then we were at the cemetary, under a tent-like thing. It had snowed so much and just kept on snowing. They had a military funeral for Dad. It was very impressive. Mother was presented with a flag.

Brad said he went over and looked in the grave and it had so much snow in there (he probably said full of snow). I told my grief counselor about that many years later and she said, "Your little brother probably thinks that it was so cold and so much snow in there that it still hasn't melted."

We still can't get the older boys to talk about Dad alive or dead. So, my memories, Brad's, and the things Mom told us are about it.

After Mother passed, I was sent to grief counseling. Well, she was pretty old and it was not unexpected though of course sad. The counselor asked me about my Dad and I started to cry which I had been doing for 50+ years, could not talk about him without crying. She started asking me to do things to come to grips with my feelings -- one of the most useful was writing letters to both of them, lots of letters which I did. She suggested taking the letters to the graves and leaving them there -- told her that I can't do that. Was asked why -- told her I have too many nosy sisters-in-law.

I wrote all this last night, but somehow it got lost in cyber space. Hope this goes through. You can put any thing about me that Cran wrote or anything that I wrote, if you wish. Am not embarassed or ashamed of any of it.

Well, there it is, from Uncle Cran and Aunt Kathryn both, words about a grandfather I knew only by fragments of other people's memories -- mostly from my Grandpa Perryman, the two of them having grown up together as best friends -- but I now know far more about the man than I ever knew before.

And as for my paternal grandmother, Grandma Hodges, I'd always loved her, of course, but I had never understood what she had gone through and how tough she must have been to make and keep that decision about holding the family together after Grandpa Hodges had died.

Perhaps I learned something as well about my own late father, once a small boy watching snow fall into the grave of a man who didn't come home on the third day.

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At 8:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeffery, I also learned more about my dad from reading Kathryn's letter.
I struggled with not having a father all my life, until Kathryn loaned me a book, THE LOSS THAT IS FOREVER, (don't remember the author).
It helped me understand my feelings, and finally come to grips with them. And then I heard guitarist Chet Atkins sing a song: I STILL CAN'T SAY GOODBY. That song became my song:

When I was young, my dad would say,
Come on son, let's go out and play.
Sometimes it seems like yesterday.

(chorus, see below)

He always took care of Mom and me,
We all cut down a Christmas tree.
He always had some time for me.

Wind blows through the trees,
Night lights they still shine bright,
Most things are the same,
But I miss my Dad tonight.


I walked by a Salvation Army store,
Saw a hat like my daddy wore,
I put it on, when I walked in,
I'm still trying to be like him.

No matter how hard I try,
No matter how many years go by,
No matter how many tears I cry,
I still can't say goodby.

I miss you, Papa,


At 8:53 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sad memories, Uncle Cran.

I wish that my Grandpa Hodges had lived long enough for me to know him. I suspect that I'd have been a better man for the influence.

I'm probably unworthy to share the name "Horace" with him, but I didn't have any choice in that.

So, I go by "Jeffery."

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 9:24 AM, Blogger Bill said...

To this day, my Dad's gray eyes fill with tears when telling of his fathers' passing. And then, he will talk of better times on the Mitchell and Flora farms.
I also wish that we (grandsons and granddaughters) had known Grandpa.
Dad once told me our Uncle Woodrow was most like his father, continuing with the words "If you like Woodrow, you would have loved my Dad".
Grandma Nora gave me the flag that draped Grandpa Horace's coffin. It now resides in a flag case in my home, with a brass engraved plaque stating "In Memory Of James Horace Hodges, Feb. 22, 1893-Dec. 30, 1941"
I'll be sure Dad sees this article.
Thanks, Uncle Cran and Aunt Kathryn
for your memories.

At 10:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I left out one part of the first words of the song:

Then I'd climb up the closet shelf,
When I was all by myself,
Grab his hat, and fix the brim,
Pretending I was him......


At 1:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cran, well to All,

When my own Dad passed I was working some distance away (Gonzales Louisiana). Some weeks had passed when I found myself shooting pool in a little dive called "Bonnie's" in French Settlement.

Dad and I had played snooker quite frequently and this old fellow I had as an opponent was "snookering me" to the degree that I was reminded of Dad. I teared up.

The old guy asked me, "What's the matter son?" I said, "I miss my Dad."

He said, "Son, I'm eighty-three years old, and I still miss my Dad."

I smiled when a short bit later he said, "Loser buys the next round."


At 7:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a little kid living with grandma Nora I would spend a lot of time looking at a photo of grandpa Hodges. It hung on a wall in the living room. He was wearing his Army uniform. My mom, Kathryn, and grandma Nora would tell me about him, including how he was injured and died. Even at an early age it struck me how you could survuve a world war and still be killed.

My mom showed me copies I beleive, of some of grandpa Hodges letters that he sent from the hospital. She was very proud of his common sense and love.

Thank you for sharing this information Jeff. I still remember living with you in Kansas City.

Larry Young

At 9:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Larry - Bill - Jeffery:
Three of my favorite nephews.
I actually have a whole bunch......we are a prolific family.
Thanks, JK

At 3:41 AM, Blogger Al-Ozarka said...


My experience online is often one that leaves me with feelings of bitterness. There is so much hatred across the web...especially in the political circles I often traverse.

It's great to come here on occasions like today and read such a display of love and tenderness.

To the Hodges family - your display of love towards your family patriarch is truly inspiring.

Thanks for that!

Jeff, next time you're home...I demand you invite me to a family function! (Did I say that?)

At 8:01 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Bill, I would like to see that flag someday . . . if I ever get to Kansas.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 8:02 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, JK, that's a good and touching story, too.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 8:06 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Larry, I clearly recall the Kansas City days and going to that one semester of kindergarten. I had a lot of fun with you and the others. I remember believing that clam chowder would build up my muscles because your father assured me that it would . . . along with Popeye's spinach.

Of course, I did fall out of that tree onto my head, so maybe I would have believed anything that I was told.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 8:13 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Daddio (Al-Ozarka), you'll be officially invited . . . after another of those hillbilly hikes.

By the way, everyone should visit the EIC site run by Daddio (aka Denny) and his friends, who are doing great work on calling attention to a heritage that is fast fading away.

"EIC" stands for "Exploring Izard County" and can be found here.

Daddio can correct me if I've gotten any details wrong.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 10:03 AM, Blogger Barbara said...

I am one of your cousins - Bill & Hazle's daughter - also known as Bill's youngest sister.

I also wanted to offer condolences to your wife and family upon the death of her father.

The blog about Grandpa Hodges was very interesting. Learned things that I had not heard before. We all loved Grandma Nora - too bad we never had the chance to know Grandpa. Heaven will be that much sweeter being able to meet him.

I enjoy reading your blogs.


At 10:12 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Cousin Barbara, thank you for the condolences on Sun-Ae's father. I'll pass them on.

I'm glad that you explained our connection -- we have so many cousins that I find myself unable to remember them all without being prompted. I'm not even sure that I've met most of my Hodges relatives despite the family reunions back when I was still growing up in Salem.

This blog entry on Grandpa Hodges was one of the most interesting for me, probably because I didn't write it but only posted it, so I learned a lot.

Thanks for visiting and commenting . . . and I hope never to bore any of my readers.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 12:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kathryn and I were hoping some of our brothers would add to what we know about this incident, and their recollections of our dad.

At 5:43 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, if they do offer their memories, I'll post them in follow-ups.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 7:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Very touching. I love Woodrow so I can not even imagine how I would have felt about Grandpa Hodges.


At 7:51 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Tim, thanks for the comment. Of course, I deserve no credit for this blog entry, as you know, for the words come from Uncle Cran and Aunt Kathryn.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


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