Thursday, June 03, 2010

Uncle Cleo's Passing

"Moonshine Man
of Kentucky"
Harper's Weekly, 1877
(Image from Wikipedia)

My cousin Rachel tells me that my nearly 95-year-old Uncle Cleo, her grandfather, has passed away:
You may have heard that Cleo passed at 11:50 A.M. on June 1st, but I wanted to tell you myself. I am trying to find a fitting poem for the program. I would try to write one myself, but my creative energies are exhausted. Do you have any in mind, including anything you have written? I really don't want to use a generic cliche for Papa Cleo.
I'll have to think on this request, and rather quickly, too. For now, I can only provide an anecdote about Uncle Cleo's wilder days of youth, related by way of Uncle Cran, who heard it from Uncle Woodrow, who heard it from Uncle Cleo himself:
A man named Tollie Hawn . . . had two boys about Cleo's age. He had bought a large herd of cattle, and had placed them across the river on some mountain meadows for a year . . . . He hired the two boys and Cleo to drive an old car over there, crossing on . . . [some] man's ferry that . . . charged people to take them across. It had a cable stretched across the river, and by setting the angle, the current would move it across. I think there were horses over there with the cattle, but they would use the car [anyway] to get supplies. I can't say for sure what the supplies were, but Woodrow said they might have gotten some sugar to make "kool aid to go with the food." Anyway, it had come a big rain, and the river was up pretty high. They drove [back from the meadow] to the ferry, but no one was there to take them over so [that] they could go home, so they just drove the car on it, and the current took them across. They drove off and went home. I guess the owner had to get a boat to get over to [retrieve] his ferry. Woodrow said he thought the boys moved to West Plains, Missouri, and they likely have passed on by now.

I don't know if this [next anecdote] happened during that time, but he or someone he was with had a tire . . . [with a] valve stem [that] got messed up and the tire was going flat. Cleo got a stick, whittled it to fit the stem, they pumped up the tire, he stuck the stick in the stem, and they made it on home. He was pretty resourceful.
Uncle Cran was being somewhat coy in relating this tale and its follow-up. The man who hired Uncle Cleo may indeed have had cattle and horses on that Ozark meadow, but he might also have been a moonshiner who hired Uncle Cleo to do some moonshine running -- hence Uncle Woodrow's reference to 'kool aid' and the necessity for ample supplies of sugar.

I doubt that this story is appropriate for Uncle Cleo's funeral service, especially in a church, but Uncle Cleo is perhaps laughing right now to hear me tell it.

The image above is of a moonshiner in Kentucky during the latter 19th century, and -- except for the car in Uncle Cleo's story -- perhaps not so different from a moonshiner in the Arkansas Ozarks during the early 1930s, which is why I've posted it here.

Good-bye, Uncle Cleo . . .

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At 7:19 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

My sincerest condolences, Jeff.

At 7:22 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Kevin. I'm sure that Rachel will be grateful for them, too.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 9:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your extended family are your blessing. Through them, your Korean wife and children experience the warmth and color of American folk culture in the rural midwest. After a full life, your Uncle Cleo lives on in the stories passed down through your family.

Warm wishes,

At 10:04 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Sonagi. I suspect that my wife and kids will hear a lot more stories this summer about Cleo and others.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 7:04 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I really must come to Arkansas when you and your family are there. I am so devastated without my Papa. Thank you all for your condolences.

At 7:13 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Rachel, if you have time, we'll be happy to see you. A get-together with Uncle Woodrow, Uncle Cran, and the others would be a great opportunity.

I'll be in Salem from the 8 to the 16th of August, if that's any help.

By the way, when is Uncle Cleo's funeral?

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 8:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The stories about brother Cleo were in his wild days before his military service began, and you could say they pretty much ended when he met Ilsa during the occupation of Germany after WW2.
There were a few others even then.
For instance when I asked Cleo if he made Master Sergeant, he laughed and said he didn't remember all the times he was "busted" from Master Sergeant.
He did relate one instance after he & Ilsa were married.
It seems his commanding officer made a pass at Ilsa. She told Cleo, and he looked up his CO.
He said he was charged with beating him with a club.
He said the "club" was his big right hand.
But I remember him as the sweetest, nicest guy I ever met, with a quiet, soft voice, and a wonderful laugh.

So the stories of his early escapades were in his younger days.


At 8:08 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sounds like Ilsa met the right man.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 10:08 PM, Blogger Bill said...


On May 24 th I sent the following to some family: “I visited Dad yesterday and told him the news on Cleo. Dad laid his Bible aside, then asked “What’s wrong?” Advising I really didn’t know what was wrong, Dad thought for a moment, then said “He’s too ornery to die.” I saw some tears well in Dad’s eyes. I wish Dad would relate all the memories he has of Cleo.

And yesterday, Mom told Dad of Cleo’s passing. Dad said “We’re going to the services, aren’t we?”

I wish he could.

Cousin Bill

At 1:11 AM, Blogger Unknown said...


Tell your Dad that I will make him a video slide show of all the pictures of Papa we will use at the funeral.

The services are June 5th at 2 PM at the Ford Funeral Home in Midwest City, OK..

At 3:23 AM, Blogger Bill said...


Thank you. Dad will appreciate it.



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