A Letter To My Wounded Child

Hugh Davis Lester and Hugh Thomas Hodges, c. 1940.

A few months after Joan died I wrote this letter to my Inner Child. I re-read it frequently during the next several months. It was very comforting.

My Dearest Child,

I know you are hurting and you cry a lot. It’s OK to cry. I feel sorry for you. Your pain is very real, for you have been abandoned by the most important person in your life, your Lover, the woman of your dreams, your protector. You do not and cannot understand why you were left alone and I cannot explain it to you. You were just abandoned and nothing that I say can take away that fact. Life is sometimes hard and this is one of those hard times.

But, please know that I love you, I will care for you and nourish you and comfort you. You are very important to me. I will not abandon you – I will always be here. Please believe me that your pain and tears will gradually lessen.  You will never forget your Lover – she will always be in your memory. Try to remember the good times you had with her, the moments of joy and happiness, the times you laughed together, the times you walked hand-in-hand, the trips you took together. Those good memories will help sustain you in the days and months ahead.

I love you,

Your Parent

I read this letter to a grieving friend of mine a few months ago. She asked, “Is this a letter from God?”

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Julius Blank – A Remembrance

Julius Blank

I met Julius Blank in a hospice bereavement group.

In the Fall of 2007, a few months after my wife died, I joined a bereavement group sponsored by Pathways Hospice of Sunnyvale. Week by week we met in a Lutheran church library, sat around a group of tables, and grieved together over the loss of our spouses. We all had our favorite places to sit in the library and mine was on a corner facing the church patio. It was somewhat comforting to see the plants and flowers through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

In the Spring of the next year a newcomer joined our group. His name was Julius and he sat next to me on that day and every meeting day thereafter. I had no idea who he was, except that he had been an engineer and was grieving the loss of his wife Ethel a few months before. He was a large man, somewhat quiet, of obvious intelligence and had a good sense of humor. I thought of him as a “gentle giant.” Only later did I discover how much of a giant he really was.

One day our group leader, Ann, called me and asked if I would pick up Julius and bring him to our meeting. He had fallen in a parking lot, broken his arm and could not drive. Of course I said “Yes.” And so began my friendship with this “gentle giant.” For the next several months I drove him to our bereavement meetings and on several occasions to his doctor’s appointments. He was very appreciative and on several occasions took me to lunch. I soon learned that he had worked for William Shockley, one of the inventors of the transistor, and was one of the founders of Fairchild Semiconductor. As a mechanical engineer he had designed  the machines that made the first integrated circuits on silicon. He was one of the Titans of Silicon Valley. I was in the presence of greatness.

Ann didn’t know it, but she had picked the ideal member of our group, perhaps,  to chauffeur Julius. I could talk with him about physics, computers, engineering and history. I knew about Shockley and Noyce. Usually I could understand what he said. Gradually he filled me in on his earlier life. He was from New York City and had attended City College. He worked as a machinist to support himself during school. Called into the U.S. Army in World War II, he was trained in the infantry, sent to a replacement depot (a “repple depple”) in France and then sent into the battle of the Hurtgen Forest during the biterly cold winter of 1944. That battle was a “meat grinder”, thousands of soldiers of both sides died and many of the replacements were killed within a few days or weeks of their assignment. Julius was lucky – he was wounded, walked to the aid station and was soon in a hospital in England. The doctors declared him unfit for any more combat and he was soon working for the Army as a machinist. Julius told me that winter was difficult season for him. The cold, even the mild cold of California, brought flashbacks of the Hurtgen Forest. He had trouble sleeping. Was he suffering from PTSD? Julius, a member of the “Greatest Generation,” paid a price for our victory in World War II.

One day we were having lunch and he shared with me his two great principles of engineering. 1. “There are no perfect solutions to problems, only trade-offs.” 2. “You can’t get rid of dirt, only move it.” I often think about that conversation and ponder it’s significance. I have the feeling that it was a father-son conversation.

At one of our bereavement meetings Ann thanked me for bringing Julius to the meetings. I told her that I considered it a mitzvah – a Hebrew word that my late wife had taught me. It means an act of human kindness. Julius’s arm soon healed. He resumed driving and no longer needed my help. At  the end of one of our meetings he presented me with a Mont Blanc Meisterstück fountain pen in appreciation of my mitzvah. I was awestruck, almost speechless, for I loved fountain pens and this was an extravagant and expensive gift. It was a personal pen of his – it was still filled with purple ink. How did he know? He had overheard me express my liking for fountain pens in an earlier meeting. How typical of the “gentle giant.” On the way  home I cried, one of the few times in my life that I have cried for joy. I later wrote him a thank-you note. I used the Mont Blanc, of course.

The bereavement group came to an end, but a number of us, including Julius, continued to meet monthly for brunch at Stacks in Menlo Park. Julius came frequently during the early months, then sporadically. He talked of surgery and seeing his cardiologist. He seemed to be moving more slowly now. Several calls were made to remind him of the meetings – calls that were not returned. He stopped coming. Now I understand why.

Julius Blank died of natural causes on Saturday, September 17, 2011. He was 86 years old. He was a long time resident of Los Altos Hills, but at the time of his death he was living in retirement at the Moldaw Family Residence, Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life in Palo Alto.  Directly across the street was the original Fairchild Semiconductor building with an historical marker out front.

Julius, it was a pleasure to know you, even for a short time. I will miss you. You enriched my life.

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The Portuguese Butterfly Woman

For some months after Joan died I kept a record of my dreams which I carefully recorded upon waking and then transcribed to my computer. Here is one of the more significant dreams:

Thursday, November 01, 2007: The Portuguese Butterfly Woman

<dream>: 8:07 am. I’m back at El Camino College, walking across the campus, and I am introduced to the new Vice President of Academic Affairs and I chat with him for just a minute or two. He recognized me from a telephone call previous to our physical meeting. He then leaves and I am walking on with his girl friend, a very strikingly beautiful woman. And I ask her name, and she says something and I try to repeat it, and I don’t get it right. So she tries again, and I still don’t get it right. She says something sort of disparaging like, “Do I have to draw you a picture or something?” At this point she starts snapping her fingers and moving then around. And I finally intuit, “Oh, butterfly.” “Yes,” she says with a smile, “My name in Portuguese means butterfly.” We separate at that point and I walk on to my office, which I had not been to in a long time. It is very, very crowded with another desk or two, and a typewriter stand, and I can barely make my way into the office. Someone else comes in and we start talking about what we can get rid of in order to free up some space. </dream>

[The masculine imagery (the Vice President) is of a strong, competent Self. But the anima image, although beautiful, is flitting about and needs to settle down. The cluttered office is like my cluttered mind, cluttered up by too many ideas and theories. Perhaps I need to relax a bit from my current intensity and allow the beautiful female butterfly to alight and teach me something. So I did. I went in and sat in my easy chair and listened to Bach for a while. 11/3/2007, I learned from reading Bullfinch’s Mythology that the Greek word psyche means both butterfly and soul.  So, I had a nice walk and talk with my beautiful anima-soul image! 11/7/2007. The butterfly is a Christian symbol of the Resurrection.  The Resurrection is the story of a death and transformation. So, perhaps, my anima is gently (butterflies are gentle creatures) leading me through death to a new life.]

From that day to this, butterflies have had a special significance to me.

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The poem is not your own …

The poem is not your own.
It is a gift from your Self.
Therefore, do not be proud or boastful,
But grateful for the gift.
When you read it
Remember your inner partner,
Your secret lover
Who will assist you in the delivery.
“We can do this together.”

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My Favorite Time of Day

My favorite time of day
Is when I return from
My morning walk.
I am tired, but pleasantly so.
I make coffee, light my pipe,
And sink into my big blue chair.
Sometimes I think about Joan,
Sometimes not.
Sometimes I read a page or two,
But usually I just sit
And think or meditate
And enjoy my thoughts.
I feel that now is a
Special time in my life.
I look forward to inventing
A new life for myself
And wonder what the new
Day will bring into focus.

January 2009

The view from my big blue chair

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Hodges Hobby House

The following was originally written on my web site for Hodges Hobby House, WinDerby.com, in 2003

Why are you selling Hodges Hobby House?

Answer: In order to smell the roses.

Here is the story: For several days prior to November 5, I was mildly  ill with what I thought was the “flu.” Silly me! By the time my wife  rushed me to the local hospital Emergency Room, I was in septic shock  from ascending cholangitis. A gallstone had lodged in my common bile  duct. The doctors later said that if I had arrived 30 minutes or so
later that they might not have been able to save me. I spent about 5  hours in the ER, then two days in ICU, followed by two days in a  regular ward, and then surgery. I no longer have my gall bladder –  thanks to a laparoscopic cholecystectomy! Thank God for doctors and  hospitals.

I had a close call, perhaps it was a “wake up” call.

So, I have decided to end my ownership of Hodges Hobby House after 25  years. It is time. I am 65 years old and it is about time to smell the  roses.

==================================================================

About one year ago I wrote the following to one of my young web  competitors who probably grew up with a computer in his bedroom:

Hello  ****,

Sometimes, my on-line shopping cart makes me think that I have died and gone to heaven! Click, click, tap, tap and the order is entered  into my computer and the invoice printed. Isn’t modern technology  wonderful!

When I started in the “mail order” business in 1978 my only technology  was paper, pen, a Smith-Corona portable typewriter that my parents  gave me upon High School graduation and a small calculator made in  Hong Kong with instructions written in Chinese. I had placed an  advertisement in Boys’ Life magazine and had visions of opening tons  of mail and extracting dollar bills sticky with peanut butter and  jelly from little kids fingers and mailing out my book. Alas, it was  not to be.

One Saturday morning, I shall never forget that morning, I received a  call on my home telephone (I had no business telephone) from a  customer who had received my very small catalog and could not wait for  the mails to send in an order. He had found me through an information  search and wanted me to ship some merchandise right away. Much amazed,
I took the order and mailed the items to him with a bill. It was then  that I realized that many of my customers were operating with a “short  fuse” and that time was critical in this business. So I added a  business telephone line, got a Visa/MasterCard merchant account and  United Parcel daily pickup.

[Sorry - interruption - an order just came in from the shopping cart.  BRB. Click, click, tap, tap.]

Catalogs were printed on an old hand crank Mimeograph machine. Orders  were processed by hand. Invoices for telephone orders were written by  hand and totaled using the calculator. Address labels were typed on  the old Smith-Corona and later on a used IBM Selectric. Credit card  slips were also written by hand, run through the imprinter (remember  the imprinters?) and then called into the bank card center to get the  authorization code. UPS orders were hand entered into the UPS record  book with full name and address. Lots of writing and lots of  duplication and way, way too many telephone calls. Many a night during  the busy season I worked until midnight or 1 a.m. and then got up at  4:30 a.m to go teach my classes.

About 1983 I acquired my first computer, an Altos dual floppy unit  running a Z80 at 4 MHz and using the CP/M operating system. Glory! I  wrote my own software in Bazic (an optimized form of Basic designed  for the Z80) and the order entry process was considerably simplified.  I finally talked (read “begged”) my bank into allowing me to print tab  feed credit card slips at my own expense and submitting them instead  of their slips. Eventually I talked (read “begged”) them into allowing  me to submit the credit card orders via modem to their authorization  center. Technology was beginning to simplify my business.

The rest you can guess. A fax machine – cost about $1300. MSDOS.  Pentiums. Windows. E-mail. A shopping cart. Now, the fax machine and  telephone are strangely quiet. There is only the beep of my e-mail  program announcing the arrival of an order. Click, click, tap, tap.

Many years ago a customer paid me a visit at my home in Glendale. He  was a medical doctor and also held a PhD in Electrical Engineering. To  say the least, he was no slouch intellectually. During a long evening  filled with marvelous conversation, wine and pipe smoke (mine), he  asked me: “What kind of business are you in?”

He knew as well as I did that I was in the pinewood derby business.  But that was not what he was asking. Without any hesitation I replied,  “I sell dreams. The dream of winning the pinewood derby.” He nodded  knowingly.

Best Regards,
… Hugh

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going Home, a pilgrimage through grief

going Home – Introduction: This poem was originally delivered to a hospice gathering.

Good afternoon. My name is Tom Hodges. I would like to share with you today a poem that I wrote in memory of my wife, Joan Hodges, who died of colon cancer in June of 2007. The poem is entitled:  going Home: a pilgrimage through grief.

A pilgrimage is defined as a journey to a sacred place or a shrine or, as I like to think of it, a journey with a spiritual purpose. This has certainly been true in my case.

All of the words in the poem are in lower case except two: the word Home and the word Love. I capitalized Home and Love to indicate that they refer to something transcending a home with four walls, something transcending human love.

My poem is unusual in structure. There is no rhyme or meter; there are no sentences or even phrases. I use single words to tell the story of my pilgrimage. Each word represents an important event in the pilgrimage or a deeply felt emotion.

The first section is happy –  it tells of our courtship and marriage. The second section is sad –  it tells of Joan s illness and death. The third section is hopeful –  as I tell about the aftermath of her death and my attempts to promote the healing of my soul. As you might guess, writing the poem was a healing experience for me.

going Home, a pilgrimage through grief

joan
encounter, eyes, smile, laughter
enchantment, angel, goddess
talking, singing, sharing, holding
happiness, joy, love
rabbi, vows, union
days, weeks, months, years
plans, trips, family, friends, laughter, hope
going Home: safety, warmth, comfort, Love

discomfort, pain
doctors, scans
cancer
shock, fear, anger, hope, pray
doctors, nurses, hospitals
scalpels, pills, tubes, injections, pain
waiting, hoping
waiting, hoping
hopeless, hopeless
anger, disappointment, tears, depression, resignation
hospice, nurse
morphine, waiting, breathing, rattle
silence
cold
tears, loneliness
going Home: safety, warmth, comfort, Love

calls, neptune, rabbi, family, friends
messages, cards, condolences, hugs
eulogy, grief, ashes
letters, lawyer, accountant, bank
cupboards, closets, drawers, goodwill
friends, neighbors, meals, talk, healing
walk, read, think, meditate, healing
memories, photos, gifts, healing
tears, smiles, tears, smiles, healing
not doing, doing, not doing, doing, healing
write, draw, paint, sculpt, healing
quiet, silence, meditate, healing
quiet, silence, pray, healing
think, feel, imagine, healing
group, listen, talk, share, healing
days, weeks, months, years, healing
plans, trips, family, friends, laughter, hope
going Home: safety, warmth, comfort, Love

Joan Tanya Hodges

in memory of joan tanya hodges
hugh t. hodges, 2008

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