Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fried Bread

My buddy Shane and I often reminisce about the food we ate growing up, or even as young adults. Growing up on the upper side of broke and the down side of working class, we learned early on food was something not to take for granted. I look back sometimes on a moment when I was trying to survive on ninety-four dollars a week. This would have been a challenge in itself but throw in a two-year-old child and a wife going to college, and you can easily see how broke we were. One morning, I went to make a sandwich for lunch. Grabbing a package of ham, I quickly realized it was out dated. Its slimy exterior gave a gel like quality to the touch. And the smell was less than pleasant. I was faced with the dilemma of going to work and not eating for the next nine hours or going back to the school of Hard Knocks I grew up in. So, I took the last few pieces of outdated meat over to the sink and washed them with dishwashing soap until it smelled no more. Tasteless as it was, the sandwich was a meal that day and that was just the way it was.

Although growing up with very little at times, I thought of myself as lucky. We always had something growing in the garden, and there was small game that could be hunted to add a little meat to my belly. But the staple meal was beans, rice, and potatoes. Poor folks live on starch which we all know turns to sugar; feeding the bran dopamine; making something as simple as food addictive. I read somewhere years ago this is why alcohol is such a problem with the poor; it has much the same affect going into the bloodstream quickly, making the brain feel good. The same feelings of comfort we had as kids growing up.

Anyways, Fried Bread, Cat Head Biscuits, Potted meat, and Recycled tea bags are all stuff we laugh about now but have been a reality at different times in our lives. One thing Shane and I have in common is our love for music. Creativity runs high in poor communities. It’s away of escaping the world you find yourself in. A relief from the day in and day out. When I played in bands in and out of the Gainesville Music Scene, I was always able to spot the musicians that were self taught. The creativity seemed to be dripping off them. They were very honest with their emotions and it transcended into their art.

My love for music started early on. I shared a room with my sister Teresa, who was like a mother to me, well, to all of us. She worked tirelessly to make sure we were taken care of. She loved music like we all did in the Hodges household. But some music was forbidden by my mother AKA The Penguin. If it wasn’t being sang in church or by Pat Boone, it was not being played in her house.

So, each day we patiently waited for The Penguin to make her way to the mailbox. Once she was out the door and on her way, the fun began. One brother or sister would always keep their eye on the front gate for her return. My sister Teresa would grab her record single of The Ohio Players Fire, from its hiding spot. Suddenly, the needle was on the record and it was time to get down, as we said in The Seventies. Chairs were pushed to the side of the room. Clogs moving under bellbottoms to the rhythm of a funky bass-line was a wonderful sound that still rings out in my mind. These were really some of the first memories I had growing up… Yes Disco warped my brain at a young age… Dancing like the fun would never stop, and thinking to myself why is having this much fun so bad? It seemed like the song was over before we knew it and the lookout was saying, “She’s at the gate.” The record was quickly put back in its sleeve and returned to its hiding spot. The Penguin would walk in with narrowed eyes that seemed to say, “Guilty,” when she looked upon a roomful of sweaty kids sitting quietly. We had gotten away with a little bit of bad, if only for a moment…

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


A wise man once said the dash between the years in someone’s epitaph represents their life lived. He went on to say he was happy he'd been a part of that dash in his friend's life who had just passed away. I wrote a poem a short time back called, "A Moment In Time," reflecting a similar concept. Life is nothing but moments in time; good or bad, they can never be relived. Life seems to come and go whether you want it to or not. Family, friends, love found, love lost, and love given are all a part of life, but it doesn’t make the stinging any less painful when tragedy happens…

The day before my sister Michelle passed away, I ran into her at Publix where she worked. She seemed somewhat surprised to see me but happy all the same. She told me she was sick with the flu and had come in to work another person’s shift. This was a little puzzling to me but not to out of the norm for a Hodges to help someone out, even if they weren’t feeling well. I think we get this trait from our father. He’s a kind man that has spent a lifetime helping others, expecting nothing in return. My sister and I had a short discussion about what her wishes were if something ever happened to her. I didn’t think this was to out of the norm because of something our other sister Laura has said countless times, “The Hodges have always lived their lives with a since of urgency.” Never putting off 'til tomorrow. Smiling, I said, “Nothing’s going to happen to you, Michelle.”

Anyways, I told her she needed to go home and get some rest. She absolutely looked like hell. She just smiled and insisted on giving me a hug, and I insisted on telling her if she did I was going to catch the flu. With a stern look she said, “You better give me a hug.” I did, and that’s the last part of the dash in Michelle’s life I was a part of.

A day or so later, I was walking out my door headed to the Suwannee River to spend the weekend, when my phone rang. It was my mother. She asked if I was sitting down and if someone was with me. I knew instantly the next words would be that someone had passed away. I replied, “Did someone die?” She told me she had found my sister that morning. After making sure my mother was okay and was with plenty of family, I told her I needed to get away for a few days. I couldn’t deal with the world at that point. She said she understood, and I started for the river.

It seemed like I sat by the river for weeks but it was only two days. I couldn’t stop thinking about my sister and others that had passed away in my life. I told my mother before I left that I would speak at Michelle’s funeral. As I sat in the drizzling cold rain, I watched the river flow past like it had for thousands of years. I was thinking at the time how much life was like that river; constantly moving by, whether we’re here or not. I felt incredibly guilty for not hearing her words more clearly. I knew she had struggled with depression for years, but sometimes I think you don’t want to hear what someone is saying to you. Hindsight seems to be 20/20 all the time, yet hindsight can comeback to bite you, if you spend to much time there.

Arriving home, I started to write what I was going to say the next day. Some of the good times I had with Michelle. Her taking me for walks in the woods behind our home when I was a small child. Woods that seemed to be a strange new world of shadows and mystery; animals and strange sounds. She would reach out her hand, looking down at me with her big brown eyes and a warm smile. I would take hold, gripping it with my little fingers. She would say, “Follow me,” and the woods didn’t seem so bad. As I wrote, I could only think that whatever or wherever she was, she would be one of the first to meet me when it was my time to go, with an outstretched hand saying, “Follow me,” and it wouldn’t seem so bad.

Before I knew it, the next day had arrived, and I was standing at the pulpit. I had never spoken in front of anyone before, especially under those circumstances, but sometimes in life you have to do the unthinkable. I was sick by this point with the flu, and my fever had still not broken. I felt as if I were going to pass out. For a brief moment, before I started to speak, I thought of the irony of me being sick with my sister’s cold… A germ alive in me that was alive in her days before. But at that moment I was happy to be sick for it meant I'd hugged her one last time…