Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Answer soon. Love, Hoyt"

After re-reading my post yesterday, I realize I need to clear up a wrong picture I might have painted of my daddy for those who didn't know him.

Yes, daddy suffered a nervous breakdown. Yes, it affected him for the rest of his life.

But, NO, it did not make him a bad father. He was a wonderful daddy--kind, affectionate, funny. He loved a good joke. He loved music. He loved watching his son play sports--I don't think he ever missed a single game my little brother played.

Daddy was one of six children born to John Walter Kelley, Sr., and his wife, Cora Mae. They had five boys--Sherrill, John Walter (Jr.), Brady, Paul and daddy (Hoyt); and one little girl, Callie Wilma. (I don't remember their birth order, but I do remember my daddy was the baby.)

They grew up during the Great Depression--very poor, very proud. For a time, they sharecropped. Several of the brothers played musical instruments, and I've been told they performed at community functions and "passed the hat" to make a little extra money.

Four of the sons and the daughter (whom we called Mimi) served in World War II. In fact, my Mama Kelley was honored in the newspaper for being a "Five-Star Mother." (In the above picture, Uncle Sherrill is "2"; Uncle Walter is "3"; Uncle Paul is "4"; Mimi is "5"; and the baby of the family, my daddy...is "6".)

To the best of my memory, none of them spoke much of their wartime experiences. And, unfortunately, they had all passed away before I realized what a wealth of history I had been born into. (I did find out from one of daddy's war letters that Uncle Walter played guitar in an armed services band for awhile. How cool is that!)

A few years ago, mama divided up daddy's war letters between me and my brother. In one letter, daddy mentions seeing a boxing match in England with a young, "up-and-coming boxer named Joe Louis."

Many letters I inherited speak mostly of the day-to-day challenges of a young man, far from home, who clearly misses his family. They are all addressed "Dear Mama," and give reports about letters he's received (and not received), pictures of himself and others he's sending home, the fruit cakes and candy he received and "gobbled up" each Christmas he was away, and of his longing for "film (size 120)" and for "a radio that works."

In several letters, he writes worriedly about a sick "Pop" back home and about a young niece (Brenda) who had been stricken with polio. The happiest letters are ones where he's writing about being able to meet two of his brothers, Paul and Walter, who were stationed in Europe within a few hours of each other. In one letter, written from England on March 27, 1944, daddy is writing about "the slow mail service." Well...here...I'll let daddy tell you in his own words:
"I didn't get Paul's letter until yesterday at noon saying he was coming here. So, I ran into town and met him. He had been there since the night before. If I had gotten the letter sooner, we could have been together longer. He had to go back last night." 

In that letter, daddy goes on to say: "Paul has gained weight too since he's been over here. We didn't get to have any pictures taken." From daddy's frequent mention of "pictures" and his repeated requests for "film (size 120)," photographs were of great importance to a mother who had sent five children off to war and to a son who had been away from his family's faces for far too long.

And, almost each and every letter ends..."Answer soon. Love, Hoyt"

My favorite "Kelley brothers' war story" involved Paul and Walter. The way I always heard this story told is the two of them were traveling back to the States on the Queen Elizabeth. Neither had heard from the other in awhile. Neither knew for sure if their siblings were alive...injured...missing. Neither knew the other was on the ship...until a mutual friend somehow saw both of them and managed to get them together.

Can you imagine?

Whenever I replay that story in my head, I picture them throwing their arms around each other's necks...and being just...so relieved...so happy...so grateful for the world not to be at war any longer...so thankful to be headed home...together.
"Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words:
Be joyful. Grow to maturity. 
Encourage each other.
Live in harmony and peace....
Greet each other with Christian love.
All of God’s people here send you their greetings.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, 
the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."
(2 Corinthians 13:11-14 NLT)

1 comment:

  1. Sissy,
    Just read your post on my blog. I chose this as my first post to read of yours. I have always loved Kevin telling "Hoyt stories"... I especially love the story when Kevin got stung by a bee. Anyway, the Kelley family sure knows how to tell a story (you, Kev and Day). I'm glad you turned me on to your blog... I'll be sure to follow. Kimberly isn't all too different from my upbringing in Taylorville. Really the only difference is that of a few years. Anyway, hope all is well. Lots of changes at the Andrews house in 08. Take care and keep writing.
    Big Micah