I have been trying to remember just how long ago it was that I last made my way to the home of Mr. Patrick.
I had not been there many times, but on this particular occasion, I was there because he had told my dad he had something for me. Despite the fact that his wife of 65 years, Helen, had died shortly before that, his house was still meticulously kept, a solitary outpost of civilization in a mostly backwoods area, just outside of Newtonia, about halfway between the city and the Civil War Cemetery.
Mr. Patrick was expecting me when I arrived and graciously asked for me to enter. It was the first time I had seen him in a few years, but he looked exactly the same as I remembered. We talked for a few moments, then he showed me the reason he had asked me to stop by.
"You are a newspaperman, I thought you might like this," he said, holding out a book containing old newspaper stories. He was right; I did like it and read it cover to cover when I returned to my apartment later that evening.
Though I had not seen Mr. Patrick for several years, since the days in the mid-70s when the Newtonia Community Center first opened and I served as master of ceremonies at the musicals held the first Saturday of each month. He was at each of those events, drinking coffee and eating a piece of whatever pie was for sale, watching his favorite performer.
Most of the entertainment was a combination of bluegrass, country, and gospel music, accompanied by fiddles, guitars, and the piano. He listened while Hattie Mae Johnson entertained with her monthly poem, but his favorite artist was the ragtime piano player, Mrs. Patrick, a woman who had both regal bearing and a skill at bringing back that musical style of yesteryear.
I did not see Mr. Patrick for years after that, but we did keep in touch because I was a newspaper editor and he was the last of a dying breed, a prolific, literate author of letters to the editor. I eagerly awaited each new letter. I didn't always agree with the thoughts he expressed, but I knew that well-reasoned letters (and his were on a wide variety of topics) were a rarity and were meant to be cherished.
Occasionally, he would send a month's worth of letters, to be run once a week when he was going to be busy or out of town. When his letters were absent for a few weeks, he would inevitably offer a handwritten apology. Though some who read his letters took him to be gruff and curmudgeonly, I always thought of him as being someone who was unfailingly polite (but who did not tolerate fools).
Hodgen O. Patrick died Monday at age 98, leaving a handwritten obituary to the local newspapers to be run word-for-word the way he wanted it. Whether that was a reaction to any hamhanded editors who dared touch a word on his letters, I don't know. I certainly never changed a word. It would never have occurred to me to do so.
Nearly four decades have passed since I saw Mr. Patrick on a regular basis. I can vividly picture him sitting in the back of the Community Center enjoying the show.
Hopefully, he is once again listening to ragtime music played by his favorite entertainer. They say the sound system is much better up there.