On the Passing of Henry Hood or My Thoughts on a Great Man
I received news today that my mentor from my undergraduate days has died.
Henry Hood is the reason I majored in English while an undergrad. He is the reason I took up and continue writing. He is the reason I completed an MA and am currently working on a PhD in English. Along with God and my family, Henry Hood is the most important influence in the direction my life has taken.
When registering at East Texas Baptist College (now University), I had filled out my card, as it was done in those days, and waited in line to get it approved by one of the many advisors sitting behind the line of folding tables with the alphabet written on typing paper, directing individuals to the proper person – I waited, if I recall correctly, in the J through L group chatting occasionally to my best friend in the G through I group. Eventually, a man looked over my class choices and asked why I had chosen Developmental Writing and if I understood that the class was a non-credit course. I explained that I was a high school dropout and had received a GED after the military but before attending one year of Bible college. I also expressed my hatred of English during my formative years and of English classes and of English teachers. Because of these things I needed Developmental (remedial) English. He approved it.
At eight o’clock on Monday morning, I walked into the classroom to find that same advisor—Henry Hood taught that remedial class. I failed my first essay. I earned a D- on my second along with the comment “Dubious, at best.” Mr. Hood challenged me at every turn and never accepted the substandard writing that I continually produced. I don’t know that he said it, but it was about that time that I began to repeat a personal adage: “You can only do your best, and if your best isn’t good enough, get better.”
Hood’s classes were hard and he was a hard man. He once walked into our literature class and asked, “Who has read?” When only one person raised her hand, he wrote on the board “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin” We had been weighed on the scales of his high expectations and found lacking. I brought up this incident a few years ago, and he said, in his professorial voice, “I don’t recall that but it sounds like me.” It was because he challenged me to improve that I took every class I possibly could with him. When I received my first A from him on a paper from one of his classes, I walked around campus showing it to everyone I could find. I had earned bragging rights. I’m sure many others earned an A in his classes and on his papers, but it was my first and such a very long climb up from “Dubious, at best.” I had improved. I had gotten better.
Hood had a following of sorts on campus and those other creative writers and I were convinced that when we reached greatness that people would discuss the Hoodian influence. I saw him move us from blathering idiots to rhetoricians, from nursery rhyme makers to poetical architects, from slang slingers to adept users of “Standard Edited American English.” I once asked where he had learned to cook; he pointed to his shelf of cookbooks and said, “One merely has to follow the directions” He once called and asked for my assistance. He was using a Chilton’s manual and borrowed tools to rebuild the engine of his car. I was shocked to see him leave off the sometimes aloof professorial stance to work barefoot, wearing overalls and a t-shirt. Seeing his twisted toes, this was the first time I asked about his limp. The rumor mill had him being wounded in Vietnam, but he told me about his polio. That conversation led me to my thoughts on fate and serendipity and God’s will, for if he had not had polio as a child, would this big man’s life have taken a different turn? Did his tragedy create the circumstance that made him my mentor, my teacher, my professor, my advisor, and if I may, my friend?
In my life, Henry Hood influenced my direction, my writing, my reading, my thinking, my teaching, and my beliefs. The saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I thank my God that Henry Hood was waiting when I needed a teacher, and I can only hope that my life will honor him in some small way as I continue on this journey that he helped me begin.
We will miss you, sir.