Disneyworld can be “the wonderful world of Disney,” or it can be a gargantuan, God-forsaken, galaxy of greed and blubbering babies and their petulant parents. For the Hogues, in the fall of 1996, it was mostly good. I honestly don’t remember much of the trip except that Dad seemed older than he had ever been. He would stop at benches to take breaks from walking, and just the drive there or back exhausted him more than was normal. I had told him for years that he was 47 as far as I was concerned, as that was how old he was the first time I started being aware of his age, and he hadn’t visibly aged since. I fully expected him to remain “47” until someday I would come home and he would be an old man.
On the Sunday evening of March 23, 1997 I was standing in the front yard of my modest little gray brick home, five blocks off the beach in Gulfport, Mississippi. I was looking up at the clear starry sky and watching Hale Bopp comet pass Earth. Dad and I were talking by cordless telephone about how cool it was that as I was watching Hale Bopp in Gulfport, he was standing in his front yard in Monroe, Louisiana, watching the same thing. All was good. We said our “love you’s,” goodbyes and goodnights and hung up the phones to go to bed. Shortly afterwards, Mom called and said they were taking him to the hospital by ambulance and would call shortly with more information. I sat up in bed and waited ignorantly and with white knuckles grasping the covers until after midnight, wondering what was happening.
She called a just a bit later and announced that he was gone.
Shock is too weak of a word. After the initial paralysis from such a blow, M and I got up, got dressed and got in the car for Monroe. We drove in silence for a few hours, until we stopped in Clinton, Mississippi to call my office. We continued on to Monroe to pull up to the house and the front yard where he had last talked to me only hours before, and we found a swarm of cars already there and my mom and brother coming out the front door to meet me. My memory goes black here.
The next thing I remember is sitting on the cement floor of the front patio of a funeral home as people filed in to pay their respects. I guess it was the visitation. I couldn’t go in, and as I just sat and wept in front of all the well-wishers coming through the front door, shock and sadness were morphing into grief and anger. When we finally made it back to the house that night, we agreed not to lock the door, just in case that was all a nightmare and he might come home overnight.
He didn’t come home in time to stop the funeral. There were lots of people there and a casket in the front that allegedly had Dad in it. I never looked to be sure, but I trust the people who said so. The funeral was in Louisiana and the graveside service was in Conway, Arkansas, where our family has roots. (substructio) It was a long procession from one to the other.
His mother did not show up at the funeral. They had been estranged for years, with her hiding from us at holidays and trying to convince me that my parents were bad and she was the only one who cared about me and my brother. Dad had written it off as her being “crazy,” but I knew it hurt him more than me. When she died, I didn’t go to her funeral. That’ll show her.
It was raining at the graveside service and we watched as the casket was lowered into a hole full of water. I remember thinking he would have no chance of getting out if he was in there. We finally left but we still didn’t lock the door at home. All I was left with was some anger that I didn’t know where to place.
I returned to the law office in Gulfport, but I was useless. I don’t remember much between March and July of ’97, except one dream.
The dream begins with me walking into a large boardroom, as shown above, with all the political leaders of that area sitting around the table. The owner of the firm where I worked was seated at the middle of the broad side of the table closest to me. They directed me to have a seat as well. Once I did, the gentleman directly opposite from us pulled out a pistol and shot the owner of the firm one time, square in the chest, and he slumped over. The shooter then looked at me and said, “You needed to see this, David, to know what you’re getting into. You might want to think about other options.”
Given this dream, along with everything else that had occurred by the summer of ’97, we decided to move. But where? People advise against making big life decisions shortly after a loss, but we still did it. We considered our home towns, and decided against both, and then thought of my roots – Faulkner County held my family, good schools, dry county (as compared to cajun country), hills, flowing streams and waterfalls, actual winters. We packed up and drove north.
In my eyes, Dad never made past 47. He actually dies just after his 57th birthday, but I never saw him become an old man, and he never met his grandsons. I don’t know how many rainstorms I drove to work in, along the Gulfport beach during the spring of ’97, but there were as many inside the car as outside, and even moving didn’t stop my constant searching for Dad’s blue Ford pickup to show up any day. He left just as we were becoming friends (amicus).