The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

Features

December 16, 2012

A promise kept

GREENVILLE — Mary Jane Hodges Vance of Greenville promised her mother she would write and preserve the family’s remarkable history.

It took her 12 years, but Vance has kept the promise. Her book, “Mary of the Angels,” has just been published, and what a story it is!

Vance first describes the lives of her great-grandparents who emigrated  from Spain to the Philippines seeking a better life.

Her Spanish mother, born Maria de los Angeles Josefa Gabina Gamero y Cucullu (Mary of the Angels), and her father, Jesse Hodges, a Texan, met and married in the Philippines.

The couple reared their large family during the Great Depression only to face the horrors of war when the Japanese occupied the Philippines following the attack on the American Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941.

Vance, the fifth of the seven Hodges children born in the Philippines, tells the story though the voice of her mother, Mary Hodges, basing it on her mother’s hand-written notes.

A devout Catholic, Mary divided her energies between trying to find enough food for her children and praying for the safety of her son, Bobby, who was in the Navy, and her husband, Jesse.

Bobby was listed as missing after the Japanese bombed Manila, and her civilian husband, an American, was imprisoned in Santo Tomas Internment Camp. She also worried about keeping her older daughters out of sight from the Japanese soldiers who frequently assaulted young women.

In what reads almost like a spy story, the book explains how Mary was able to smuggle messages to her husband in the camp. Because families were allowed to bring some food items to the internees, Mary sewed messages inside the wide straps of the canvas bag she made to transport the items. Jesse discovered the hand-stitched portion of the strap and sent return messages to Mary in the same way.

Atrocities involving friends and relatives become commonplace  When the local veterinarian’s buried cache of guns and knives was discovered by soldiers,  he was dragged  behind an army truck through the streets. The doctor’s chauffeur had betrayed his employer in hopes of getting food for his own family.

The Japanese established a curfew, and punishment was severe for anyone caught in violation. A list of registered residents was posted on the doorway of each house, and soldiers checked the count to make certain no one was missing.

With food in short supply, Mary was reduced to feeding her children with such things as boiled cracked wheat infested with mealworms which were also eaten as a source of protein.

The family did survive, however, with the exception of Bobby who was never found after the Japanese bombing of Manila. Following Jesse’s release from Santo Tomas and after filling out multiple forms, in August 1945 the Hodges family emigrated to the United States and to Quinlan, Texas, Jesse’s home. Two more children, Rose and James, were born in this county.

Seven of the Hodges children still live in Texas. Along with Vance, her sisters, Emma Smith, Lucy Collins, Linnie McCormack and Rose Strickland/Chieffo, all reside in Greenville. Another sister, Joyce Barrow who retired as Hunt County Tax Assessor-Collector, lives in Quinlan, and a brother, James Hodges, lives in Prosper.

Their father, Jess Hodges, died in Quinlan in 1965, and their mother, Mary Gamero Hodges, died May 18, 1993, in Greenville.

“Mary of the Angels” is the story of how a family, by drawing close together, can endure even the most horrific experiences.

More than this, however, the book is a profile of an extraordinary woman whose courage and strong faith in God inspired and protected her children.

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