TEMPLE – When his father left for the army the winter John Hodgkins turned 9, he imagined the tales his once-aloof dad would tell upon his return.

But when Elliott Hodgkins came home to the family farm two years later, his relationship with his son did not improve, and it took the younger Hodgkins nearly 60 years to get the story.

Trying to know the man and his life in the army, Hodgkins traced his father’s footsteps through Europe, reading the letters and diaries Elliott had left him. Then, he wrote a memoir – about his father’s life and his own.

In the end, he says “A Soldier’s Son: An American Boyhood During World War II,” is just a memory, Hodgkins says, nothing more.

But it’s a memory of a time when heat came from wood that had to be gathered, chopped, hauled inside, and rationed in the family stove, instead of from oil.

It’s a memory of a time when Army paychecks could come three months late, when women bred in cities could not drive, and when heavy snows meant being housebound for unknown stretches of time.

Most of what he remembers of life in Temple with his dad away is the typical stuff of boyhood on a farm: Tending vegetables, chasing uncooperative animals, playing with friends.

But Elliott Hodgkins was the only man in town to go to Europe in the war, and his wife Clarice was not a Franklin County native.

“She was a city girl. So that type of life was unknown to her, except when my father was around,” Hodgkins said.

Life was hard during the war, he said, every step of the way.

But it was also sweet. Hodgkins can remember spending Saturday nights taking Finnish saunas with his friends. “Our Saturday night entertainment was to go to the neighbors and take a bath,” he chuckled.

He didn’t notice it while it was going on, but later, Hodgkins realized the war changed so much in his life. His parents’ marriage broke up, his father came home with a dampened spirit.

“He didn’t live with the same passion. He didn’t re-start his life. I think he wanted to just let time go by,” Hodgkins said. “Oh, he did things he’d always done, but he didn’t do it with the same passion.”

Folks from Franklin County who have read his memoir seem to love it, Hodgkins said. Many of the older readers recognize all the book’s characters.

“They love the thing,” he said.

So far, reviews have been positive, as well. A Maine Historical Society Review calls “A Soldier’s Son” “a remarkable memoir about life in a rural Maine community during the Second World War.”

Author Robert Kimber writes that the book “is a memoir the way a memoir ought to be, loving but unsparing and unsentimental. Don’t miss it.”

Hodgkins will be giving a lecture about “A Soldier’s Son” and signing copies of the book at 7 p.m. Monday at Rangeley’s Wilhelm Reich Museum. For more information, call 864-3443 or e-mail [email protected]


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