phd literature review help
help me with my homework proxy
online help for writing research papers
writing windows services in vb
write my essay 4 me
top resume service online
help on writing scholarship essays
1984 george orwell help
order conspectus paper
cv writing service reviews uk
freelance writers online
custom paper napkins toronto
professional personal essay writers
help with writing a sonnet poem
custom essay papers 7
how to write a windows service in c 2008
essay good bad customer service
essay writing service legit
help with an essay
professional resume writers groupon
writers freelance contract
new zealand essay writing service
professional assignment writers australia
help with english homework ks3
what is the best college essay editing service
digest writing services london
abstract helpers
report writer cover letter
dissertation help new york
business finance homework help
custom made personal statement
buy a condensation
homework help textbook solutions
what should i write my essay about
help essays
cv writing services reviews uk
top 10 dissertation writers
ap english literature essay help
death penalty research paper help
my community service essay
do my assignment cheap
professional cv services
top recommendation letter writing services online
buy papers online
does homework help high school students
cover letter for internship help
physics homework helper
need synopsis help
i don39t want to do my homework help
customized paper bags uk
help me write an essay free
accounting homework services
admission essay help
customer service term paper topics
help with research paper thesis statement
abridgment help san diego
how to write my dissertation proposal
help with writing report cards
research paper on customer relationship management .pdf
top 10 resume writing services
jurisprudence essay help
buy cheap toilet paper
best online condensation writing services
custom essay writing services cheap
buy an essay in the uk
help writing a precis for a precis
homework help for 7th grade math
best professional abstract writing services
homework help computer science
sat essay help
places to buy resume paper
speech helpers
need help writing my paper
paper mario helpers
best resume writers in atlanta
best custom college papers
video games help improve critical thinking
resume and cover letter writing services
phd thesis help india
how does creative writing help kids
buy your own iron on paper
custom writer39s reference
i didn39t do my homework help
case study dissociative identity disorder
holt middle school math course 1 homework help
cheap papers for printer
certified federal resume writing service
conspectus help chicago
paperback writer chords beatles
annotated bibliography helper
cheap paperback books online
examples of customer service resume titles
buy paper bags online ireland
curriculum vitae professional service uk
management accounting homework help
create custom css tumblr
purchase a conspectus
custom made essays free
cv writing services in kenya
executive resume writing service minneapolis
christian book review of the help
business plan writer raleigh nc
essay about help poor people
resume writing services ottawa ontario
research paper order online
free help with writing papers
things to research when buying a house
purchase essay papers
custom writing paper template
order custom rolling papers
freelance online writer resume
free resume writer wizard
application letter for janitorial services
birth order essay outline
houston area resume writing service
homework helpers chemistry review
custom paper napkins
professional cv writing service reviews
reading helps critical thinking
argumentative essay about is homework helpful or harmful
professional resume writing service singapore
application letter for customer service agent
free help with cv writing
the help film review independent
custom research north america
buy college books online india
college essay service trip
buy authentic college football jerseys
essay writers free
help with a brief
help with assignments online
hiring a grant writer
how to get paid to write movie reviews
resume writing services columbia sc
help assignment locus
get paid to write reviews in india
discursive essay help
freelance writers paid
cv cover letter service
how much does a music ghostwriter make
college accounting homework help
personal statement community service example
best outline writing services in atlanta ga
count desk essay neatness writer
research papers customer retention strategies
medical cv writing service uk
research before buying a car
buy essay online for cheap
ghostwriting services australia
make business budget plan
buy your research paper
customwritings.com customer reviews
need help making a compendium
homework help chemical equations
custom essay meister coupon
write my essay please
need help writing a persuasive essay
get homework done for free
buy a cv
buy a financial planning business
a case study on bipolar disorder
i need free math homework help
medical school personal statement service
how to write a essay to get into college
help with abridgments
cheap private universities
buy already written essays
resume services in miami fl
inexpensive resume writing services
executive digest writers nyc
graduate essay service
research proposal writing service
certified resume writers toronto
help with writing digest
best resume writers in uk
art homework help
criterion online essay evaluation services
sample cover letter for web content writer
buying dissertations
order recommendation letter paper
homework help hotline atlanta
cv writers in leicester
write my critical thinking
where to buy nice paper for resume
resume writing services oklahoma city ok
cv writing help london
customer service presentation powerpoint
how does critical thinking help a student
professional condensation services
essays on helping the community
online homework helper free
professional cv services limerick
best article writing services
write my high school admissions essay
famous essay writers
writing paper with borders printable
homework help riverside ca
help with brief
free online help with english homework
custom essay help

The M.E. Norman, Tom Lee and Leroy Hidinger

 

If you drive the Poplar Corridor, you’ve probably driven past the row of shops near Poplar and Mendenhall that includes Cavalier Cleaners, a 62-year old East Memphis business owned and operated by Ann and Leroy Hidinger Jr. and their children for all of those years.

And if you went to talk with Leroy Hidinger at the business you would find him in a small office off the counter with boxes of paper receipts and other reminders of the way offices were kept before computers. Some heavy brass desk ornaments like a date changer and a pen set were on the desk which showed every indication of a business owner tending to his business with his time-tested methods and knowledge and help from his family.

I was one of those who went to the dry cleaning business to talk with him about a very remarkable life that came to an end a week ago at the age of 93.

He told me about opening the dry cleaning business when the area was mostly cotton fields by the railroad tracks and the ups and downs, worries and rewards of being a business owner with a storefront in a changing area.

That part of the life of a man who had an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a law degree from the old Southern Law School wasn’t the reason I was there. It was something he didn’t talk about publicly very often.

It happened toward the beginning of a long life that was in so many ways the story of our times but other times as well and the journey of one man across all of them.

Hidinger was the last living survivor of the sinking of the boat the M.E. Norman on May 8, 1925 on the Mississippi River south of Memphis. Most Memphians don’t recognize the name of the boat. They identify what happened as the incident in which Tom Lee rescued 32 people from the boat who were drowning in the river’s swift current after the boat capsized.

Hidinger was five years old when he boarded the boat with his father and his grandmother. His father, like most of those on the boat, was an engineer. The occasion was a river excursion to see the willow mats that were part of the riverworks south of Memphis. The Engineers’ Club was hosting a national convention of other engineers in the city.

I talked with Hidinger twice in his later years about that day – once on the telephone and another time at his business on Poplar.

He told me of being uneasy about the river trip before he and his family left their home on Vinton. He even told his father that the boat was going to sink. But he dismissed any notion that it was a premonition. It was just his first boat trip, he said.

And the uneasiness passed until the boat capsized and he was thrown into the river. When he surfaced he didn’t see his father or his grandmother anywhere around him. In the immediate chaos, someone near him in the river picked him up and threw him near where his father happened to be.

That was one of the clearest and most inexplicable memories of the incident he had more than 80 years later. He stopped in each telling of the story to wonder repeatedly who had done it and why. He and his father managed to find a temporary seat on the boat bottom along with others and his father told him to get on his back and not let go.

With that, his father, who was an excellent swimmer, swam to a sandbar and collapsed in exhaustion.

That is where Hidinger’s memory of what happened began to fragment – understandable given everything that happened. He remembered being taken from the sandbar on dirt roads to a place in the Mississippi darkness with a bed that he shared with other soaked and traumatized survivors and the smell of the damp thick blankets as they lay together in the makeshift beds.

I couldn’t help but think that for a five year old boy it must have been a swift and conflicted journey to sleep before the return to Memphis and the waiting reaction of a city that embraced the story even before Tom Lee had finished searching the river for survivors into the next morning.

The newspapers of the day continued to embrace the story as well in the days that followed and the story of Hidinger’s grandmother was one of those stories. The way it was told in one of the dramatic print accounts, Hidinger’s father had a choice in the churning waters of helping his son or helping his mother, but not both and he chose to save his son.

Decades later, Hidinger still remembered that particular account which might have been why he was so hesitant to talk with reporters over the years. I hadn’t quite figured out how I was going to raise the question or if I was going to raise it, when he brought it up.

He told me that he read the account at the time and for quite a while after didn’t mention it to his father. Finally, his father told him it wasn’t true, that he had never seen his mother, Hidinger’s grandmother, after the Norman capsized.

The Engineers’ club embraced Tom Lee in the aftermath of the disaster. And the city of Memphis rewarded Lee with a job as a sanitation worker.

Lee’s route in the job included the Hidinger house on Vinton Avenue where Hidinger talked often with Lee about that day on the river after bringing him cookies and lemonade and extending the stop for a while. Hidinger said Lee’s visits and their talks were always an event he looked forward to.

Lee was someone he and his father could talk with who knew what they knew about that day on the river. Among them they didn’t have all the answers. But they had the same questions.

Sometimes in this job you talk to people who take you places – very vivid places that you had no idea existed. That was the case with Leroy Hidinger. I could picture him and Lee under a tree in the backyard telling different parts of the same story to each other and each with a more complete understanding in the exchange, but still not a whole understanding of what had happened and why. Their lives changed forever, they still find the world around them unchanged for the most part — like the change came and went leaving no trace. That is except for the experience that they both knew from different perspectives. I still picture them talking for a bit. Maybe Lee remarking about the boy growing taller but after the talk looking at each other and remembering the experience.

Lee would live into the mid 1950s. Hidinger lived to be his age and longer, longer than anyone else on the boat that day.

The only reason I found him was because he found me in 1998. His wife called me after I had done a set of stories in The Commercial Appeal about a copper box that some demolition workers had found on the site of what had been the headquarters site of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in southwest Memphis. It was during work on the Birmingham Steel mini-mill. As they broke up one of the old columns at its entrance, the old box tumbled out and one of the demolition workers who later opened the box called asking about the newspaper clippings from 1925 inside.

There were some other relics inside including the mud and oil caked Corps of Engineers flag recovered from the Norman.

Like most native Memphians of my age, I grew up hearing the basic and simple story of Tom Lee. When the copper box was opened it introduced me to a much broader and more complex story that intersected so many lives.

Leroy Hidinger lived a full life beyond the story that intersected and influenced his life at an early age. That, to me, is the true nature of history. It is the broad story of a boat that capsizes and the people who survived, those who don’t, those who saved lives. But it is also the hesitancy before the boat trip, the smell of the damp blankets, the unspoken worries of a child ultimately resolved by his father and the conversations and moments around shared experiences. All of these span generations and any other kind of barriers that don’t seem to matter that much as we live our lives in the times that define us and that we in turn define.

 

Comments

  1. Wintermute says:

    Good piece, Bill. I have been working on a song about that event and have taken so long that the person I had in mind to do it, Sid Selvidge, is gone. I did recite the chorus to him at the most recent Jesse Winchester show, and he liked it.

  2. BillDries says:

    If ever there was an event suited to a song, this is that event. It could be a new Evangeline and Sid would have been an appropriate choice for it.

Dansette

google