The Great War, The Global Conflict, World War II was raging in 1942 and the world was shocked at the destruction and loss of life that appeared to have no end. Joe, a young man from rural Mississippi answered the call to duty and enlisted in the Army. Many other young men and women had been called before him and Joe knew many of them had not survived.
Joe was initially stationed stateside and had not been touched by the brutality that others had seen, but Joe realized there may come a day when he would be sent overseas and asked to fight. Joe was prepared to perform his duty to his country if, and when, that time came.
Later that year Joe met Susan. Susan had enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps, WAC, and was working at a United Service Organization, USO, club. Initially, Susan and Joe talked, danced and discussed the war. A friendship that spanned many months grew into something much more for the two of them, but then the news came that Joe was being sent to the Pacific. Joe said goodbye to Susan as they hugged and shared a final kiss.
While Joe was away the two wrote to each other constantly. Susan would talk about her life and how people felt and talked about the war. She hoped the fighting would soon end. Joe wrote about the terrible and seemingly senseless destruction and of the lives lost. He wrote of the friends he had and how he and they wondered if the war would ever come to an end.
When the war finally came to an end in 1945 Joe wrote his final letter to Susan. He talked of the friendships made, and how some of those friends would never come home. Joe wondered what life had in store for him and he told Susan he had a request to make of her.
In 1987 Susan’s health began to decline. Her eyesight was failing and she walked with the help of a cane. It was apparent to her and her daughter, Robin, that she could no longer live alone in the house she knew so well. Reluctantly, it was decided that she would sell the small house and move into Robin’s house where she could be cared for.
The house and its contents were to be sold and the life Susan had grown so accustomed to would come to an end. Most of all, Susan knew she would miss the independence she so greatly valued. Susan somehow believed she was also infringing on Robin’s independence. This caused her to be sad and harbor some guilt.
The house sold relatively quickly as did its contents. Susan watched as buyers entered her home and left with chairs, dishes and beds. These were things that had been with Susan for over thirty years. The chair with the recovered seat cushion was gone as was the first set of dinnerware she ever owned. The dresser with the missing drawer pull that for so many years efficiently held her clothes was sold to a neighbor who said he would place it in a basement room.
The last day of Susan’s presence in her home came without any fanfare and while Susan sat quietly on the last piece of furniture, a sofa with flowers printed on the slightly Sun yellowed fabric, Robin gathered the last of the items Susan would take with her to her new home, Robin’s house; a place that Susan knew well but found it hard to imagine that it would ever feel like home. Robin saw the look of concern on her mother’s face and talked of the wonderful life that lay ahead for her, and how much she looked forward to welcoming Susan into her home.
Robin looked at Susan’s face and saw a faraway look in her eyes as those weary eyes slowly moved to all the corners of the house. It was as if Susan was trying to record in her memory images she would no longer see every day. She didn’t want to forget even the smallest detail.
Robin gathered up the final few possessions Susan would take to her new home, a brown hairbrush, a box with a few pieces of costume jewelry and an old coffee cup with a chip on the rim. That cup was once, and long ago, used by Susan’s mother.
As Susan sat quietly Robin came from the bedroom carrying a water stained shoebox. “There are papers in this box; do you want to keep the box and the papers?” Susan obviously heard Robin, but for a moment there was only silence. Then a smile came over Susan’s face and she said, “Open the box”. “Do you see an envelope on top of the other papers?” “Yes”, almost confused, Robin responded. “Please remove the letter inside and read it aloud.”
Robin carefully slid the thin paper from the old envelope and gently opened it, being careful not to allow it to tear along the folds. The letter was handwritten and obviously old. Robin began to read without knowing anything about the letter’s content but it was apparent it had a special meaning to Susan.
“The terrible killing and seemingly random destruction has finally come to an end. It sometimes seemed as though the war itself was the real enemy and there were moments when the carnage took me to the very brink of insanity, but then my thoughts strayed to those of my home, and you. Some of the friends I talked about in my letters to you will not be coming home. They will stay here with others who so bravely served. I cannot deceive you, I was so afraid I would be one of those who would never again see their friends, families and place of their birth. I feel so fortunate that God watched over me for all this time and blessed me with the chance to come home and see you once more. I have thought about my future and I have some important requests of you.
“Will you let me give my life to you? Let me always care for you and love you. Will you forever allow me to share your life and be the one you give your love to? Will you walk with me on the bright sunlit days to come and will you lay with me while the darkness of night covers the sleeping land below? Will you let me love you more than anyone else could for as long as I breathe? Susan, will you marry me and be my dearest wife for as long as I live?
“I am returning by ship which will dock in New York on November third. If the answer is yes please meet me as I leave the ship and would you wear a red, white and blue ribbon in your hair? If the answer is no, please know that I will never forget the terrible inhumanity of war nor the love for you that will live in my heart forever, and ever.
Robin felt tears on her cheeks and expected to see some on her mother’s face as she looked up from the letter, but instead there was a smile. “Look inside the box again”, Susan said. Robin glanced inside the box and there saw an old and frayed red, white and blue ribbon.
The moment was interrupted by a knock on the front door. A young man accompanied by a pretty young woman, who must have been his wife, stood on the porch. The young man said “Hi, can we pick up the sofa we bought; it’s going in our first home”. Susan once again smiled, raised up from the old sofa and casually said. “I hope it brings you as much happiness as it did my husband and me.”
The marriage of Joe and Susan spanned thirty-seven years. Joe succumbed to cancer in 1984 while Susan lived until 2001. Both were buried in St. Louis’ Mount Lebanon Cemetery, and are once again together.