For Memorial Day
As my sister and I were going through my mother's things after her death, we came across a letter to her from a sailor on his way to Korea. The paper was yellowed and creased, and the ink slightly faded. I held it delicately for fear of damaging it, and as I read his sweet professions of love to my mother, I studied the simple print of his handwriting, his choice of words and his less than perfect spelling, and I wondered who in the world he was. Surely he was a young man from rural Tennessee, maybe the son of a farmer or a farmer himself. Maybe he worked at the sawmill or the feed store--or even the grocery. He certainly wasn't well educated. That I could tell from his grammar and his spelling, and his choice of words.
I had to wonder because neither my sister nor I had ever heard of him. The only account of his love for my mother lay in the few words he left behind in that letter. My heart broke a little for the two of them as I wondered about the rest of their story. He spoke of their marrying on his return. Yet no one knew who he was.
Mouth agape, brow furrowed, reading it for the first time, I asked my sister, "Have you ever heard of a man named 'Redd'?" Her puzzled look instantly told me she had not.
"Apparently he was in love with Mama," I said as I handed her the paper my mother had saved for over sixty years.
"What?" she replied as she sought answers in lines on the page.
We called aunts and uncles and cousins and friends, and each conversation sounded the same. "Huh, no, never heard of him. I didn't know your mama was ever serious about anyone other than your daddy."
There were no pictures or subsequent letters, either, just the one. And apparently the rest of the story went to the grave with her.
We will never know if Redd came home from that war, if he broke my mother's heart or she broke his. Their story, limited to that one letter tucked away for decades in a plain brown box under the bed, ends with his profession of undying love written on a Navy ship carrying him to another continent--away from his love, from his family, likely from everything he ever knew or imagined.
Maybe Redd lived through his time in Korea. I hope he did, and somehow it was only the young love that didn't survive.
On this Memorial Day, I reflect on all the love stories ended prematurely by war, and I allow some heaviness of heart and a lot of gratitude for all the young men, women, dogs, and horses who gave their lives so that I might freely write whatever I wish without fear of governmental reprisal. Freedom comes with a high price. Let us never forget.
(Photo found via Google, but I was unable to find its origin.)