The whistle screeched from the old kettle, heralding its success in having boiled the water. Louise turned off the gas under the kettle and poured the boiling water into a chipped mug. As she stirred the tea in the mug, she thought again about how that mug had gotten chipped. Davey was almost two when he tipped the empty mug, hoping for a taste of the sugary tea. His little hands couldn’t contain the weight of the mug, and the edge of it fell against his beautiful left incisor, leaving chips in both the mug and the tooth. Louise recalled the hoop-la when Davey lost the chipped tooth the day he turned five. The new permanent tooth had so far lasted the rest of his life.
Carrying the mug and a chocolate biscotti (purchased this morning at the bakery), Louise placed them on the table beside her radio-listening chair and sagged heavily into its worn upholstery.
The reedy nasal voice of H. V. Kaltenborn filled the room. What would be the news today? Would this war ever be over? Would her son come home one day to start a new life? Will he want to follow in his father’s footsteps and become the owner of the pharmacy on the corner of Main and Twelfth Street? Had he ever received the letter informing him of his father’s death just a month ago?
These were just a few of the questions Louise had been asking herself these past few weeks. Detecting excitement in Mr. Kaltenborn’s voice, Louise turned up the volume to hear him announce that today, June 6, the Allies had finally invaded the coast of France by sea and air. It was the beginning of the end of the world-wide war.
Louise was shaken by the news, assaulted by a mix of emotions. When would she see her son again? Why did her husband have to die before his son came home? How would she go on with her own life? What could she do to see that her son could make a life for himself and perhaps one day have a family of his own? Louise found herself overcome by these challenges and collapsed on the chair, awash in her tears.
As the days went by, Louise and her friends talked constantly about the end of the war. Buoyed by their optimism, she arranged to hire a pharmacist to manage her late husband’s business. The young man had been discharged just before D-day, having fulfilled his obligation to his country. Now he would be filling prescriptions for his neighbors. Louise felt a great weight lift from her as the store re-opened and her financial situation was again showing promise. One thing that bothered her most was that she had not heard from her son in several months. He had been stationed outside of London, providing intelligence services to the generals and admirals planning the invasion. Louise knew that he must have been very busy in such an important project, but she longed to hear from him that he was alive and well.
The answer came in early September when a military vehicle stopped in front of the house, and two uniformed officers came to her door. A feeling of doom gripped her heart as the men delivered the message that her son had served his country in the invasion, but had lost his life in the bombing of a farmhouse in northern France.
Louise was shattered by the news. She was alone now – all alone. The love of her life was gone, and now so was her only child – both taken at a young age and full of promise. She glanced at the flag the officer had given her – the flag of what was known as the Gold Star Mothers, an organization honoring those mothers who had lost sons fighting for their country. She went to the living room window, which looked out on the pleasant, well-kept street of modest homes. She hung the flag in the window, gold star glittering in the sun, a sign to all who saw that she, too, had been a victim of the horrible war.
The next few months were hard for Louise, although she did find some solace and camaraderie in other Gold Star mothers. Their shared loss brought them to a place of support and friendship.
One afternoon she stopped by the pharmacy to see how Chuck, the pharmacist she had hired, was handling the job.
“Oh, Louise, I have been so busy. I need to talk to you about hiring another person – not a pharmacist, mind you, but a clerk to wait on customers and make their sodas and scoop their ice cream cones. I need to spend all my time as a pharmacist. Could we hire a part-time person who could service the other customers?”
Louise was surprised that the pharmacy was doing so well. She promised Chuck she would think about it and get back to him. So it was that Louise called Chuck the next day and offered to “fill in” so he could devote his time to people who were in need of pharmaceutical assistance. Chuck was happy to hear that Louise was willing to help out, and Louise started the next day. It turned out to be a good arrangement. Chuck was more organized and efficient when he didn’t have to stop his work to make sodas for thirsty teen-agers. Louise found that she was good at making sodas, but also had a knack for merchandising cosmetics and sundries. They made good partners, and the pharmacy was thriving.
One day about a year later, a young woman came into the store and asked if she could speak to Louise privately.
“Of course,” said Louise, indicating to Chuck that she would be spending a few moments with the customer.
“Are you Louise Douglas?” she asked. “Yes, I am,” replied Louise.
“Are you the mother of Davey Douglas?” “Yes,” said Louise, with a catch in her throat. “Who are you?”
“I am Gloria Douglas,” she said, “Davey’s widow.”
Louise was shocked. She had not heard anything about Davey since the officers left her alone that horrible day. She had to sit down on to keep from falling.
“I didn’t know he was married. I never heard from him since before the D-day invasion. The officers said he was killed in a bombing in a farmhouse in France.”
“That’s true,” said Gloria, her eyes filling with tears. “I saw him briefly before he died. I was a driver for a British general after the invasion. We were in France during a trip to assess damages. The general found out where Davey was staying and took me there to see him. Oh, Mrs. Douglas, he was so very ill. He didn’t recognize me at first, then when he realized who I was, he broke down in tears.”
By this time, both of the women were in tears and embraced one another in their shared grief. The younger woman took a deep breath to go on with her story.
“Davey and I talked about our rushed marriage in London a few days before the invasion – it was the most wonderful time – and so short. We both had to continue with our jobs, and couldn’t get together before the invasion. So that was the last time I saw him until I was in France. He told me he had written a letter to you to tell you that we had married, but hadn’t had a chance to send it before he was wounded. I took it with me when I left him with the intention to send it to you, but the letter wasn’t in an envelope, and I didn’t have an address. Shortly after that, the general found out that Davey had died of his injuries.”
“When he told me, the general said that Davey had left information that you were to be told of our marriage and that I was pregnant with his child, and that all of his belongings and savings were to be left to me.”
Louise perked up. “And the child?” She was almost afraid to ask.
“He’s wonderful!” said Gloria. “He came to the states with me. Would you like to meet him?”
“Of course,” said Louise. This time her eyes were full of happy tears.
They made arrangements for Gloria to bring the baby to Louise’s home the following day. It was the best day Louise had experienced since Davey left for the military.
While the baby, named David for his grandfather, slept peacefully in the bedroom, Louise and Gloria had time to talk about the future. Gloria’s mother had passed away, leaving her alone with the baby, so she came to America to find Davey’s family, as much for herself as for the child. It was decided right then and there that Gloria and little David would move into Louise’s house, at least until further arrangements could be made. Both women were ecstatic with their new family. Predictably, the “arrangement” lasted for many years.
During that time, little David grew up happily, loved by everyone who knew him. He loved sports and music and was a good student. He spent his leisure hours in the pharmacy where both his mother and grandmother helped out. He found a real friend in Chuck, who had found a real friend in Gloria. They married during David’s senior year of high school.
Louise had learned to accept her grief and move beyond the hole it had left in her heart. She was grateful for the little family that had grown under her roof. She was particularly happy when David told her that he had been accepted to the state university’s pharmacy school.
The small white flag with the gold star still hung in her living room window.
Mary Bowers has been writing for most of her life, beginning as an English major and teacher, and continuing in the workplace as well as with volunteer organizations. Now, as she describes it, “in the evening of her life” she loves being a part of Marilyn Myerson’s writing group. Highly respected by her colleagues, Mary is referred to as “the queen of narrative” by fellow group members. Three of Mary’s stories can be found in the 2013 publication of member-created works. Reflections: Prose, Poems, Photos, and Artworks, a 374-page volume consisting of written and visual materials submitted by OLLI members to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the OLLI chapter on the USF Campus.
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Thank you for answering the call for memoirs and personal stories. With such an impressive array of unique experiences, we will be extending “memoir weeks” into future months.
Next week we start to dig into the volume of personal stories beginning with Neil Cosentino’s memory of his first impulse to become a pilot and an accounting of the life that decision created for him. So stay tuned and enjoy learning pithy and fascinating details about our members’ lives!