The headline read, "A love to last forever." I stood staring at the newspaper...slightly stunned, my eyes almost disbelieving the words. I had no idea. Above the headline was the newspaper photo, him holding that photograph of her...my mother. The look in his eyes was...distant. Like someone carried back to a time long ago.
As I slowly absorbed each and every word, I felt a certain mix of relief and sorrow. Three weeks ago he had called me on the telephone, introduced himself and told me the local newspaper wanted to do an article on his search for my Mom. But he wouldn't do it without my permission. Of course it was okay, I told him. This was a story to be told, it was special and I wanted it put in print, for all to see.
For nearly 50 years Bob _____ wondered if life had been kind to Millie _____. Now he knows. Those first two sentences of the article hooked me. They summarized it, quite simply. Everything from my distant past came rushing back to me. The pain. The suffering. The anger. The loss. And now he knew. This stranger, who quietly entered my life with an advertisement seeking information on his childhood friend, had learned about the shattered dreams, the disappointments, and the unhappiness that led my mother to an early grave. The girl from his childhood, the first to befriend him in a new school and town, was gone.
In the article he spoke of all the things he had previously told me on the telephone. He was the new kid in town, and in class he sat near Mom. They quickly became friends. When some kid teased him, Mom stood up for him. And when another teased my mother about her red hair, he punched the kid in the mouth. I remember hearing the smile in his voice as he told me how Mom's giggling had gotten them both kicked out of the Roxy Theatre. She had a laugh and a giggle that went on forever, he remembered. And so did I. I had almost forgotten.
The article recounted all of the memories he had shared with me on the telephone. But there was more. He told the reporter of that rite of passage we all experience in our youth. A rite he had shared with my mother...the first kiss. He and Mom were at the movies, and saw another couple kissing. So they both agreed to try it. They kissed. Mom told him he tasted like popcorn, and he told Mom she tasted like Milk Duds. Then they started laughing, and the usher hauled them out to the lobby. But they couldn't stop giggling, and eventually got kicked out.
Over the years their friendship grew, and Mom became like a big sister to him. In eighth grade his family decided to move away, and Mom spent hours at the family home helping them pack. That day was their second kiss, and he remembers that kiss was completely different from their first.
After the move they kept in touch, exchanging letters and pictures on a regular basis. Then the letters from Mom stopped in 1955, and Bob decided to find out why. A year later, against his mother's advice, he drove back to his former home and asked around. He learned Mom was married and had a baby (my older sister). A friend gave him the address. So he drove by her house, hoping to catch her outside. But the yard was empty. He left town without seeing her. A couple of years later he married and tucked Mom's picture away. But he never forgot about her.
When he retired, he and his wife looked for a place to spend the rest of their lives. They visited his former town and his wife fell in love with an old home, not too far from the house where Bob and his family lived when he was child. After moving and getting settled, he decided to look for my mother. "She was alwayson my mind. I was going to look her up--I didn't care the cost. I just wanted to know she was all right," he told the reporter.
After an exhaustive search through old newspapers and the Internet, his wife suggested he advertise. He placed a small ad, with Mom's picture in the Sunday paper, and the phone started ringing at 7 a.m. He received about 50 phone calls that day, all from women who claimed to be Mom's best friend. But they all had the same sad story. Mom died of a stroke in 1978 at the age of 41.
Finally someone gave him the telephone number of my aunt. She told him about Mom's life and that her first marriage didn't last long. Hearing this reminded him of his decision not to see her in 1956. He regrets it terribly now...but he knows he married the right woman, as they have been together 45 years. But there was still the disappointment that he would never get to talk to Mom. He said, "The perfect thing would have been to find her healthy, happy and spoiling her grandchildren."
Instead, he made the trip to the local cemetery where Mom is buried. He found her grave and brought some flowers, knowing that even though he wouldn't get to talk to her and reminisce about their childhoods, learning about Mom's life and finding her had brought him peace. "When I found (the grave), it was a relief because she was okay. That's what it was all about."
Since reading this article, and speaking to him on the telephone, I have struggled with the idea of meeting this man, in person. I can no longer deny the fact that his love for my mother has changed the way I look at many things. Mom died of an anuerysm (stroke), in medical terms, that is true. But it goes deeper than that...I believe she died of a broken heart. That has been the truth in my life all these years, until now. Knowing how this man felt about her, for so many years, and that he never forgot her, solidified many beliefs I knew in my heart to be true, yet was all too willing to cast aside. His wife must be a truly amazing person, as well. To be so understanding, and support his need to find a woman from his past, requires a true measure of grace. His story gave me the gift of hope...so fragile and precious...yet undeniably alive.
The article mentioned above was published on Monday, July 26, 2004, in the Lewiston Morning Tribune.