My parents used to tell me a peculiar local story about a widow that had once lived not too far from them. The events occurred during the closing year of the Second World War. The widow’s son, like many Arkansas farm boys, had gone off to fight in Europe. His letters faithfully arrived every few weeks, a marvel to his worried mother with tales of wonder and accounts of the mundane events of war life. One day, the letters stopped. A silence of weeks followed. And then, much to his mother’s fear, a letter from the United States Army arrived. The type-written official letter grimly explained that her son had fallen somewhere in Italy in an unreported battle. Due to the circumstances of his death, there was apparently no possibility of sending his remains home.
Being her only son, she was quite naturally devastated by the news and her neighbors, her church congregation, and her relatives provided what solace they could.
However, much to the astonishment of everyone in the small town, a new letter from the dead son arrived in his mother’s post box. Initial shock faded when it was widely supposed that the son had evidently written this final letter before his death and the letter had been delayed. However, the letter told the mother to ignore the news of his death, that there had been a mix-up and he was still quite alive and unhurt and would be explaining everything in due course.
What a miracle it must have seemed. After the months of worry, the shock of the news of her son’s death and the grief of his loss. And then to hear that it had all been a mistake.
And yet, in a final twist, his mother heard nothing more from her resurrected son. Weeks passed into months. The Germans surrendered and the war in Europe was ended. “We all thought that as soon as the war was over, they’d all be coming home,”my mother once told me,”Of course, that wasn’t how it turned out at all.”
Years passed and the mother heard nothing more from her missing son and spent the next twenty years of her life waiting for some kind of explanation. The townspeople tended to avoid the widow, unable to decide what exactly to think about the events and how to react.