The Healing Power of Love

The Healing Power of Love

From A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul

The Healing Power of Love

We dreaded Christmas that year. It was 1944, and the war would never be over for our family.

The telegram had arrived in August. Bob’s few personal possessions, the flag from his coffin, the plan of his burial site in the Philippine Islands, and a Distinguished Flying Cross had arrived one by one, adding to our agonizing grief. Born on a Midwest prairie, my brother rode horseback to school but wanted to fly an airplane from the first day he saw one. By the time he was twenty-one, we were living in Seattle, Washington. When World War II broke out, Bob headed for the nearest Air Force recruitment office. Slightly built, skinny like his father, he was ten pounds underweight.

Undaunted, he persuaded Mother to cook every fattening food she could think of. He ate before meals, between meals and after meals. We laughed and called him “lardo.”

At the Navy Cadet Office he stepped on the scale—still three pounds to go. He was desperate. His friends were leaving one after the other; his best buddy was already in the Marine Air Corps. The next morning, he ate a pound of greasy bacon, six eggs and five bananas, drank two gallons of milk, and, bloated like a pig, staggered back on their scales. He passed the weigh-in with eight ounces to spare.

When he was nominated Hot Pilot of primary training school in Pasco, Washington, and involuntarily joined the “Caterpillar Club” (engine failure causing the bailout) at St. Mary’s, California, we shook our heads and worried. Mother prayed. He was born fearless, and she knew it. Before graduating from Corpus Christi, he applied for transfer to the Marine Air Corps at Pensacola, Florida. He trained in torpedo bombers before being sent overseas.

They said Bob died under enemy fire over New Guinea in the plane he wanted so desperately to fly.

I never wept for Bob. In my mind’s eye, I pictured my debonair big brother wing-tapping through the clouds, doing what he loved best, his blue eyes sparkling with love of life. But I wept for the sadness that never left my parents’ eyes.

Mother’s faith sustained her, but my father aged before our eyes. He listened politely whenever the minister came to call, but we knew Daddy was bitter. He dragged himself to work every day but lost interest in everything else, including his beloved Masonic Club. He very much wanted a Masonic ring, and at Mother’s insistence he had started saving for the ring. Of course, after Bob died, that too ceased.

I dreaded the approach of Christmas. Bob loved Christmas. His enthusiasm excited us long before reason took over. His surprises were legendary: a dollhouse made at school, a puppy hidden in mysterious places for little brother, an expensive dress for Mother bought with the very first money he ever earned. Everything had to be a surprise.

What would Christmas be without Bob? Not much. Aunts, uncles and Grandmother were coming, so we went through the motions as much for memory as anything, but our hearts weren’t in it. Dad sat for longer and longer periods, staring silently out the window, and Mother’s heart was heavy with worry. . . .

On December 23, another official-looking package arrived. My father watched stone-faced as Mother unpacked Bob’s dress blues. After all this time, why oh why did they—the nameless they—send his dress uniform, I thought bitterly. Silence hung heavy. As she refolded the uniform to put it away, a mother’s practicality surfaced, and she went through the pockets almost by rote, aching with grief.

In a small, inside jacket pocket was a neatly folded fifty-dollar bill with a tiny note in Bob’s familiar handwriting: “For Dad’s Masonic ring.”

If I live to be a hundred, I will never forget the look on my father’s face. Some kind of beautiful transformation took place—a touch of wonder, a hint of joy, a quiet serenity that was glorious to behold. Oh, the healing power of love! He stood transfixed, staring at the note and the trimly folded fifty-dollar bill in his hand for what seemed an eternity; then he walked to Bob’s picture hanging prominently on the wall and solemnly saluted.

“Merry Christmas, Son,” he murmured, and turned to welcome Christmas.

Mary Sherman Hilbert

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