From Chicken Soup for the Veteran's Soul

The Light

My family was a close-knit group, and my grandmother was the center of our universe. Although a stern disciplinarian, she ruled her children and her children’s children with affection. We never doubted her love, even when she corrected us.

It was during the heat of World War II that her youngest son, my uncle Raymond, turned nineteen. Shortly after his birthday, he found himself in Italy fighting his way toward Berlin. A farm boy, he had never spent a night away from home until he shipped out for basic training. Homesick and scared, he slugged his way through towns, vineyards and woods, thinking of home and his family.

I remember the terrible day the Western Union car pulled up and a man got out. By the time the messenger walked up the sidewalk, all of us children were out on the porch, waiting silently for the news. Grandma moaned softly, not crying, but frightened. Grandpa stood next to her, his face grave. Grandma took the envelope in trembling hands and ripped it open. It was the longest wait of our lives as she began to read the message inside.

A wide grin spread across her face and she clutched Grandpa’s hand. “He’s alive! Raymond’s injured and coming home, but he’s alive!” she cried.

There was much crying, dancing, hugging and cheering as we embraced one another.

The day Raymond got home, he looked so pale and tired, I thought we’d wear him out with our welcome. He was hard of hearing and still sore from his wounds, but he was in one piece and back with us. We pulled him inside, where we sat gathered around the table, while Raymond told us about the day he’d been injured.

“We had been fighting a battle for several days and were marching forward, bone tired, cold and frightened, yet happy that we continued to inch closer to the German border,” he began. “It was late afternoon, and snow was on the ground. I was marching down a muddy, half-frozen road when an armored tank rolled by. Several of my buddies and I hitched a ride on it. We hopped on the tank, glad to rest for a short spell. We were laughing and talking when, out of the blue, a mortar round exploded around us.

“The next thing I remember is hearing Mama calling me to get up. ‘Raymond, get up!’ she shouted. ‘Get up right now!’

“At first, I thought I was back home and she was calling me for school. Then I opened my eyes and realized I was in Italy. The world had gone totally silent. I knew I was deaf first, then I noticed the blood on my hands, where it had streamed down from my head.

“I was frightened and confused. My buddies and other soldiers lay dead all around me. I was in shock. I was disoriented and didn’t know where the enemy lines were or where my troops had moved. By now, it had grown dark, and it was a night without stars. Panic set in because I couldn’t hear. I felt helpless.

“Then Mama said, in her sternest voice, ‘Raymond, go toward the light! Go toward the light.’

“Her voice sounded as clear as though she were standing over me. So I staggered down the road, confused, my head aching, too dazed to fully comprehend the danger, not even understanding what the light I saw might be. I hobbled around a bend in the road and fell into the arms of a medic.

“As soon as they checked me out, the medics evacuated me to a field hospital. They said that I was lucky to have caught them. They had already searched the area I was in for wounded, shipping them out first and then returning for the dead. Had I not regained consciousness and moved toward them, I’d have bled to death from the leg injuries before they found me.”

Raymond stopped talking, and he and Grandma just sat there, looking at each other. No one spoke, and then my grandfather said loud enough for Raymond to hear, “Well, do you want to hear the rest of the story?” Raymond nodded, and Grandpa started telling what had happened here that same night.

“Your mama and I were asleep,” he said, “when Mama awoke from a dream and shook me awake. ‘Alston,’ she said, ‘something has happened to our boy. I dreamed he was calling to me for help. I thought he was a little boy again and he was crying, so I called to him to get up and come to the light so I could see what was wrong with him.’

“She got up and dressed, refusing to go back to sleep. All that day and for the next several days, your mama sat on the front porch waiting for the Western Union boy to bring us the telegram she knew was on the way.”

The rest of us looked at Grandma in surprise, but Grandma wasn’t paying any attention to us. She and Raymond just kept looking at each other, the tears running down their faces.

After the war, Raymond regained most of his hearing, married, and went on to live a long and happy life. Over the years, I heard him tell the story about Grandma and the light often. He always ended it by saying, “I was all the way over in Italy, stone deaf, but I heard her all the same.‘Go to the light, Raymond,’ she said. ‘Go to the light.’ I’ll never understand how she did it, but it was my mama that saved my life that night. My mama and the light.”

Patricia S. Laye

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