The hallways of the nursing home smelled of antiseptic, and as I rounded each corner in the long corridor from my sister’s room to the main doors, the smell seemed to chase me, mixing with the tantalizing aromas of a Thanksgiving meal being prepared in the kitchen off to my right. I finally reached the last corner, made my turn, and started the last of the straight aways to the vibrant and living world beyond the drab green doors.
About halfway down the runway, I saw an ancient woman strapped into a wheel chair, her body limp and bowed with time, yet her eyes strained to see me as I got closer to her. About 20 feet from her, a weary voice tiptoed from her quivering lips in uncertainty as she said “Frankie, is that you ? Frankie my baby! My sweet baby boy! I knew you would come!”
I looked around, as her shaking arms lifted into the air to hug this Frankie that had come to her at last, but there was no one there in the hall except this old woman and me. I kept walking slowly, and gingerly I side stepped the wheel chair to get around, but her out stretched arms followed me. “Frankie, my baby,” she said, openly crying now. “I knew you would com.”
I stopped beside her, and knelt to the floor to look into the azure eyes of this tired soul. “I told you I would mama. I’m sorry it took so long. But I’m here now." I hugged her, and she hugged me, in her embrace that ached of emptiness now filled.
Love flowed through the arms of this lady, and though her body was weary of the ages, a strength rose from her heart as she embraced the baby boy she had been waiting to hold for so long. She sobbed on my shoulder, stumbling to say the words that only her heart could understand, not daring to release the embrace of someone she so desperately needed to hold.
Finally, after reaching into the depths of ages past and eternity to come with her tears, she said faintly, “Push me to my room Frankie,” her bony fingers pointing the way at each turn.
We found her room, and it was warm with a mothers touch. Pictures of her past adorned the walls, and in the midst of them hung a yellowing photo of a young square chinned soldier with an inscription, “I love you Mama , I’ll be back”. Underneath, a strong hand had signed the name, “Frank”. A date at the bottom corner told a thousand stories . . . February 1942.
A folded flag lay on her dresser, wrapped in cellophane. A faded piece of paper with a heading... “Western Union Telegram”, hung on a mirror just above it, and I did not want to read it.
My heart swells in not knowing, and cries in the possibilities. Did Frankie come home from a war he did not choose to start, but chose to end? Did he give his life somewhere, in some strange land, for his home, his country and his mama? Did he ever know how much he was loved? And was that day in late November 1993 in the drab green corridor of a nursing home, the day he was finally able to keep a promise to a mother who had waited for him to come back for so many years?
I never did learn her name, and I do not know to this day, which head stone is hers in Wyuka Cemetery. I do know though, that Frankie was loved, and that she held on to life long enough to tell him so, one last time. She died a few days later in her sleep, and I had been chosen to be the one to tell her... “I love you mama.”
She's gone now. I said goodbye to her for you Frankie, where ever you are, and I am blessed to have held her. She was someone special… She was someone named ‘mama’, and she found the peace she needed that Thanksgiving.
Now finally, she can rest.