Speaking with the Voice of the Dead
August 23, 2012
Yesterday, my blog dealt with the plight of a mother who had fallen as far as she could go into the depths of grief and despair.
She was born rich.
She married a mining engineer and left home.
He died too early.
She made her living during the 1930s and 1940s pushing a cart through the oilfields of East Texas and peddling hot tamales.
She never complained.
She had six boys.
She kept them clothed and fed.
They marched off to war.
None came home.
They all died so far away.
And she was alone.
I heard my mother tell the story often, and she cried when she told it. Those who heard the story cried when they heard it.
It was the saddest story any of us had ever known.
I grew up haunted by a mother who had so little and lost so much. We grow up and forget a lot. I could not forget her.
Many years ago, I wrote her story in my weekly column of Westward Magazine, the Sunday Supplement of the Dallas Times Herald.
The story ran.
I shoved it aside.
There was always another column to write. What I wrote last week didn’t count anymore.
The phone rang one afternoon. I heard a strange voice on the other end of the line, which wasn’t particularly unusual. When you write regularly for newspapers or magazines, you field a lot of phone calls and hear a lot of strange voices.
“Hello,” I said.
“I’m not dead,” he said.
I wasn’t for sure what to say.
“I didn’t die,” he said.
“I’m glad,” I said, sounding probably as confused as I was.
“You said I died,” he said. The voice was not hostile. It was friendly but tinged with sadness. He continued, “My mother was Maria Houston, the tamale lady. I was one of the six brothers. We all did go to war. Five of my brothers did die. I was the only one to come home.”
“I never knew,” I said.
“Most did think we were all dead,” he said. “When rumors get started, you can’t stop them, not even with the facts. I Just wanted to thank you for the story you wrote on mama. You treated her with the respect she deserved. I just wanted you to know the truth.”
Finally, “Welcome home,” I said.
He hung up.
And I never talked to him again.
Caleb Pirtle is author of the Christian suspense thriller, Golgotha Connection.