Speaking with the Voice of the Dead

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.

And he left her broke.

She made her living during the 1930s and 1940s pushing a cart through the oilfields of East Texas and peddling hot tamales.

Hard work.

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.

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  • Wow. That was rather powerful. Delivers a good punch to the solar plexus. I’d heard of 5 brothers being killed at war…wonder if it’s the same story? I know the military changed their rules about siblings serving together after that incident. Pretty cool, though, to discover your story reached the ONE person you NEVER would have thought it would reach! Synchronicity of the universe at work!!

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Miracles do happen. And they always happen for a reason even if we never quite understand it.

  • It’s those moments that make connecting to the world through the written word, so haunting and compelling.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      I just sit and listen to others, and the stories write themselves.

  • Such a poignant story, Caleb! I’m so happy that young man survived.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      You will never know how surprised I was when I heard his voice on the phone, and he told me he was still alive. I wish my mother had lived long enough to find out.

  • Jiji

    How rewarding to learn a son survived.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      A small silver lining in a very dark cloud.

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