I arrived at Fort Jackson, South Carolina on July 4, 1962 for U. S. Army basic training. I was a kid fresh out of high school, very young and highly vulnerable.
Boot camp was hard. Actually it was distressing and merciless. Wait a minute, that's not quite adequate, so let's see. Hold on I'm thinking. Got it. Boot Camp at Fort Jackson in 1962, was "Hell" on earth. Please believe it!
The only enjoyment and contentment trainees had was their anticipation of late afternoon or early evening mail call which meant letters and packages from home. Aware that my Mother was the only family member likely to write to me, I wrote to her several times and waited expectantly for my first letter from home.
I really looked forward to receiving that first letter from home. It seemed that everyone around me were getting several letters daily and one could feel the excitement in the air. But I always left mail call, which was a huddle outside our barracks and in the middle of the street, with empty hands and dashed hopes.
I knew something had to be wrong back at the old home place but was unable to investigate. I was not allow to make telephone calls. Letters were my only means of communication to the people I loved - my only way to connect.
Finally I earned a weekend pass and went directly to a telephone. Anxiously I placed a call home and my father answered the telephone. Immediately my heart sank because daddy would never respond to a ringing telephone, not as long as there were someone else in the house capable of answering.
Conversation was easy but idle. Daddy was evasive and reserved. He would not summon Mother to the phone and declared everything just fine on the "old home front". By the time we disconnected and ended our brief chat, my six sense was screaming at me that something was dreadfully wrong at home and I surmised that it had to do with my Mother.
Immediately I purchased a Greyhound ticket and boarded the bus to Sumter, South Carolina. My older brother lived there and I was determined to get to the bottom of the enigma once and for all. It was during this visit that I learned why my Mother was not writing.
One day after talking on the telephone, Mother lost consciousness from sudden and searing pain as she turned, applying weight to her right leg. Eventually she was diagnosed with bone cancer and was so painfully sick that writing to me was completely out of the question. She had asked that I not be informed of her situation out of fear that I might go AWOL to come home to her. And I might have too, but by the time I learned of her condition I was too close to graduation.
Reducing what I had learned to the lowest common denominator, I was relieved to know but devastated to uncover why.
By late August Mother had gained enough strength to write. I kept that first letter from home and occasionally I retrieve it from her old Bible to read and to remember. To this very day I choke back tears during the read.
February 7, marked my Mother's birthday and, as a tribute to her, I want to share with you that first letter from home.
It was dated August 30, 1962 and is very short but packed full of love and advice that we all take to heart.
Got your letter yesterday. I was glad to hear from you.
Thanks for saying what you did. I realize that through God all things are possible, and I am sure that He is my salvation.
Mike you are a grown man now and I would not in any way try lying to you. My condition is as good as can be expected at the present time, but all my doctors have told me that there is no cure. So I have accepted it and am prepared for the worst so you must not worry too much about me.
You have always been a good boy when it came right down to it and all I ask is that you stay that way.
Always take good care of your health because when it is gone you might as well not have anything. Money cannot buy health or happiness. I have been happy. I had a good home and a fine family. The only regrets I have is that the job of raising my family is not finished and I always did hate to leave a job before it was finished.
I may sound a bit morbid but I am not. Most of the time I feel good. I have had lots of company. School started today though, and I guess people will not have as much time to visit as they did. Hubert and Tommy came to see me and Sam called to see how I was...
...Well, guess I must close as there is not much news. Take care of yourself and write me again soon.
Love you always, Mother
A few months later, Mother died of cancer on April 14, 1964 barely fifty years old. I was by her side. She is with her Lord who she loves and worships so very much. My Mother taught me many important things in life. So many things, I could not even begin to count them. But near the top of the list is "how to die with courage and dignity". I hope and pray that readers will take something from this tribute that will have lasting meaning in their lives.
In Your name Lord, I pray that if there are any flowers in Heaven, please pick a bouquet and give them to my Mother on this day. I ask that You place Your loving arms around her and tell her this message is from her son, "Happy birthday Mom. I love you".
Lord, you know that her life continues to this day to be a witness of the life you have offered to all. Glory to your name. Amen.