Believes, Hopes, Endures

Irene stood on the platform dressed in her best suit, a soft mauve wool gabardine over a cream silk blouse with a loose bow at the throat. Her stylish, new and, for her, expensive and very flattering (her mom said so!) black felt hat atop her smooth auburn hair. Her neat little feet were snug in black suede stacked heels.

“Wear your coat!”

“Oh, no, mother, no. It’s so old and ratty.”

“Not so ratty and it’s warm. It looks like it’s whipping up a storm out there.”

“Not today. It can’t possibly storm today.” Irene was sure her happiness controlled the weather.

“If you say so.” Her mother threw up her hands in resignation, but she understood her daughter. She’d been young herself, filled with yearning and hope, her own man away in faraway Europe — Holland, he was. Irene’s young man was one of the lucky ones in this war who’d fought on only one front. He’d seen action on some Pacific Island, but he was coming home.

Irene waited, her heart filled with anticipation. Finally they could begin their lives together as they had planned since high school. She’d filled some of the bleak and lonely months by preparing for their new home — embroidering tea-towels and pillow-cases that she trimmed with tatted lace. She’d made her first quilt! Her grandmother had shown her everything from piecing the design to quilting by hand on her old quilting frame. When she had money left over from her job at the five and dime, she bought something for their house. Pots, pans, anything she thought they would need. “I want everything new in my house,” she’d told her mother.

“We all do, dear,” her mom had answered, smiling at Irene’s youth and naiveté. She was not going to burst her girl’s bubble. She knew too well what that felt like.

Snow began to drift slowly in tiny, tense flakes. Irene looked up at the sky, a uniform gray. “Mom’s right,” she thought, wishing she had a coat. Flakes like that meant cold.

Suddenly bells clanged. Irene heard a train whistle, and the approaching chug-chug of an engine. It pulled into the station and the air-brakes hissed as the train stopped. Irene stood back, looking at the doors opening along the train. She wanted to watch him before he saw her, to savor the moment of his arrival. She had imagined this moment, running to him and him lifting her in the air in an embrace. They would kiss — a fervid, passionate kiss that captured all the years and fears, a kiss for the future, too.

The train’s brakes sighed. The conductors went down the train placing steps on the platform. The hand trucks were wheeled to the open doors of the baggage cars and the porters and baggage handlers began unloading the heavy footlockers. All the trains were full of soldiers coming home.

Irene, standing on tip-toe, watched the doors, her teeth chattering as the tiny flakes fell more rapidly leaving a sift of dry powder on the platform. Dozens of young men in uniform got off the train into the arms of mom, or dad, girlfriends, wives and children. Some came out with no one to meet them. They shuffled their duffle bags onto their shoulders and walked into the station and off to wherever they were going.

“How sad that is,” thought Irene, imagining their loneliness, wishing she could greet them all.

Then she saw him. She watched, thinking he would look for her from the bottom step where he could see above the crowd, but he didn’t. He stepped out and turned back to the train, smiling. He reached up to help someone, and down came a petite Japanese girl, dressed to the nines with a fox boa around her neck, smiling at him. Once on the platform, Jim leaned over her and wrapped her in his jacket. They hurried together into the station.

Irene walked home in the blowing snow. She wished she could take out every embroidered chicken and flower from every tea-towel, untangle every thread of tatted lace and return the threads to the spindles. She wished she could undo the pieces of the pretty quilt and put them back into the rags and scraps from which she’d cut them, and, instead of all those hours learning to quilt from her grandmother, she wished she’d taken the old woman out to pick buffalo berries and chokecherries for jelly. She wished she could walk backward through that miasmic fog of hope that had carried her to the bitter moment with the knowledge she had now and regain every lost hour.

But that’s not how things worked. Many of her lovely things made their way to the church charity Christmas sale. Irene was grateful she didn’t catch cold, and she never wore the hat again. All Jim had to say was, “I didn’t know how to tell you, so I didn’t. We got married in Okinawa.”

3 thoughts on “Believes, Hopes, Endures

Comments are closed.