Just One More Time
I worked at Ocean View Nursing Home and was intrigued by a ninety-two-year-old man named Kenneth Thomas. He was a veteran of World War II and had a private room overlooking the beach. On his night table was a small black and white photograph of a young woman holding a small boy.
That morning I got him settled into his wheelchair and pushed him over to the window where he liked to sit. He didn’t talk much. He motioned toward the night table. I knew by then that he wanted the photograph.
I brought it to him and asked, “What is so special about this picture? You look at it a lot.”
At first I thought he was going to ignore my question. Then he looked up with tear dimmed eyes. “It is special. My wife and little boy.” He cleared his throat. “I was in the war. It was coming up on D-Day and we weren’t allowed to communicate with anyone. We all wrote our wills because we didn’t know if we’d be coming back.
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“When we hit the beach at Normandy it was pure slaughter. How I got through is still beyond me. But I’m here all these years later.”
He wasn’t seeing me anymore. He was transported back in time. “I was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge.” His eyes seemed to clear a moment as he looked up at me. “War is hell. No two ways about it. A lot of good men were killed. Are still being killed because people can’t learn to live together.”
He sat silent for a few moments and I thought he was through talking. Then his thin raspy voice began again. “I tried to call Roberta but I couldn’t get through. The connections were bad. Not like today. When I finally got through, the operator told me that number was no longer in service. It was like a cold knife to my heart.
“It took more than a month until I finally got home. I found someone else living in the apartment where we had lived. They couldn’t tell me anything about the woman who lived there before them but they knew she had a small child. I told them she was my wife. They gave me a picture they’d found. That’s all I have left. I never found her or Emery. If I could have just one more thing before I die, it would be to see my darling and our son. If God would just grant me that one wish…” He choked up and reached for a tissue to dry his eyes.
I gave him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder and said, “I’ve got to go take care of my work. I’ll look in on you later.”
It stayed on my mind. Wasn’t there some way to find out what had happened to his family? I was just sitting down to supper with my family when the telephone rang. It was Mom. “Guess who just showed up for dinner.”
“My big brother Scott.”
“How did you know?”
“Because you always call me whenever he breezes into town. How long is he going to stay this time?”
“He didn’t say. Do you want to talk to him?”
The idea just popped into my head. “Yes, I do. I have a favor to ask of him.”
I tried to say all the nice things like how glad I was that he was home and things like that, but I was eager to ask the question that loomed in my mind. “Scott, you’re an FBI Agent. You know how to find people.”
Silence. “Okay, Judy. Who do you want me to find?”
I told him all about Mr. Thomas’ wife and son. “Please, please tell me you’ll look into it.”
“Yeah. I’ll see what I can find. I’m not making any promises. That was a long time ago.”
I decided not to say anything to Mr. Thomas. I didn’t want to get his hopes up only to be dashed. I would wait. I never heard anything from Scott.
But two weeks later an elderly man walked into the nursing home and asked if Kenneth Thomas was a resident there. I was pleased to show Mr. Emery Thomas to his father’s room.