It was ten years ago yesterday that Mrs. Davis passed away. August 10, 1998. I’m not sure why the month and date stick out in my mind so well. But, I do know the reason the year does; it was the same year my mother passed away. Mrs. Davis was a bit of a celebrity locally and actually made the news in some newspapers across the nation back in the late 60s. It wasn’t so much something she did that was of a major significance. You might even remember reading something about it if you were around at the time. It was just one simple act, really. It was an act of a mother who would not accept the loss of a child. It was an act that poured love into our psyche, washing us with the knowledge that a mother’s love is eternal. It was heartache. It was grief. Most of all, it was love, a love that followed her into the grave…and, most likely, thereafter.
In 1967, Mrs. Davis’ son, Timothy, was reported missing in action (MIA) in the Da Nang Province in South Vietnam. It was reported that Tim was on a recon mission with twelve other heavily armed soldiers, one night, and walked right into a Viet Cong ambush. Tim circled around the enemy Viet Cong to try to get the drop on them. After the firefight ended, Tim was never seen again. Not one sound was heard from him as his fellow soldiers, concerned he did not come back, began to search for him. Most likely, he was captured by the Viet Cong. In fact, to this day, despite efforts to locate him by both US and Vietnamese officials, he has never been heard from again. No remains of him have been found. Mrs. Davis refused to accept he was dead. She said this repeatedly in news interviews. In fact, if you even mentioned Tim was deceased, you could have expected a quick, vociferous rebuttal from this lady. She always claimed that “Tim will come home when he is good and ready.” It was his way, even when he was a kid and it brought him much punishment from his parents.
The day Mrs. Davis got the letter from the U.S. Army, she lit a candle and put it in the big picture window of her home. For a couple of years, she kept a candle burning in that window. When asked why, she replied in a voice filled with heartache, “So my son can find his way back home…just in case.” She kept candles burning until her remaining children convinced her it was a fire hazard. So, a local drugstore (which remains in business to this day) provided her with one of those battery operated, artificial shaped candles. The drugstore even provided her with free batteries until her death in 1998. That candle changed over the years. Different shapes, different brands. But, one constant remained; it burned brightly in that window, day and night, rain or shine. Life went on; her children grew up, went to school and started families of their own. Mrs. Davis soon became a footnote to that wretched war. And like all wars, that one eventually ended. But, Mrs. Davis devotion to her eldest son did not end. The candle remained in place.
Life went on with me. I also went to that wretched little war in 1970. Afterwards, I moved around, took various jobs. I went to various schools, married and divorced. But, I always came back home. And I would casually drive by that home on Dredge Lane over the 30+ years since Tim was reported missing. Sure enough, that candle was always in place at the home of Mrs. Davis. It still provided a pathway to Tim to come home to “eat sugar cookies and drink his milk,” as Mrs. Davis would say. That candle remained there until August 10th, 1998. Mrs. Davis passed away, and her home was put up for sale. I drove by there shortly after her funeral. It was a sharp pang in my heart as I saw that candle missing back then. It was like someone had taken something from me.
I remembered reading in the obituary notice she had another son named John. I looked him up in the telephone book. Lots of people with the name Davis, as you can imagine. Yes, I did see one John Davis on a different side of town. I just had to quench my curiosity. So, after getting off work one late afternoon, around dusk, I drove to that address. I could barely make out the street number on the mailbox. There was a young boy shooting hoops on the side of the house that day. He was wearing a New Orleans Saints jersey…with “Tim” on the back of his jersey as I was able to slowly realize in the quickening darkness of the day. I started getting a little misty eyed when I saw that. In a way, Mrs. Davis son did come home. Just not the way she expected or preferred. And I’m sure she dearly loved her grandson. But, it’s just not the same as your own son.
As I slowly drove off, I looked back in my rear-view mirror…at the warm, comforting candle light glowing from the big picture window of her son John’s home. I was glad to see that. I figured that light will be a traditional thing for the children of Mrs. Davis and her grand-children and on through the generations. It’s all for an eternally young man that most in the family will never know, except through stories. And I’m sure they will tell one and all the candle light is for Tim to find his way back home…
“…just in case.”