V-E Day! The radio announced it, the papers lauded it, all of the world celebrated.
Nadine’s quiet world wasn’t racked with the cheers and fireworks that resounded around Trafalgar Square or in Times Square, but the joy was no less real. Surely now her boys would be coming home. Of course, everyone was quick to remember that the battle still raged in the Pacific – surely, she thought none of her boys would be sent there after giving so much of themselves to the European campaign. Would the Army send Harry to fight the Japanese since he had been in the US throughout the war?
Nadine could not even consider that. Today was a day of celebration around the globe and she would not allow her fears to darken that.
She carefully guarded the money that Lou and Harry sent from their paychecks, however today she sent Eddie to Clarkrange with their carefully guarded ration card for sugar – today, they would have a cake. After all, she reasoned, she would soon be cooking for the returning heroes so she must be in good practice to make some special foods. She smiled at her own ability to rationalize an indulgence.
Within days she had a letter from Harry, and shortly after that Vera came with word from Jerry. His company would be boarding a troop ship within the week and sailing for home. Vera and Nadine embraced and cried and laughed; it was a surreal moment for they’d begun to fear their prayers would never be answered. Jerry was drafted first and he had been gone for three, long years.
Nadine waited for word from Lou. He was serving as a medic and was still very much needed; it would be another month before it was his turn to sail for home. Thankfully, there was no indication that he would be required to serve in the Pacific theatre.
As her boys returned home, rationing eased, and jobs were available, the family settled into a comfortable routine. Roberta and Winnie were married to two brothers whose family owned a big store in Jamestown. Roberta and her husband Lenny moved to Crossville where the Wallace family was opening a new store. Nadine was thrilled to know her daughters were married to good men who would undoubtedly care for and love them. Both of her sons-in-law had cars that enabled them to visit very often. In fact Winnie’s husband, Emmett, was teaching Eddie to drive and they were encouraging him to come live with them and work in the stores.
She was thrilled to see each of her boys looking to their future. She had hoped that the struggles and victories from the war years would change them, make them thankful to the God that protected them and cause them to focus on their blessings instead of the evil around them. They were indeed changed but not altogether as she’d hoped.
Lou and Harry found every bar and tavern within driving distance, for Lou came home driving a nice automobile purchased with his mustering-out bonus. They worked hard, and continued to give her money to support the household, but they spent every remaining penny in those drinking establishments. Nadine walked the floor at night praying, begging God to draw them home, to draw them toward himself.
It wasn’t long before Jimmy and Jerry began talking about moving their mother out of the rented house. Even though there was still much for work available in the northern states, they feared the Millers would return home and want to move back into their house. And, everyone felt it would be better to own the house rather than continue to rent.
Roberta and Lenny had recently built a new home on a large piece of land in Crossville. They offered Nadine a portion of that land. Jerry had been hiring on with local carpenters and found that he truly had a gift for the work. It was decided; Jerry and Lou would do the building, Jimmy and Harry would help them buy the materials. Eddie would be expected to help Jerry and Lou; he would stay with Roberta and Lenny while the work was being done and whenever he couldn’t work on the house, they would use him in the new store.
The children had fallen into the habit of making decisions on Nadine’s behalf without really even consulting her. The smallest part of her wanted to argue, but they were taking such good care of her that she refused to complain. It seems that after watching so many years of their mother’s total submission to their father, they felt she wasn’t capable of deciding things on her own. Nadine’s only concern about this perception was her failure to make her children understand just why she followed their father without complaint or argument. If only she could have succeeded in winning Bill Lewis to the Lord – maybe then the children would have seen the value in her sacrifices.
He may change yet. She’d told herself that a million times over the years. Even now, when she had neither seen nor heard of Bill for more than a decade, she prayed for his salvation. She longed to hear that he had come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ even if he still did not come home to her. She wondered if the boys would accept him if he came humbly, confessing his sins. She smiled as The Parable of The Prodigal son came to mind; how perfectly that could apply to Bill who went out to the world time and again and he must be wasting “his substance with riotous living” for he’d come home so many times without anything.
The irony of the analogy was that his sons intended to be nothing like him, but they too were wasting their lives and any substance they could earn on riotous living.
Her mind turned to Eddie. She cautioned him almost everyday not to fall into the habits of his brothers. He not only reassured his mother, but he too took every opportunity to try to turn them around.
Nadine had taken all of her children to church throughout their lives. As they reached their late teens, each of the boys disappeared from the church house, preferring to be outside during the services with other boys. Eddie, however, remained at his mother’s side during preaching even as he reached adulthood. Now, Eddie believed the Lord was leading him to preach and that thrilled his mother’s heart. However, he felt the first conversions he must seek were within his own family.
Each of the boys often told both Nadine and Eddie how proud they were of their youngest brother. Their sincerity was evident in the treatment Eddie received when he tried to witness to them. Instead of belittling him, they listened patiently. But they did not change.
Nadine and Eddie settled into their new little home. She missed the flowers and trees she had nurtured over the past years, but she and Roberta began planting new things and anticipating the beauty they would bring in coming years. And each of the children frequently came for a visit with something beautiful for the new house – a pretty, painted plate or an electric lamp; Jimmy even brought a radio.
Electrical lines had been stretched down the Monterey Road before she moved, but she had not felt she could spend her sons’ army allotment on wiring the rented house. But the new house had power run to it from the very beginning and she thrilled to see light pour from the little light bulb. Although she would never mention it to her children, Nadine was secretly longing for an electric range like the one Roberta had.
Then the day finally arrived when Bill came home. Nadine would always wonder how he knew where to find her. She knew that he wouldn’t dare even ask one of his children and most of the folks in Clarkrange would only be able to tell him she’d moved to Crossville. Nonetheless, it was Bill on her front porch, the long duster coat was the same he’d always travelled in, now showing much more wear. She couldn’t help but wonder how many miles the tall shiny boots had made since last she’d seen him.
Her breath caught in her throat as she reached a shaking hand out to push open the screen door. He stepped in barely greeting her and sat down on the upholstered sofa as though he’d been home only that morning. Nadine remained speechless.
Bill showed no intention to try to catch up on the lost years, he only asked if the coffee was hot. Hardly knowing what to do, Nadine stepped into her cheery kitchen to get him a cup. Before she could return to him, she heard Eddie bound in the door. The ensuing silence quickened Nadine’s steps from the kitchen and she found Eddie frozen just inside the door.
“Bill, this is your youngest son, Eddie. I don’t expect you would recognize him.”
Bill only nodded at the young man.
Nadine could read the questions in Eddie’s eyes. Many times he had longed to know his father but his brothers and sisters repeatedly told him he was better off if he never knew the old man. Nadine secretly wondered if they were right, but of course she would never say so. Still, she could see that Eddie did not carry the bitterness her other sons did. And, while she couldn’t blame the drinking on Bill for he’d never shown them that example, she did wonder if they would be so prone to it if they’d had a father who gave them the support they needed.
The question burning in Nadine’s mind now was whether Eddie was alone. He didn’t have a car of his own and she knew he’d been working with Jerry today on a construction job he had gotten. As calmly as possible, she asked Eddie, “Did you ride with Jerry?”
Eddie answered without taking his eyes off his father, “Yeah, he stopped to speak to Lenny.”
Again the breath caught in Nadine’s throat; her hand unconsciously clasped her neck as though she could force herself to breath.
Bill noticed her discomfort. “Ain’t goin’ t’be no trouble with that boy Nadine.”
How could she make him understand that Jerry was not just a boy, he was a grown man seasoned by Army life and toughened by war. He’d worked in log woods that strengthened muscles and he chose to spend his time among ruffians and drunkards. What must she do? She was torn between a husband she vowed to love, honor and obey and her son who had supported and cared for her for years.
Before she could think of what must be done, Jerry was on the porch. He had to push Eddie aside to get into the door. As he opened his mouth to tease his brother, Bill caught his eye. Tension rose in the room like flooding river. Eddie sensed it too and knew he must act.
In an instance Eddie put a strong yet gentle hand on Jerry’s arm, gripping the triceps chiseled to stone by his carpentry and logging work. Eddie spoke his first words to his father, “We’re surprised to see you, Sir. Were you planning to stay long?”
Bill was shocked by the forthright question; no one ever asked about his plans. “Awhile I guess,” was his only answer.
Jerry pulled against his brother’s grasp; Eddie continued calmly, “I guess it’s really Jerry’s and Lou’s house since they built it. We’ll need to talk with them.”
Bill cursed and grumbled; he complained that he hadn’t even gotten the coffee he’d asked for and he wondered why Nadine would let these upstarts decide what happened in her house. Then he began to play to Nadine’s sense of responsibility.
“This rheumatism has been on me solid for a month now. My legs ache somethin’ fierce. I guess I’ve just got too old to flop around like I once did. Need to settle in and let my woman take care of me. Now, you don’t mind that do you Nadine?” Bill flashed a smile at Nadine that further bewildered her. She’d scarcely seen the man smile since the day she married him.
She could only muster a slight shake of her head to assure him she would not mine caring for her husband.
Eddie’s tight hold had served to calm Jerry somewhat. One look at his mother told him she truly did feel a sense of responsibility to Bill. In an instant he made the decision to bear this unpleasant burden himself rather than subjecting his mother any further. Moreover, he reasoned he was protecting Eddie, the family’s pride and joy. Jerry could not subject him to the overbearing rule that he’d grown up under; could not ask Eddie to have everything he worked for ripped from his grasp on a his father’s whim.
“Get up. You’ll come with me. You are my father and I’ll find a place for you.”
Something in his tone told Bill not to argue with him. He remembered a similar tone in Lou’s voice years ago, the last time he’d seen Lou.
Jerry took Bill with him and he would never again set foot in Nadine’s home. Some agreement was reached without her knowledge and the next she heard of her estranged husband, he was living in a back room at the little general store Jerry had recently opened in Campground. Over the next years, he moved among his children’s houses where he was given room and board, never finding a home and seeming content to accept their care without returning either money or love. For the rest of Nadine’s life, she would see her husband only when she happened to be visiting with the particular child who was keeping him at the moment.
Nadine’s home overflowed with her children and grandchildren. The little house fairly bulged with the joy that filled it. She often expressed to Roberta that she felt she was a burden to them since they continued to pay her daily expenses. But the family relied on their mother for everything from babysitting to mending, from homemade preserves to a strong shoulder and godly advice whenever they needed it.