My father served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was one of the thousands of 19-year-old men who were the first called in 1940 as America was starting to build up in preparation for what appeared to many as inevitable hostilities.
His term of enlistment was to be for one year, but as events unfolded, it was changed to the duration of the war. My father was known in military parlance as a mustang, meaning he entered military service as a private and later received an officer’s commission.
My father was discharged from the Army in late 1945, and he returned home to Mississippi and became a member of the Mississippi Army National Guard. In May of 1951, his unit was called to active duty for the Korean War.
Days before we left for an Army base in Maryland, my father wanted to visit some of his cousins he had played with while growing up, as well as his best friend. We went to Terrebonne Parish, a house on Lowerline Street in New Orleans and a place in southwest Mississippi called Trinity.
Our last stop was at the home of my father’s Aunt Mary and Uncle Elwyn.
In the many places that we lived while I was growing up, there was one constant. We visited Aunt Mary’s in the summer and at Christmas. She was my great aunt, but I called her Aunt Mary and she was a remarkable woman.
Although she had no children of her own, her home was a center of love and stability for her extended family.
For an insecure young boy with no brothers or sisters, Aunt Mary was an anchor. Her love was never questioned.
On my visits to Aunt Mary’s, she would sometimes come and sit on the bed with me at night and tell me things until sleep took me. On one particular visit, she told me a story that has stayed with me, coming to mind when the capriciousness of life exerts itself. I would like to share it.
Aunt Mary told of a man who knew the secret to the greatest strength in the world. This man was of average height and build and would not stand out in any crowd, yet people came from far and wide to seek him out for help with their troubles.
This man would help all — rich or poor, weak or powerful — and not ask for anything in return. Inside his small house there was a block of slate that the man sat on in front of his fireplace where people would tell him of their troubles.
It was rumored by the folks who lived in the surrounding countryside that the secret to the man’s strength and power was hidden under the block of slate. The years passed and the man grew very old yet he continued to help people and relieve them of their personal burdens with no mention of gain for himself. Hardly a day passed without someone seeking him out.
One day the man did not appear outside his house as usual and he was found on his bed, where he had died in his sleep.
Upon hearing of the man’s death many people came to the house to see what was under the block of slate. People craned their necks to see as the block was turned over. On the bottom of the block of slate was written one word, “TRUTH.”
— Wall lives in St. Francisville
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