Marguerite Sprague: Even after all these years, hurt remains fresh; but so does love
Modern life is complicated. At times, everyone wonders, “why am I here, anyway?”
For most of us, the answer is elusive.
Perhaps “connection” is as close as we come to feeling purpose for being here. At times, connection shakes up worlds. Other times, it’s personal worlds, as was recently the case with my dear friend McAvoy Layne.
Mac and I were carpooling together as we often do. Memorial Day was approaching, and that had Mac remembering. He had mentioned humorous stories about his time as a Marine in Vietnam before; he kept the somber stuff inside. But this time, he appeared to be burdened by his memories.
He spoke about a cherished fallen comrade, John Sibilly. As he described John, who sounded like a lot of fun, you could tell he still missed his friend. (We might live forever if we did not lose our loved ones: with each departure, we feel a piece of ourselves go with them.)
And then it got remarkable.
When John was killed in action, Mac sat down and wrote his friend’s mother a letter. He poured his heart out to her about what a great guy John was, but he was also trying to help her contend with an impossible burden.
But the letter never arrived. The only address he had was a workplace full of workers. The USPS tried to forward it here and there — as the postmarked envelope attests — but it never found Mrs. Sibilly. Instead, they sent it to Mac’s mother.
Fast forward 51 years, and as Mac was going through his dear-departed mother’s things, lo and behold, he found the letter. “She saved it all those years …” he mused. His voice dropped off for a moment. Then, quietly he said, “I just wonder … could John’s mom still be alive? I would surely love to get that letter to her, even now …”
I love a challenge. And 25+ years of historical research has given me some idea of how to crack such a nut.
“I’d like to try to find out for you,” I said. “Is that OK with you?”
Mac looked a little surprised. Then his familiar grin crinkled once more.
“Why sure, Pearl (his nickname for me), I wouldn’t know where to begin.”
“Well, I think I do,” I said, and explained that computers were a big help in solving such mysteries. Computers are not Mac’s strong suit.
I began my dogged pursuit. I found an image of John online and Mac verified it was he. The day before Memorial Day, I had determined that 1) John’s father had died; 2) His mother had likely remarried, and 3) Various relatives had online family trees (which never name living people). I sent messages to the relatives and then remembered Facebook.
There, I searched for the name “Sibilly.” A few folks popped up and I clicked on one, thinking, “how will I narrow these down to viable candidates?” As Frank Sibilly’s page came up, I gasped. There was the same picture of John! Excitedly I sent him a message, then contacted Mac. We waited eagerly.
After several days and nothing, Mac said, philosophically, “Well, at least we know we tried.” Neither of us wanted to be pushy, or to upset the family. You never know.
A couple of weeks later on ancestry.com, two new messages awaited me! The excited voice came through the first message: she told me she was in tears reading my note, that John’s mother was indeed alive, and she would contact his brother immediately and get back to me. The next, written an hour later, said Frank wanted to talk with Mac and here was his phone number. I contacted Mac: he understandably had to sit a moment before calling.
Cutting to the chase, he called, they spoke, and he learned that John’s mom was weeks away from celebrating her 90th birthday! A family gathering was planned in her honor and this was suddenly a new element for that occasion.
Through their conversation, two hearts connected, and made plans for John’s mother, completing the connection. Their hearts emptied and filled at the same time, then overflowed with their shared love and longing for John Sibilly. Mac sent the letter. Frank and his sister brought it to their mom in a private prior of the party, in case it was a bit of a shock.
John’s mother was moved beyond words by it. Of course, it hurt too: she and her children all long for their missing boy. But she was warmed by the love McAvoy and the other Marines felt — and still feel — for her lost son. Frank explains, “receiving this letter 51 years late gave us more joy than had it been delivered with all the other best wishes.”
Our hearts do not know time: the hurt remains fresh, but so does the everlasting love.
Marguerite Sprague lives in Tahoe City.