A Symbol of Spring
Martha W. Salyers
March 4, 1957
I cannot remember what Spring meant to me in years gone by - I can remember only the Spring of last year. It was a time of the year in which my son was killed in a tragic accident; a time of the year when Spring turned into a Winter of despair and defeat.
He was many things to many people; and all that he was to others, he was to me - and more. He was the small boy who had once spent his only nickel to buy a bag of jelly beans for my birthday present; he was the young man who, on his twenty-first birthday, spent all the money he had to give me a gift of a beautiful silver teapot, which I had coveted without any hope of owning. He was the little boy who did not need to be taught courtesy and consideration for others; they were instinctive with him. He was the young man who had no recognition of differences in race, color nor creed, who daily practiced doing unto others as he would have them do unto him. There was always time for him to give help and he was happiest when he could be of service to someone. Our lean years were brightened by his good cheer and by his assurance to me that we would "make it." He was the son who insisted that I stop working and go with him to live in Germany while he completed a tour of duty there.
He was the boy who early decided on an army career and never deviated from this singleness of purpose. All his thoughts and actions were in preparation for the time when he would become an army man. He had no illusions about the small part he would play in the drama of army life, but he was determined to play that part to the best of his ability. That he was successful can best be illustrated by the many tributes paid to him at the time of his death. Upon learning of his death, the entire Corps of Cadets of the University of Cincinnati asked for the privilege of conducting the funeral service of their former corps commander. While services for him were being conducted at Arlington National Cemetery, his entire battalion of officers, troops, wives and children marched in formation to a memorial service for him in Germany. At that service his battalion commander said of him, "This service today is a humble tribute to a soldier of inexhaustible energies and fortitude. Those of us who knew him as an associate, a leader, a friend, an officer as well as a soldier, found him to be a shining example of spirit, initiative, conscientiousness, and faithfulness. His deeds and vivid demonstrations will be living examples of standards difficult to equal by any man now or hereafter. It is the priceless good fortune of each one of us to have served with him." I think he must have smiled his big beautiful smile at these words and was even more pleased when his Jewish friends and associates held their own special memorial service for him. These tributes were of little comfort to me; I could only think of the continuing good of his life had he been left with us.
With Ecclesiastes, I thought, "What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? ...All things are full of weariness; a man can not utter it...so I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a striving after wind." The winter months of blackness and despair stayed with me. "I said of laughter, 'It is mad,' and of pleasure, 'What use is it?'
One day a letter came to me from Sister Rosa, the director of an orphanage in Germany, which my son had befriended. Her letter began, "In front of me at my desk stands a lovely picture of your dear son. A big picture was honored in an unforgettable ceremony in the presence of high American officials and our own member of our Work here; also Bishop Landgraf. Director Kroner placed a wreath around the picture and solemnly your beloved son looks down at us and our Work we are trying to do here. I prepared special music and song for the services of such a solemn ceremony and it would have done you heart good to witness it. We will never forget your son and will always think of him and pray for him with grateful hearts."
The snow of my winter began to melt. Soon another letter came from Tom's company commander telling me of a fund of almost three thousand dollars which had been established by officers and troops in memory of Tom. This money was to be used to carry on his work at the orphanage. Now I could see the green of the grass which had been growing under the snow of my Winter.
On Tom's birthday in November, the Sisters sent a card they had made for me in honor of his birthday. I letter from Sister Rosa followed telling me of the special services they had held for him. In her words, "The Sisters and all the youth and help in the Home gathered together in the beautifully decorated big room here. We took his picture off the wall and decorated it with flowers and candles and began our humble celebration of love and thanks. We sang and recited and the tones of Mozart and Hayden went through the room. We sang about 'The Good Comrade' and played on the flute and piano; we sang hymns from Gertrude von Lefont. It was all so beautiful and touching it is hard to describe. The little children sang a birthday song to Uncle Tom; they expressed their joy in their own way that Uncle Tom came into their lives. One song came after the other as only little ones can sing. Then silently we prayed and blew out the candles except for a few which kept watch through the night. In the evening, we went to the Chapel for prayers and silent meditation and that is how we closed the day of love and honor on your dearly beloved son's twenty-fourth birthday." This letter brought a ray of sunshine and a suggestion of blues skies.
Over the period since Tom's death, we have tried to carry on his work by sending clothing and money to the children in the orphanage. As each letter comes to tell us of their gratitude, my Winter comes a little closer to Spring. I do not know why death came so early to him, but I am consoled when I see the good that has come from it. It is the fulfillment of his hope that he could live on through the good that he had done on earth.
Spring means to me the sum of a life as lived well - the life of my son. His short years on earth are as the short month of Spring; his smile is in the warmth of the sun. His good deeds are the crocus which blooms so early; his cheery manner is in the song of the cardinal. A soft breeze is the gentle touch of his hand. Children fly their kites and I see his Spirit free and soaring over upward into the blue of the sky; the kite's string is a symbol of the unbroken link between him and me.
"Who is like the wise man?
And who knows the interpretation of a thing?
A man's wisdom makes his face shine,
and the hardness of his countenance is changed."