Charleston, South Carolina ??? June 20, 2007
???What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments but what is woven into the lives of others.???
Pericles (495 BC ??? 429 BC)
Macie Vance continued. ???It didn???t help matters any that I sent a letter to Jake apologizing and asking him to take me back. That was hard to do but not as hard as the first letter. Jake forgave me but he couldn???t come home to Virginia after making that promise to Johnny. Like I said, he truly believed he caused Johnny???s death. He was going to do everything he could to take care of his best friend???s family. So, Jake moved in with your mother.???
J.P. interrupted. ???My father was a teacher and I know Jake was not an educated man. How can that be????
???Jake reinvented himself. He went back to school on the GI Bill, hit the books and got his degree. As a part-time cabbie, he acquired a bit of a New York accent and attitude. When he graduated college, he became a teacher and helped Rose raise you. When you were through with school, he left New York and came home to me.??? She blushed a little. ???I waited for him.???
???Over twenty years???? he asked incredulously.
???Oh, I dated men. I tried to fall in love???to forget about him???but I couldn???t find anyone with his character. He was pretty cute, too.??? Macie had a playful twinkle in her eye. ???I never stopped loving him. Never got over him. He was what young people today call my soulmate. Any woman would have been proud to have him in her life. Time went by and I was still single. He fulfilled his obligation. He kept his promise. And he was proud of who you became. More importantly, he knew Johnny would be proud of you so he came back home with a clear conscience and a feeling of fulfillment.??? Macie touched his hand again. ???He never stopped loving you, John. He followed your career, spoke proudly of you often. You were the son he never had. But he simply couldn???t stay any longer.???
J.P. nodded. ???I can certainly understand his desire to go home and live his own life.???
???We had some great years together after he came back. Besides, too many mothers and young girls in Bedford had men that never came back. That my man came back twenty years late was a small price to pay compared to what they lost.???
???You understood what he was doing and why????
???Yes. It was hard at first,??? she confessed, ???but it was my fault. I left him. Your father would never have asked Jake to do it if I was still in Jake???s life. For a while we each lived our own lives but kept in touch. We would write from time to time but nothing much ever came of it while he was with your mother. Jake had too much honor to cheat. I thought you should know that. For a time I actually thought they would just stay together but once you were on your way, he came back home to me.???
J.P. was astounded. He would have never figured this out on his own. He shook his head, waves of emotion sweeping over him. ???It still amazes me both why???and how he did it.???
Macie sensed J.P. was overwhelmed by the revelation and started to explain. ???The boys were very close. Jake asked your father to be his best man. Your dad asked Jake to be your godfather. That???s how close they were???closer than the closest brothers. Jake loved your father. He admired him for being both smart and tough. He respected him for being a fighter who could also be decent and moral. But most of all he loved him for his loyalty. Jake believed there was nothing in this world that your father wouldn???t do for him! And he felt the same toward your father.??? She paused. ???Jake loved his friend so much he assumed his life.???
???Unbelievable,??? J.P. shook his head again. It was yet another story of self-sacrifice and humility from this generation of people he had learned to respect and come to love. ???I must confess that I believe the people from your generation are utterly amazing.???
???That???s a bit of an exaggeration, I always thought,??? she replied. ???We were just trying to survive. Unfortunately, with the Depression and the War, we had many challenges to overcome.??? She hesitated while she finished her tea. ???There is something to be said for the struggle you know. It builds character. Anything worthwhile is only valuable if you have to work hard for it.??? She gulped down the last of her tea. ???But I will confess this much. Life was a challenge after the War. Can you imagine what it???s like to be twenty-two years old and already know that you will never do anything more important for the rest of your life than what you???ve already done????
J.P. reflected for a moment. ???No, I can???t.???
???That was all of us,??? Macie continued. ???Except Jake. He had a mission harder than anything he did in the War. Less dangerous but more difficult. He had to take care of a friend???s family and raise his son. And he did a marvelous job!???
J.P. was embarrassed. ???Thank you.??? He paused for a moment. ???Do you have any children????
???No children,??? she answered. ???He considered you his son. We thought we were too old to start a family. Besides, we never officially married. He didn???t marry Rose either.??? Macie pondered for a few seconds. ???Despite his high standards for loyalty, Jake was a bit of a scoundrel.??? She chuckled. ???Are you married, John????
???No, I???m not.??? J.P. didn???t want to explain Cynthia Powers though he had a feeling Macie already knew. He brought the conversation back on point. ???And I thought he left because I went to Canada to avoid the draft,??? J.P. shared that thought with Macie. ???I heard about a promise and at the time I thought my father went to Bedford to take care of a promise he made to Jake. I figured it might have something to do with you or Harley. There was a promise to be kept but, like Frank said, I had it all backwards.???
Macie continued. ???Frank wrote us often. After Jake died he was tempted to share all of this with you. He couldn???t bring himself to do it. Recently he wrote me that you might find your way here, someday. He asked me to be prepared to explain everything to you.???
???However, you might not have all the answers,??? he countered. ???For example, why would my mother agree to take Jake???s help????
???I certainly don???t have all the answers but I can guess from a women???s point of view. She was a young girl alone in a big city, with no family and a baby. It wasn???t too hard to accept an offer of help and security. Especially from someone her husband trusted more than anyone in the world. I can understand how she could accept that simple idea at first and wound up accepting Jake later. He was easy to like and somewhat of a charmer. He definitely could get under your skin, in a good way.???
???Do you think they were in love????
???Now John, that???s a touchy subject. One that I avoided asking Jake about for obvious reasons. I have my pride, too,??? she laughed. ???I???m not sure about love but there certainly was a great deal of respect and affection. I would like to think that it was an arrangement of necessity fostered by a mutual love for Johnny. It certainly got more involved than they planned at the beginning. Obviously, something kept them together for over twenty years. Maybe it was what they felt for each other; or for you or a combination of the two. Like I said before, it???s complicated.??? Macie reflected on what she said. She needed to give J.P. something more. ???If Jake were alive today and you twisted his arm, I believe he would confess that he was actually in love with two women.???
???No disrespect to you, Macie but from everything I witnessed growing up, they seemed to love each other. It also seems to me that convincing her to try this arrangement would have been the hardest thing to do. My mother had a bit of an independent streak so Jake must have been a real charmer to pull that off.???
???Oh, he had help.??? Macie reached into her purse and handed him a letter. ???Here. Read this letter from your dad to your mother.???