This article was originally published in Guideposts magazine in March 1959.
This is the story of a woman’s love for her husband. Whether he deserved that love—and why he acted the way he did—are questions I can’t answer. I’m not going to write about Karl Taylor, this story is about his wife.
The story begins early in 1950 in the Taylors’ small apartment in Waltham, Massachusetts. Edith Taylor was sure that she was “the luckiest woman on the block.” She and Karl had been married 23 years, and her heart still skipped a beat when he walked into the room.
Oh, there’d been tough times during those years, times when Karl had been depressed, unable to keep a job; but she had helped him through the low times and she only loved him more because he needed her.
As for Karl, he gave every appearance of a man in love with his wife. Indeed, he seemed almost dependent on her, as if he didn’t want to be too long away from her. If his job as government warehouse worker took him out of town, he’d write Edith a long letter every night and drop her postcards several times during the day. He sent small gifts from every place he visited.
Often at night they’d sit up late in their apartment and talk about the house they’d own…someday…”when we can make the down-payment”…
In February 1950, the government sent Karl to Okinawa for a few months to work in a new warehouse there. It was a long time to be away, and so far!
This time, no little gifts came. Edith understood. He was putting every cent he saved into the bank for their home. Hadn’t she begged him for years not to spend so much on her, to save it for the house?
The lonesome months dragged on, and it seemed to Edith that the job over there was taking longer and longer. Each time she expected him home, he’d write that he must stay “another three weeks.” “Another month.” “Just a couple of months longer.”
He’d been gone a year now—and suddenly Edith had an inspiration. Why not buy their home now, before Karl got back, as a surprise for him! She was working now, in a factory in Waltham, and putting all her earnings in the bank. So she made a down payment on a cozy, unfinished cottage with lots of trees and a view.
Now the days sped past because she was busy with her wonderful surprise. In two months more, she earned enough to get the floor laid on one of the bedrooms. The next month, she ordered the insulation. She was getting into debt, she knew, but with what Karl must have saved…
She worked feverishly, almost desperately, for now there was something she didn’t want to think about.
Karl’s letters were coming less and less often. No gifts she understood. But a few pennies for a postage stamp?
Then, after weeks of silence, came a letter:
“Dear Edith. I wish there were a kinder way to tell you that we are no longer married…”
Edith walked to the sofa and sat down. He’d written to Mexico for a divorce. It had come in the mail. The woman lived on Okinawa. She was Japanese, Aiko, maid-of-all-work assigned to his quarters.
She was 19. Edith was 48.
Now, if I were making up this story, the rejected wife would feel first shock, then fury. She would fight that quick paper-divorce, she would hate her husband and the woman. She would want vengeance for her own shattered life.
But I am describing here simply what did happen. Edith Taylor did not hate Karl. Perhaps she had loved him so long she was unable to stop loving him.
She could picture the situation so well. A penniless girl. A lonely man who—Edith knew it—sometimes drank more than he should. Constant closeness. But even so (here Edith made a heroic effort to be proud of her husband)—even so, Karl had not done the easy, shameful thing. He had chosen the hard way of divorce, rather than take advantage of a young servant girl.
The only thing Edith could not believe was that he had stopped loving her. That he loved Aiko, too, she made herself accept.
But the difference in their ages, in their backgrounds—this couldn’t be the kind of love she and Karl had known! Someday they would both discover this; someday, somehow, Karl would come home.
Edith now built her life around this thought. She wrote Karl, asking him to keep her in touch with the small, day-to-day things in his life. She sold the little cottage with its view and its snug insulation. Karl never knew about it.
He wrote one day that he and Aiko were expecting a baby. Marie was born in 1951, then in 1953, Helen. Edith sent gifts to the little girls. She still wrote to Karl and he wrote back: the comfortable, detailed letters of two people who knew each other very well. Helen had a tooth. Aiko’s English was improving, Karl had lost weight.
Edith’s life was lived now on Okinawa. She merely went through the motions of existence in Waltham. Back and forth between factory and apartment, her mind was always on Karl. Someday he’ll come back…
And then the terrible letter: Karl was dying of lung cancer.
Karl’s last letters were filled with fear. Not for himself, but for Aiko, and especially for his two little girls. He had been saving to send them to school in America, but his hospital bills were taking everything. What would become of them?
Then Edith knew that her last gift to Karl could be peace of mind for these final weeks. She wrote him that, if Aiko were willing, she would take Marie and Helen and bring them up in Waltham.
For many months after Karl’s death, Aiko would not let the children go. They were all she had ever known. Yet what could she offer them except a life like hers had been? A life of poverty, servitude and despair. In November 1956, she sent them to her “Dear Aunt Edith.”
Edith had known it would be hard to be mother at 54 to a three-year-old and a five-year-old. She hadn’t known that in the time since Karl’s death they would forget the little English they knew.
But Marie and Helen learned fast. The fear left their eyes, their faces grew plump. And Edith—for the first time in six years, Edith was hurrying home from work. Even getting meals was fun again!
Sadder were the times when letters came from Aiko. “Aunt. Tell me now what they do. If Marie or Helen cry or not.” In the broken English Edith read the loneliness, and she knew what it was to be lonely.
Money was another problem. Edith hired a woman to care for the girls while she worked. Being both mother and wage-earner left her thin and tired. In February she became ill, but she kept working because she was afraid to lose a day’s pay; at the factory one day she fainted. She was in the hospital for two weeks with pneumonia.
There in the hospital bed, she faced the fact that she would be old before the girls were grown. She thought she had done everything that love for Karl asked of her, but now she knew there was one thing more. She must bring the girls’ real mother here too.
As the plane came in at New York’s International Airport, Edith had a moment of fear. What if she should hate this woman who had taken Karl away from her?
The last person off the plane was a girl so thin and small Edith thought at first it was a child. She did not come down the stairs, she only stood there, clutching the railing, and Edith knew that if she had been afraid, Aiko was near panic.
She called Aiko’s name and the girl rushed down the steps and into Edith’s arms. In that brief moment, as they held each other, Edith had an extraordinary thought. “Help me,” she said, her eyes tight shut. “Help me to love this girl, as if she were part of Karl come home. I prayed for him to come back. Now he has—in his two little daughters and in this gentle girl that he loved. Help me, God, to know that.”
Today, Edith and Aiko Taylor and the two little girls live together in the apartment in Waltham. Marie is the best student in her second-grade class; Helen’s kindergarten teacher adores her. And Aiko—she is studying to be a nurse. Someday, she and Edith would like a house of their own. At night they sit up late and make plans. Today Edith Taylor knows she is “the luckiest woman on the block.”
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