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A goodbye with a blessing from a soldier's mom

I found the prayer card amongst memorabilia stored away in my bedside cabinet. It was presented to me in 1986 by an acquaintance who had visited the holy shrine of Medjogorie, a few years before Yugoslavia became a war-torn, fractured country.

On the card's face was an embellished representation of St. Michael proudly displaying his God-given talent for dispersing devils, namely Satan himself. On the reverse side was a prayer that I had learned many years ago as a youngster and could still recite without a moment's glance at the printed words.

The following day, I gently slipped the prayer card into a Valentine card that would go to Germany and my favorite soldier.

The call came a few days ago. I knew it was inevitable. I had been mentally rehearsing our conversation for weeks.

"Hi Mom," she said.

I could see her face as always, a slight smile crossing her lips, her straight brown hair, styled simply and carefree, lying just above her chin, accentuating her youthful yet determined expression.

"I leave tomorrow," she continued.

I gulped, swallowing the lump in my throat, recognizing the news I had expected at any time had come.

I pressed for details, but they were prohibited, so I backed off and let her choose the dialogue. It was sparse, limited to simple statements. It was tense and somewhat distant, for she never believed in long goodbyes.

In the past, we had parted on occasions too numerous to mention, but this time it was different. She was really going, going to war, going to Kuwait, going to lead her platoon of soldiers into the desert of swirling sand and uncertainties of giant proportions.

Mothers have only one linguistic mode when speaking to their children, no matter their age, no matter their expertise: "Be careful," I pleaded. "Stay well," I implored.

"I'll try, Mom," she replied, her little-girl voice seeping into the adult conversation.

"And remember," I continued, "tuck St. Michael into your pocket and carry him with you always, he'll protect you."

She agreed, and then it was time to end our talk.

"I love you, sweetie, and I'll speak with you soon."

Hope is a virtue colored by our undying faith and love. St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against . . .

_ Norma McCulliss is a freelance writer who lives with her husband, Joseph, in Palm Harbor. Their daughter, Claire, the youngest of their five children, is attached to the Army's l09th Transportation Company.