The connection was bad. She hardly understood the answer of the operator.
"Sorry Madam, but in this unit there is no Lt. Col. Potter."
Mildred was speechless. What the hell was going on? Actually the war was over but Sherman had to stay a few weeks more on Guam. She knows that the hospital where he is on duty would reduce their personnel after they have finished a lot of remaining administrative work, but he wouldn't have left without telling her.
"Are you sure, Corporal?"
"Yes Madam," the operator replied, "but I can connect you to one of our Colonels. He might know where your Lt. Col. got lost."
Mildred was not amused; instead she got a little bit angry. But she calmed herself down by thinking that this was one of the crazy things you have to deal with when your husband is in the Army.
A distorted voice far away on Guam said, "Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?"
"I can hear you," she yelled into the phone. "I've been told that on your location there is no Lt. Col. Potter. Is this a bad joke?" The man on the other end of the line had no chance to reply. "I called him last week, so don't tell me there is no Lt. Col. Potter at your base."
The Colonel, who still hasn't said his name, interrupted the angry woman. "It's true that there is no Lt. Col. Potter in this unit. But I'll connect you to another office. Hold on please." Mildred was concerned. Did something bad happen to him?
Before she could think farther, a well known voice said "Mildred! This is Sherm. How are you?"
It was a relief, but she also thought that someone had made fun of her. "Sherman! What's going on? Someone told me that you weren't there."
"Of course I am, whom did you ask for?"
Mildred was confused. "What a silly question. I asked for Lt. Col. Potter. I'm not stupid."
Sherman knew that he had better stop this discussion and solve the mystery. "Well, actually you are now talking to Colonel Sherman T. Potter." Silence. "Darling? Is everything alright?"
"Yes, of course. I should be angry. I was worrying about you, and you had your pleasure."
He knew that she was very upset. He was away from home for a long time and she hardly ever complained about that. "I'm sorry, Mildred. I apologize for this prank."
"It's alright." The anger disappeared from her voice. "So you got promoted. Why didn't you tell me this in our last conversation?"
Sherman smiled. The other surprise was still ahead. "I was not sure if it would happen now, so if it didn't you would not be too disappointed." Her voice told him that she was crying.
"Oh Sherm ,...Colonel, I am so proud of you."
Now was the time for the big bang. "My dear, there is another thing. It's always difficult for me to find a Christmas gift for you. I thought about it for awhile and I decided to send you something very special, I hope. It's rather big, about my height. It wears green clothes, has white hair, and hopes that you still love him." He made a short break. "Mildred? Are you there?"
She could hardly speak. "Sherm, is that true? Oh, I'm overjoyed! I don't know what to say. Only God knows how often I prayed to end this war and get you home. When will you arrive? I'll pick you up. Please tell me."
He longs for the moment when he will be home. "I expect to be home on December 15th. Right before Christmas! I love you, Mildred. I can imagine how hard it is to be alone for such a long time. It'll be over soon. Sorry dear, but we have to end our conversation now. Tell our children that I love them. Bye."
Mildred also said good bye, and tears rolled down her cheeks. She had to tell this to their children, their neighbors, and everybody who was around.
Colonel Potter was given a farewell party at the officers' club on Guam. After midnight he found himself sitting alone at the beach. It was a warm night and he gazed at the stars. He doesn't want to look back too much. He lost some good friends, some who had been close to him since the days of World War I. He had also made some new friends here. Deep in his heart he hoped that none of them would ever be in a war again. They have all seen so much pain. How can people think that war is a solution to any problem? Have the people in power learned from this tragedy?
He took a plane to Hawaii, then another plane to San Francisco. Normally he would have taken the train to get to Missouri, but he was lucky enough to get a seat on a plane to Jefferson City. That saved him more than one day. The last few miles he took a train, and then a taxi brought him home - Mildred would be very surprised.
While he was driving through Hannibal, he saw that few things had changed. His heart beat faster when the taxi arrived at his house. It was before noon. Was Mildred at home? She wasn't. The back door was open so he got into the kitchen. Mildred had made a new tablecloth; the curtains were new to him too. All the other things here appeared very familiar. In the living room he thoughtfully stared at the photograph of the whole family. There also was a photograph of him. Again he has lost a few years of his family life. Mildred had to handle all the troubles with the children on her own. A father who is thousands of miles away is not much help. Will the kids understand? Isn't he a stranger to them? Four years was a long time.
He hid his bag behind the piano so that nobody could see that he's already there. He looked carefully outside the window. Mildred was coming! His desire to run outside and take her in his arms was tremendous but he resisted this feeling. He also hid behind the piano as his wife opened the door and entered the living room. She had been shopping and carried the bags to the kitchen. He could hear her humming a melody. Now he knows what to do. He never really learned to play piano so the only thing he could play was a short tune, but this tune meant very much to them. He carefully sat down on the piano stool and played these few notes. Then he heard something falling onto the floor in the kitchen. Mildred cried "Sherman!" and ran into the living room. He took her in his arms and they kissed each other for the first time in years.