Emma’s Song A Story of Love, Part I
The next few weeks my story will be purely fictional. Think of it as summer time reading. The story will be based on a photograph I selected from my collection. If you remember, I collect old photographs and give the people in them a family with others that have been forgotten with the passing of time. The story I will tell you is of people and their lives created in my imagination. My story, Emma’s Song, is of love challenged by the cruel fate of war.
His name was Paul Nobel. Paul was born in the year 1892 to parents, Henry and Beth. Henry worked on the canal system. His fine mules pulled canal boats along slow moving water ways, delivering goods to merchants in the communities along the way. Beth taught local children the piano and took in wash to help make ends meet. Life was good for the Nobel family.
In 1904 Henry began hearing stories of men getting rich in Alaska. Gold had been discovered in 1896, and over the following years thousands of men made their way to the gold fields hoping to get rich. Henry decided it was their only chance to have a good life. He told Beth he was going north for two years. He would return rich or as broke as when he left. Beth did not want Henry to go, she was happy with their humble lives. But, Henry wanted more for his wife and son than the wages of a waterman. Henry kissed his wife and son goodbye and left for the north country early in the spring. Beth received the first letter two months later. Henry had made it to Alaska and was excited about his adventure and the prospect of finding gold. Already he was dreaming of the yellow rock he hoped to find. Beth did not receive another letter for six months. By then Henry’s optimism was gone with the hard northern life and even harder winter that had set in. He talked of the long dark days and the freezing cold temperatures. Beth could tell he was homesick and most likely regretting his decision to go north. She wrote him back hoping to raise his spirits until the warmth of spring returned. That letter from Henry was the last she received. It seemed Alaska had taken her husband and gave no word as to why or where his fate had taken him.
By the following summer of 1905, young Paul and his mother came to realized they were now on their own. No letters or words from Henry since December. Each of them hoped he would return someday. Beth often sat on the porch and dreamed he would come up the street, hurrying home to her and Paul. But, in her heart she knew he would not return. Beth realized she must set about making a life without Henry to support them. She turned part of the house into rooms for overnight railroad crewmen. The railroad paid on time and extra money for food she prepared for the men. They, for the most part, were God fearing men and didn’t touch the bottle or speak with profanity in front of Paul or her. With the money from piano lessons, washing, and boarders, she and Paul managed to keep their family home. But, still she watched up the street for the man she knew would not return. Paul felt her pain in the not knowing of his father’s fate.
Time passed and days turned to months, and months to years. Paul grew from a boy into a young man and attended a small local college. His mother taught him to play the piano. She realized, after a very short time, he had an exceptional talent for music. He told her he could feel the vibration of the music in the touch of the keys. It gave him the ability to feel the soft melodies. It was a gift that gave him a remarkable sensitivity when playing his music. Beth knew her son may become a gifted pianist. Paul was a gentle man and loved his music and loved helping his mother with the boarding house. He didn’t remember when, but he stopped looking for his father to return home. Beth never did.
One Sunday morning, as he and his mother were leaving church, Paul saw her for the first time. She stood smiling as she talked with the ladies of the congregation. Sunlight touched her auburn hair, giving it a glow of color in the daylight. She was an angel come to earth, it seemed to Paul. Her name was Emma. She was the niece of the visiting preacher from out of town. It was as if fate had brought them together that Sunday. For the first time in Paul’s life, he felt a magic that only music had given him before. When he looked into Emma’s eyes she looked back; he somehow knew she felt the same way.
By late fall of 1915, Paul had proposed marriage to Emma, and she accepted. They planned a wedding the following April, as the daffodils were blooming. That spring came and so did the daffodil blooms around the small country church where her uncle ministered. It was on that warm April day that Paul and Emma were wed. Theirs was a perfect life it seemed from the very first day. Paul soon began his music career, touring on occasions to big cities to perform for those who loved the gentle sounds of his touch on the keys. Emma obtained a position at the local girl’s school and taught music and poetry to the schools young ladies. By the summer’s end there was more good news – Emma was going to have a baby.
On a rainy Monday morning in early November, a telegram was delivered to the house. Paul’s mother was staying with them, helping to prepare for the family’s upcoming child. That morning she answered the door with a cheerful smile. It quickly faded as she saw the telegraph boy. She knew a telegram often brought bad news. She closed her eyes and clenched her teeth as she took the telegram from the freckled faced boy. The young man held out his hand with a smile as he waited for his tip, but none was coming. Beth’s thoughts were frozen on the telegram and not rewarding the boy. About then Paul came into the room. As she turned towards him he saw what was in her hand. He too feared what this was. They wondered, was this the word they had so long waited for? Paul slowly took the telegram and opened it to read. His face gave away no answers as to what was in the telegram. “Is it about your father?” Beth asked. He shook his head no as he handed her the telegram to read. The government was calling for Paul to report for service. The war in Europe was growing, and now Paul had been called to serve. He was to be commissioned as second Lieutenant in the army. He was to report the first week in December, only two weeks away.
Paul looked at his mother and said, “Please, let me tell Emma in my own way.” His mother nodded she understood. After dinner that evening, Paul took his wife’s hand and said, “Come with me, I have written a new piece of music, I want you to be the first to hear.” She smiled, not realizing the importance of the invitation.
She sat beside him on the piano bench as he began to play. It was a beautiful melody that touched the soul. Emma closed her eyes as she listened to what she believed was the most beautiful song she had ever heard. As Paul finished, he smiled at her, a tear ran down her cheek. He wiped it away, she asked, “What is the name of the melody?” Paul responded, “Emma’s Song.” He could not tell her at that moment about the telegram. He would tell her the next day, in two weeks he was leaving and soon would be fighting the war in France. Emma leaned her head onto Paul’s shoulder and asked, “Please, play the song again for me once more.” He did.