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.
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!
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."
And now there was something she didn't want to think about. Karl's letters were coming less and less often. 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 want vengeance for her shattered life.
But I am describing here what did happen. Edith did not hate Karl. Perhaps she had loved him so long she was unable to stop loving him. 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, 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.
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.
And then the terrible letter: Karl was dying. His 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. 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. Yet what could she offer them except a life like hers? 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 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."
This article is excerpted from the March, 1959 Guideposts magazine.