"The Gift" is a series about the things we've received, the things we've given, the things we remember. In big ways and small, they are gifts that have changed our lives. The day he and the others left for World War II, Emmett Marion looked out the window as the bus rolled past his house outside Mount Airy. There, by the side of the road, waving and crying, was his mother.
Auta Jane Marion had already lost two of her seven children: a boy at age 4, a girl in infancy. Now her second-born -- she nicknamed him "Sweet Boy" -- had been drafted into the Army Air Corps and was bound for the South Pacific.
To New Guinea, as it turned out. A sweltering island of jungles, coconuts and exotic birds -- quite a change from his family's 25-acre farm, with its vegetable garden, and pigs and chickens.
Pfc. Marion sent a portion of his $50-a-month pay back to North Carolina. And he told his family that where he was stationed, malaria was a bigger threat than Japanese bullets.
He was wearing uniforms now, not the clothes his mother had made him over the years. But he clung to gifts from her that helped form the young man he had become. He traced his religious faith to those Sundays when Mom would gather her children together, then read -- and explain -- the Bible to them. Marion's sense of sharing with others came from his mother, too -- he remembered all those times, during the Depression, when she had fed wandering hobos on their front porch. She never let anybody go hungry.
And then there was the certainty of her love, which he cherished during this time away from home.
As Mother's Day 1944 approached, Marion, inspired by the enchanting odors of the island's strange but beautiful flowers, got an idea. If I send you the money, he wrote his brother Curtis, would you hitchhike to the florist in Mount Airy and get Mom a dozen red roses?
His mother grew flowers and she traded cuttings with neighbors. But he was sure nobody had ever given her a store-bought bouquet.
Not Dad. Until they moved to the farm, Roscoe Marion had made 33 cents an hour at Mount Airy Mantle and Table. From that he had to pay $6 in rent for their mill house and other expenses. Their food came from some livestock and a vegetable garden (Mom canned lots of vegetables) and Mom also made most of their clothes.
Probably the only time she had even seen flowers from a florist was at a funeral. No, she'd led a lean life as far as luxuries go.
Marion sent his brother a $15 money order.
On Mother's Day, half a world away, Mom got her roses from the son she hadn't seen in more than a year.
And she cried all day.
Marion made it back to Mount Airy just before Christmas 1945. The snow was ankle-deep. Mother was so happy to see him.
She didn't mention the roses -- not then and not once before her death in 1981.
But today, her 84-year-old son still thinks about that gift he gave her. And the many she gave him.