Mother’s nightmare offers hope on holiday

A mother always knows.

Sally Ewing knew something was horribly wrong with her son on Christmas Eve in 1944. Allan Ewing, an Army 1st lieutenant, was fighting in the Battle of the Bulge during that holiday season 60 years ago.

She hadn’t received any official word from Army officials, but Sally was wide awake at 3 a.m. Christmas Eve in her Lawrence home. She had just had a dream that her son had been killed, and she knew it was true.

“She was very, very frightened,” said her daughter, Lawrence resident Barbara Crews. “We all tried to assure her that it was just a bad dream, but a few days later we got the word.”

Nearly 10 years later, Sally Ewing wrote about her Christmas memories, including that tragic Christmas Eve. She later recorded the story for the Lawrence-based Audio-Reader program. Each Christmas Eve, Audio-Reader plays the recording for its subscribers, which are made up of people who are visually impaired.

“It is a story that appeals to a lot of people,” Crews said. “We think it is very nice that they do this.”

It is a story both of heartache and hope.

“I remember with a heavy heart a Christmas with a shroud of death around it,” Sally’s voice says over the speaker. “My fine stalwart son was a soldier, a very good soldier and very proud of his family.”

Allan Ewing was a soldier in Gen. George Patton’s Third Army, 5th Division. His mother remembered how he loved the family’s house at 703 N. Third St.

“That warm exultant happy heart that loved and longed for old 703 that he always called home spilled red over the glistening snowclad hills of Luxembourg that fateful, awful Christmas Eve of 1944,” Sally says on the recording.

It would have been enough to color Christmas black for even the strongest. But Crews said her mother found a way to continue loving the Christmas season. Much of the recording is Sally talking about how Christmas was her favorite time of the year.

“She started having Christmas teas in 1946 because Christmas was so bad that she needed to think of something else to do,” Crews said.

Volunteering also filled a big part of her life. Janet Campbell, director of the Audio-Reader program, said Sally Ewing was a volunteer at the program for about 25 years.

“She was reading for us well into her 90s,” Campbell said.

Fowler Jones, a former Lawrence resident and Audio-Reader volunteer, remembers listening to Sally’s Christmas memories every year he volunteered during the 1980s.

“There are a lot of parallels with what is going on in the world today,” Jones said. “Lots of people probably could relate to that story.”

Crews said her mother would want people to recognize the message of hope that she tried to send with the recording.

“He died to maintain for others the happy life that had been his,” Sally said in the recording. “We deeply revere his sacrifice, for greater love hath no man known than this. He has thrown the torch to all of us. Be it ours to hold it high. It is ours to give to all young people their rightful heritage in life — love, health, happiness, security and spiritual faith.

“I have told you of a sad Christmas. I want you to remember that all of us go through happy moments and unhappy moments. But all of us must be strong soldiers of life.”

Allan Ewing was 24 years old when he died in combat. Sally Ewing died in 1996 at the age of 98.