Sarrah Amos has her small town in Texas. Betty Seago has a letter postmarked Sept. 12. Patricia Hale has her new friend, Donnita Cole, who in turn is thankful she has Hale.
Trapped by the stalemate in the Persian Gulf crisis, each of these women, and many more like them across the country, have found something to cling to while their sons and husbands remain detained in Iraq or hide from Iraqi forces in occupied Kuwait.
Yesterday, Betty Seago summed up her state of mind with the drab monotone of someone whose life has been lugged through too much emotion with too little resolution. "It just drags out," she said. "I wish I would hear something. I know he's very homesick."
Today marks the third month since Saddam Hussein's army invaded Kuwait. There are an estimated 110 Americans, people the State Department refers to as "human shields," being held at strategic and military sites in Iraq and another 10 Kuwaiti-Americans living in a Baghdad hotel. Another 27 Americans are left at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait, which was sealed off by the Iraqis Aug. 24, and hundreds more are believed to be in hiding in that country.
Joseph Timko, whose son J. Peter Timko, a graduate student at Georgetown University, returned home this week, had words of sympathy for those remaining in captivity. "You put everything on hold and you try to survive from day to day," he said.
This week President Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III, both of whom have been relatively quiet about the hostages since the crisis began, spoke out in harsh terms about the plight of detained Americans.
Some hostage relatives said yesterday they were confused about what the new attention meant, but did not want to comment on it, fearing their words would harm their relatives' chances of coming home.
Several wives also said they did not wish to comment on Saddam Hussein's offer that relatives of American hostages, "guests" as he calls them, would be allowed to visit sons and husbands over the Christmas holidays.
Seago, however, said she found the invitation "a little far-fetched." But, she added, "If my husband wanted me to come, I would."
Since the invasion Aug. 2, some U.S. families have received sketchy information about their loved-ones' conditions or locations. There is still some written and electronic communication between people living in the U.S. embassies in Kuwait and Iraq and their families.
There has also been a trickle of letters from some of the men being kept at the military and strategic sites in Iraq. Some of these letters have been passed to U.S. families by other Americans and Europeans who have been let go. Still others, written by Americans in hiding in Kuwait, were smuggled out recently by the Kuwaiti resistance.
Among the letters written from Kuwait was one addressed to President Bush. Penned by Donald M. Latham, a metrology adviser to the Kuwait Air Force on a U.S. Navy contract, the letter describes how he is hiding in a house with five others, including his ill 69-year-old father. He said he and others have managed to survive in hiding "due to the supplies and support" furnished them by the Kuwaiti resistance.
"We need help, Mr. President," he wrote. "I'm sure that the sanctions will eventually work, but we do not have those months to wait."
The White House did not respond to an inquiry about the letter.
But most families have no information about their relatives there. They have only three months of their own imagination to go on.
Sarrah Amos of Gilmer, Tex., has been married to Charles Amos for 36 years. She was thinking a lot yesterday about what he likes to eat ("chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, black-eyed peas, cornbread muffins") and what he cannot digest.
"He's constantly on my mind," said Amos. "I worry about what he's doing, how his spirits are, that I don't want him to give up hope."
Like other relatives in waiting, Amos said many people have offered her support. Childhood friends of her husband's have come by frequently to patch the fence on her small farm, to seed the land, to haul in the hay. "My car breaks down and someone comes and fixes it," she said.
Financial support for some of the Americans working for oil companies in Kuwait was slow in coming. Amos continues to receive payroll checks from her husband's company, but it took public attention to Patricia Hale's financial case before she got help.
Hale, whose husband, Edward, is a drilling supervisor for a small company that could not afford to continue his paychecks, received financial assistance from the Kuwaiti government and, recently, from a coalition of 13 oil companies who are supporting five other families in Hale's position.
One of Hale's biggest sources of comfort during her husband's captivity has been her new friend, Donnita Cole, the wife of another hostage. The two talk on the phone daily and have visited with one another several times.
"You become one another's sounding board," said Hale. "We counterbalance each other."
Cole this week received a surprise telephone call from a Frenchman who said he had been held with her husband, who wanted her to know he was fine and thinking about her.
Seago, too, has gotten lucky. One afternoon in September, she opened her mailbox and there sat a letter from her husband, Guy. It was postmarked Sept. 12 from England and mailed, she suspects, by a British woman released from Iraq who had been held in a barracks with him.
It read in part: "Dearest Betty . . . . I think of you often and with the warmest of hearts . . . . I love you. I miss you and count the days when we'll continue with our life . . . . Tell the children I love them. Yours always, Guy."
Staff writer Phil McCombs contributed to this report.