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James R. Stout

Annie and Me

 This is a fiction short story. I get the notion to write these from time to time. I hope you like it.

 

           I had just mustered out of the army in July of 1952 when I met my Annie. I was 21 and she was 18. I had spent the last 6 months of my time in the army recovering in two different V.A. hospitals. Those months were pretty rough with two of them spent in Germany and then the last 4 in Houston, Texas. I had been shot while on a night patrol in Korea. A dang good M.A.S.H. surgeon saved my right leg and it took a while to get back on my feet. When I mustered out, I had managed to save a tidy sum for that time. I never was one to spend my money on frivolous things. I also had received a small inheritance from my grandpa would had passed away while I was in Korea. Between the two totals, I had over $3,000 saved-up.

            I knew who Annie was when we were growing up, but she was three years younger than me and when I joined up at 18, she was just a slip of a girl at 15. Well, when I got off that old Greyhound hump backed bus in Trinity, Texas I walked over to the little café on main street. My mom and pop had a little farm nearby and they would be picking me up within an hour or so. In the meantime, I was hungry, and that little café made some mighty good lunches. I sat my duffle bag down inside the entry and walked over to the nearest empty table. That’s when Annie came over to take my lunch order. I about lost the ability to speak when I saw how pretty she had turned out to be. She seemed to remember me and was all smiles. You might say sparks were flying between the two of us right off the bat. I looked at her left hand and was pleased to see no ring on her finger. I suppose I looked pretty spiffy in my uniform and all, but to tell the truth it was the only thing I had to wear until I could get me some store-bought clothes.

            Well, it wasn’t long before Pop showed up in his 1948 Chevrolet Truck and after I tossed my duffle bag in the bed I turned back and waved at Annie who was standing just outside the door of the café. I took off my cap and smiled and then I just up and said, “Would you like to go to the movie show on Saturday night?” Doggone it if she didn’t say yes and a shook her head with a big smile. Things sort of moved fast after that. Three months later we stood before Brother Kee, the pastor of the little country church we grew up attending, and he married us there under the big old cedar trees in my Mom and Pop’s yard.

            We took a little honeymoon and went up to Hot Springs, Arkansas. I had just spent $500 of my money on a 1949 Ford truck (my Pop was put out that I didn’t buy a Chevy!) and it was meant to be our ranch truck too. I bought the old Miller Place near my parent’s farm for $2000. It was 100 acres of good land and an old farmhouse on it that would do until we got things going. I took out a loan with the ranch land as collateral and made a deal on a small herd of cattle. They would be delivered the week after we got back from Arkansas. We started out with 80 head of cows including what turned out to be a prolific bull we named Abraham. Oh, the first couple of years it was a little rough given we were going through a statewide drouth, but by the time our first baby was born in 1954 we were on our way.

            There would be three more babies born within the next 8 years. We also saw our cattle herd increase by another 200 head including the herd that I bought in 1958 from a neighbor who was retiring and moving to be near his kids down in Houston. Those were some great years for me and Annie. By 1962 when we were celebrating our 10th year of marriage we had bought up adjacent property and were running our nearly 300 head of cows on 500 acres. We kept talking about building a new home to replace the old farmhouse, but the land and cattle and kids seemed to always come first. Still, Annie and I used to like to dream. There was this sweet little hill on our property that looked out upon the majority of our land. A 5-acre pond or, “tank” as we called them, was in the foreground and every spring a field of the prettiest yellow wildflowers would bloom there all around the pond. Annie and I would take a couple of folding chairs and pile into the truck, kids and all, and go down there to that spot-on summer evenings after supper to watch the sunset. We would get to talking about the kind of house we wanted to build, and we did the kind of dreaming that most couples do.

            The years just seemed to fly by. Before long it was 1977 and we still hadn’t built that new house. Oh, we did some adding on to the old farmhouse and there were improvements made, but it wasn’t our dream home. But by then we had one kid a year out of college, another one two years from graduating from Texas A&M, and two in high school. Joe was the oldest and he decided to be a teacher. He graduated from Sam Houston State and got his first teaching job up in Ft. Worth. Annie and I would still go down to our spot and talk about the house that we would build there someday.

            The 80’s were a hard time for us. Our boy Denny, just a month away from graduating from Texas A&M was killed in a car accident coming home for a weekend. It took the wind out me and Annie. But like all kinds of sorrows, time seemed to make the hurt a little less painful. Our youngest child, Tammy, was diagnosed with cancer in the late 80’s, but with a lot of prayer and a lot of grit on that little girl’s part, she got clear of the cancer by the early 90’s.

            Before you knew it, we were grandparents. Annie still looked like the girl I fell in love with 45 years before. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! The truth is we were both starting to slow down a bit. We weren’t ready to be put out to pasture yet, but things like feeding those cattle on a cold winter day when the high temperature was only 36 degrees got to be more of a chore than it used to be. Then something wonderful happened.

            It was in the fall of 2000, I was 68 and Annie was 65, and an oil company came around and before we knew it, we had made a deal for them to drill for oil on our place. Well, it turned into a pretty big strike. On our 50th Wedding Anniversary I told Annie we were going to build that house, sell all the cattle, and spend more time looking at the sunsets. Annie about hugged the life out of me with that! I won’t say we became millionaires after the oil came in, but we made enough to be set for the rest of our lives as well as build that dream house. The planning of it was probably the most fun. We’d sit up at night and talk about what kind of kitchen there would be, a big dining room so that all our kids and grandkids could come for Thanksgiving and Christmas, a little studio with lots of windows for light so that Annie could paint the pretty pictures of flowers and landscapes that she just seemed to have a natural knack for, a small wood shop for me, and 5 bedrooms so that all the family had a place to sleep when they visited. Annie wanted a yellow house with white trim and a great big window that she could look out while standing at the kitchen sink with the pond and sunset in full view.

            They started building the house in May of 2004 and it was finished by October. We had our first Thanksgiving with all the kids no more than a month after the house was finished. I still had my tractor and a trailer, and I filled that trailer with fresh hay and took all the young’uns on a hayride that year. It became a tradition for the next 10 years. Annie and I had 10 great years in the house. But then in the winter of 2015 I came home one day after running into town to get some things at the grocery store and I found Annie slumped over in a chair in her studio. Her heart must have just up and quit while I was gone. She was 80 years old, but she was still my beautiful girl. After the funeral and things had gotten settled down, my kids tried to talk me into selling the place and moving close to one of them. I just couldn’t do that. Not while I could take care of myself.

            So, here it is the spring of 2019 and Annie’s been gone four years now. The house is so lonely though without Annie. I haven’t touched her studio since she died. I left it just like it was. Every evening, barring it’s too cold or raining, I sit out on the porch in the rocking chair that Annie painted “His” on and I look at the sunset and that pretty little pond. The flowers should be blooming soon. From time to time I turn and expect to see Annie sitting in chair next to me with “Hers” painted on it, but it’s empty. Except tonight. I was just about to go in for the evening and I looked over and there was Annie sitting in her chair with a great big smile on her face. Well, it scared me for a minute, and I felt the oddest pain in my chest. Annie looked over at me and said, “It’s good to be with you again, Ford.” I knew it was really her when she called me by the nickname that my Daddy gave me when I bought that 1949 Ford truck. Only he said it like he was spitting out the word! But when Annie said it, she said it with so much love it sounded like a song. I think I’ll sign-off now. My left arm is hurting a little and I’m getting a cramp in my right hand. Besides, I want to spend some time with my Annie. Bye for now.

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