Wayne Michael DeHart (June, 1997)
Paul and Annie met and fell in love their Senior year in high school.
Well, not exactly.
Better said, it was in their last year of school. It was a different time, and Senior year was never a reality for either of them. Not even in the distance. Not even close. Reasons were many, and choices were few.
And while they did indeed meet in whatever final grade that was, the love came later.
For two, maybe a few, years they were simply best friends. She helped him work on his first old car, and he helped her eat the first cookies she ever made all by herself. She told him he was cute, and he told her she was cuter. He was shy and she was not, but the conversation never lagged and neither did the flirting. They kissed a few times, innocently and briefly, each time feeling both giddy and guilty, and retreating quickly to the safety zone of friends just passing time together.
Their first grown-up actual date was on Saturday, December 6, 1941. The now-maturing young couple went to the Gardens Theater to see Myrna Loy in “Love Crazy” and laughed with everyone else from beginning to end. The Great Depression was finally behind those in the theater that night, and with new storm clouds on the horizon, it seemed somehow the right time to lighten up, even when the goofy one-liners and forced frivolity of the film weren’t really that funny. It was like school recess, after taking a test, when the kids know there will be another one awaiting them after the bell rings, calling them back inside to their pencils. Just enjoy the fifteen minutes of freedom. And now, just enjoy the movie.
Later, the significance of the movie’s title was lost on them as they gulped down ice cream sundaes at Keller’s Restaurant on Main Street. He gulped faster, and she offered him the rest of hers. As he would later learn, it was the first of many such gestures to come from this girl who was getting cuter, in his eyes, by the day.
Annie’s “be-home-by” time was fast approaching and it became a quiet ride home for the preoccupied teens. At her door, the goodnight kiss was different than those they had shared as boy-girl companions. It lasted longer and led to another. They lingered. Until the porch light flickered twice, that is, sending Annie inside and Paul to the cold seat of his car.
Their innocence was lost – not that night, but the very next day. Along with that of millions of other young Americans. Lost forever in a hellish two hours of fire and fury at a faraway, strange-sounding place called Pearl Harbor.
Just two months later, at 17, Paul joined the Navy and was soon deployed to the Solomon Islands aboard the battleship U.S.S. Washington. His world became a whirlwind of waters off Guadalcanal, the Philippine Sea, the Leyte Gulf, then Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Annie’s world became one of loneliness and health problems, worry and wondering. After his ship limped into Puget Sound for repairs in the Spring of 1944, Paul unexpectedly arrived home on leave, surprising and then marrying Annie on April 13th in a hastily-arranged small ceremony at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Manchester, NH.
Back into warfare in the Pacific just two months later, his world returned to chaos and hers to frailty – the burdens of both worlds acutely heightened and intensified by their new but separated roles of husband and wife. It felt like forever, but it was just eighteen months after their nuptials that Paul was headed home for good, discharge papers in hand. Other than partial hearing loss, he was coming back from the war unscathed. Physically, at least.
She met his train at South Station in Boston on October 1st, 1945, only a month after the surrender of Japan, marking the abrupt and unofficial end of the war. Upon seeing him standing there, searching her out in the crowd, she started crying crazy tears. She had imagined on the trip down that she would go flying into his arms, kissing him madly, just like in a scene from one of the movies she had seen back home at The Gardens. Instead, she hesitated, experiencing a brief moment of inexplicable awkwardness, as if the moment may not be real. Then he saw her too. They met halfway, but there was no jumping into outstretched arms. Instead, they locked eyes in silence, hers still glistening from the tears.
He told her he loved her…
she said she loved him back.
Then they embraced, and held on long and tight.
They didn’t let go until Annie’s heart stopped beating on a rainy April night in 1994, just six days short of their 50th wedding anniversary. The childless couple had made no special plans for their marital milestone. They joked about renting an old black-and-white comedy movie and making home-made sundaes (she would share hers with him, of course), and getting Annie tucked in before her curfew. Some things, however, were just not meant to be, and we don’t have to understand why.
Their love – the one between the cute guy and cuter girl – was genuine and ran deep. Potholes and curves in their long road were not infrequent of course, they never are. Still, they lived their love each day in at least some small way. Sometimes with words, sometimes with actions, but always with purpose and pride.
As Annie’s health declined, they greeted each new sunrise by praying silently together, another subtle concession she gladly made to accommodate his self-consciousness. He had not prayed aloud since he left the Navy, not even at church, which she always attended and he only sometimes did. So praying in silence it was. And it mattered not to her, as long as they were doing it together. Those were precious moments for Annie, who remembered the countless nights she had prayed for Paul’s safe return from the war.
His days since her passing all run together and he seldom leaves the small home where he still feels her presence in every room. He sees her smile in the kitchen , feels her warmth in the bedroom, hears her stories out on the porch.
Paul loved Annie and Annie loved Paul. Neither ever wavered. But then, you somehow already knew that.
Wait. Did I say Paul “loved” Annie? No, Paul LOVES Annie.
He tells her so, out loud, every morning in his prayers.
And in the stillness of the dawn …
she says she loves him back.
Thank you both for all you did. You live forever in my heart. Hope all is well on the other side of the rainbow …