Ruth’s father, J.L., and Annie had married young themselves. They were high school sweethearts. When Annie realized she was….um….with child she and J.L. got married in her mother’s living room. Guess there wasn’t a lot of entertainment in a small southern town. She worshiped the ground J.L. walked on and he loved her more than life. They were very happy to get married, there was no shotgun wedding here. Seven months later they were the proud parents to Ruth’s older sister, Karen. Four years later along came Ruth.
J.L. was a farmer until Ruth was around five or six. Then he sold out his part of the farm back to his father and bought the family’s country store. The little family of four lived in the back room of that store for a time, but not long. There was a large brick house just up the hill within a few hundred yards of the store that he and Annie bought. That must have been around 1978 or 79. Only about half of the house had a floor in it and it had no plumbing. It was a fixer upper for sure. They moved in pretty much right away. They took baths in a wash galvanized wash tub that Annie had to boil water to heat up. They had to go down to the store to do the rest. That didn’t last very long though. J.L. was pretty handy and the plumbing was in working order in no time. He and Annie slowly installed flooring in the rest of the house over time.
He learned to drive a tractor-trailer and before long was making pretty good money. He and Annie sold the little country store and Annie took a job in town. When Ruth was ten her parents had another baby. Jackson was the boy they didn’t have and he needed a companion sibling so two years later there was MaryBeth. Each one of them was the apple of their eye. They never played any favorites but if you asked them everyone of those kids would tell you they were it. J.L. and Annie had this ability to give each one love and attention so they each thought they were special.
A few years earlier a car that J.L. was working on had fallen on him and his back was broken in a few places. Because he had a family to feed and a work ethic second to none he didn’t give time for it to heal properly before he was back in that truck making a day’s pay. He pretty much lived in pain and being a truck driver couldn’t take anything for it that wouldn’t impair his ability to do his job. Oh but on the weekends he self-medicated. They’d all get in the car on Friday afternoon when he got home and head for the county line to the liquor store. Canadian Lord Calvert was his poison of choice and he’d buy a fifth of that and a two liter Coke. It would be gone by Sunday afternoon. Usually he had some kind of maintenance or repairs to do on his truck over the weekend so it would be ready for work on Monday. Karen and Ruth were his little bar tenders. He kept one of those Hardee’s Moose cups full all weekend long. Ruth doesn’t drink hard liquor to this day because she still remembers the smell of it.
J.L. and Annie were pretty much two peas in a pod. They were family folk who enjoyed doing things together when J.L. was home on the weekends. They didn’t argue much. In fact Ruth only remembers the one time. There was only once that she saw them argue about anything at all. Ruth was eleven but she remembers it like it was yesterday. On a Sunday afternoon in May J.L. and Annie took all of the kids plus his brother’s two boys to the river swimming. He’d invited his brother to go along, but he said he needed to sleep because he had to work that night so he didn’t go. When they were all done with their afternoon of fun they dropped the boys back off at his brother’s. Turns out he wasn’t going to work, he was going out. J.L. was furious and he railed in the car about how he never spent any time with those boys and he was gonna regret it one day.
He’d been drinking as usual on Sunday and the further he drove the louder he got and when he got to the stop sign he wasn’t paying attention and nearly ran out in front of a semi on the highway. There weren’t many things Annie was passionate about other than J.L., but four of ’em were in that car. He’d nearly killed her babies and she let him have it. They argued about him drinking the rest of the way home, which thankfully wasn’t far. Karen, Ruth and Jackson beat a hasty trail inside as the arguing escalated. Ruth stood at the screened door and watched as Annie stood there holding six month old MaryBeth and giving J.L. what-for. She’d never seen that before. It was kind of like a train wreck, she knew she should look away, but she couldn’t.
J.L. was holding a full cup of medicine in his hand and suddenly he tossed it out right at Annie’s feet then tossed the cup down on top of the mound of ice. Annie said “you might as well crawl right up there with it”. He shouted “go to hell” and then turned and walked away. No shoes on, no shirt on, no wallet. Just an old pair of cutoff jeans. Annie watched him walk down the driveway and down the road until she couldn’t see him anymore. She figured he was just blowing off some steam, but hours went by and he didn’t come home. She called the sheriff’s department, but they said they couldn’t help until he’d been gone 24 hours. Family members went out looking. They looked for three days. Finally the sheriff himself came for a visit and he had Ruth’s grandad with him. When J.L. didn’t get out of the car with them Annie knew what that meant. Ruth won’t ever forget watching Annie collapse to the ground, yelling with great grieving sobs. The love of her life was gone. Annie’s fairy tale was shattered that day.