THE FIRST TIME EVER I SAW YOUR FACE

IMG_0061.jpgIt was the spring of 1952, his Junior year at The Citadel. Jack was sitting in his room in P.T. Barracks wondering how he was going to spend his weekend when his best friend, Lestry, burst through the door. “Hey, Smooch, I need a favor.”
“Well, if you want to borrow money, I’m fresh out.”
“No, man, it’s not that. I have a date tomorrow night to go on a Moonlight Cruise around the Harbor with this sweet little nursing student but I have to take off in about five minutes to go to a make up track meet. I don’t have time to call her. Heck, I will give you my tickets and you can use my car if you’ll just do this favor for me. It’s parked behind the barracks with the keys under the driver’s mat. How about it?”
“Who’s the girl?” He thought Lester always had dates with the best lookers.
“Anne Welling. Here’s her number.
“Well, I guess so.” Jack about jumped out of his drawers. He wasn’t about to turn this deal down. He had been trying to meet this girl for over a year.
“I owe you one, but remember, she’s my gal. Thanks a lot Smooch. See you on Sunday.”
Shoot, I’m not going to call her, I’ll just show up and see if she wants to go with me. All she can say is no. Hot damn. He let out one of his Sou Pig yells.
He arrived at the Student Nurses Residence a little before seven. The house-mother called her to let her know that her visitor was here. He watched the stairs as she strolled down wearing a white sun dress that accentuated her tan. She looked the area over trying to find Lester when her eyes met his and they both broke out in a big grin. Was that a gasp he heard coming from her?  He quickly explained the situation to her and asked her if she would like to go with him. He thought his heart was beating through his throat and hoped she hadn’t noticed.
“Of course,” she answered. “I’m all dressed and ready, so I might as well.”
He wasn’t sure by her answer whether she really wanted to go or if she was just being polite. As soon as they got into Lester’s car, they began to chat. She was bubbling over with excitement about her day on the surgical ward. He watched as she talked, taking in every word. Everything about her put him at ease. He felt as he had known her all of his life. Their conversation went on forever. They arrived at the boat and it headed out along the coast of the city.  The lights from houses on the High Battery were shining on the Ashley River or maybe it was the Cooper River, at this point he didn’t care. She told him that Charleston was located on a peninsula surrounded by two rivers. Her Daddy was a native and said that the Ashley and Cooper Rivers met and formed the Atlantic Ocean. He thought that Charlestonians probably really believed this. She talked about the places that the boat passed and told him the history of her city. They could see the steeples of old St Michael’s Church and St Phillips’ Church standing tall and majestic.  She told him that her Momma always said that you could hear the ocean singing with the palmetto trees and occasionally a sea bird would chime in. She told him about her family and wanted to know all about Nashville, his home town. They seemed to be on the same page with everything. He thought, I think I am going to marry this girl, I’m not letting her get away. Little did he know that Annie was thinking the very same thing. He took her hand and noticed how small it was in his great big hand.  The contrast was as different as could be.  She was five foot three and he was a whooping six foot three inches tall, but somehow, they seemed to belong together.
As the night began to wear down and the ship was about to dock, he put his arm around her shoulders and picked up her chin. “Can I kiss you?” he asked with great anticipation.
“Well,” she said, “Charleston girls never kiss on the first date and I really don’t know you that well.”
He was disappointed, but quickly asked her for another date for the next weekend.
“Do Charleston girls kiss on the second date Miss Welling?” he asked.
“Well, I believe they just might, Mr Knox.”
Sunday night, when Lester came back into town, he tried to call Annie but the line was busy.
“Smooch,” he yelled to the next pay phone, “I’ve been trying to get Annie on the phone for at least thirty minutes. Man, it’ll be curfew before all those nurses hang up.”
“Lestry you want to talk to her?  Here she is,” and he handed his buddy the phone. “But you might as well know she is booked up for rest of the school year.”
“Dang, Smooch, I don’t believe you. You stole my girl and did it with my car and my tickets.”
For the rest of their lives, every time Lester would see Jack, he would yell the same thing but they remained good friends.
Years later, Jack would ask Annie if she kissed Lester on the first date.
“Absolutely not,” she replied. “I told you Charleston girls didn’t kiss on the first date didn’t I?”
“Yep, you sure did, but we sure did make up for it on the dates that followed, didn’t we?”
“We sure did,” she answered back. “You did know that I only dated Lester to meet you.” He was flabergasted but pleased that she told him that after all of these years.
When they returned to The Citadel for his Fiftieth Class Reunion, it was held on that same cruise ship. They listened and they heard the Palmetto trees singing with the ocean as they had fifty years before as they cruised past the same old houses on High Battery with the steeples of St. Michael’s and St. Phillips as their backdrop. Their life and their love had come full circle. It had been their destiny to find the love of their lives under that beautiful Carolina Moon shining down where the Cooper and Ashley Rivers met to form the great Atlantic Ocean.  His Mother always said it was destiny that he went to The Citadel to find Annie.  They believed that it probably was.

 

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