The Wedding Dress
Section One – Anna Grace Livingston, 1919
Anna always loved this time of day, this late afternoon hour just after supper with the sun settling in behind the pine trees, the length of the front porch finally cast in cool shadow. She would come outside after helping Mama wipe the dishes, pour pitchers of water over the huge ferns swinging gently from the rafters, and settle into the rocking chair, book in hand, ready to read until the the afternoon heat abated.
But all the while Andrew had been in France, fighting in that awful war, Anna’s restful afternoons on the porch were spoiled. She felt anxious sitting there, the long dirt road leading from town staring her in the face, the road that might bring an ominous stranger bearing the worst of all possible news.
She would glance nervously at the dusty road, squinting for a moment against the sun’s glare. Her imagination ran wild with tales she’d heard of smartly clad soldiers in dress uniform, black armbands adorning their sleeves, soldiers that always came in pairs, knocking politely on your door, hat in hand, to deliver news that would shatter your life forever.
“There’s no use in thinking about such awful things,” she would firmly lecture herself. “I just have to believe with all my heart and soul that Andrew will come home safely.”
And, so it was on that day not six months ago, she had remained busy refilling her pitcher, pouring fresh water into each fern’s dusty bed, while the sun eased itself lower into the evening sky – so busy that she almost didn’t see the lonely figure trudging toward her, dressed in the unmistakable khaki colored puttee’s that looked so odd on boys barely out of knickers and more accustomed to overalls.
Catching sight of this stranger, Anna literally felt her heart sink, powerless to stop the pitcher as it slipped from her hand, shattering in a million shards of glass on the wooden floorboards. The seconds passed like hours, her gaze fixed on this solitary man coming ever nearer, until the first glimmer of recognition began to dawn. This lonely figure, thin and long legged, one arm swinging familiarly at his side, the other – wait, the other caught up in a sling!-but there, at least, definitely there – and yes, the shock of blond hair catching the last flicker of sunlight. This was no stranger, she realized. Impossible as it seemed, it was Andrew.
He stopped abruptly when he caught sight of her slender body come flying off the porch, and he continued to stand stock still while she raced over the yard and down the road to meet him, heedless of any rules of grace or propriety, her own blonde hair coming loose from its pins and streaming in the breeze behind her.
“My God in heaven!” Anna cried, throwing her arms around him, almost pulling back in surprise at the frailty of his body, aware that she could feel every rib as she pressed her own torso against him, and then pulling him even tighter into her chest, willing him to take strength and sustenance from her.
Andrew’s one good arm enfolded her and he buried his face in the fragrant smell of her clean, sun warmed hair. Anna felt a deep shudder pass through him, and she pulled back, raising her eyes to meet his.
And then her heart sank once again. Staring off into the horizon beyond her were not the bright blue eyes of the boy she had loved and sent sailing off to war, determined to lead the victory charge for freedom. These eyes were empty and dim, filled with nothing at all like hope or pride.
They were the eyes of a stranger after all.Anna shook her head, trying to clear the memory of that moment from her mind.
“Andrew will be just fine,” she told herself, as she had so many times since that day six months before, willing herself to believe, and in her fierce belief, make it so.She rose quickly, dropping the mending beside her on the cushioned seat of the swing, and strolled to the end of the porch once again.
Was that dust swirling up around horse’s hooves, she wondered. She craned her neck to see if she could catch a glimpse of her father’s dark hat.Smiling broadly, any disturbing thoughts erased from her mind, she grasped a handful of her long skirt and flew down the porch steps, in much the same way as she had on the day just dismissed from her memory. This time, she knew exactly what to expect from the man heading toward her.
Her father was coming, and with him, the material for her wedding dress.