Stories We Tell: Jeannie Puckett
(Installment 1 of 14)
Collected and arranged by
“In the fall of my senior year, my daddy and I were having breakfast. He was reading the newspaper. On the back page of the paper that he was holding, I noticed a picture of a very handsome young soldier. He had been wounded in the Korean War and was leaning on his elbow in the hospital bed with a huge grin on his face. I said, “He sure is cute.” My daddy lowered the paper and said very seriously, “He is a wounded veteran.” My daddy, having served in the military, realized the seriousness of a wounded veteran. I only saw a cute young man.
My typing teacher was Mrs. Strickland; at school that day, I immediately noticed that she had cut out the same picture of the young soldier that I had seen at breakfast, and it was laying on her desk. When class was over, she asked if some of us girls would be willing to go to Fort Benning to visit this young man over the upcoming Christmas holidays. She said that she was from his hometown. She had taught him in the seventh grade, knew his family well, and thought he was a very nice young man. No one responded, as it was a well-known “fact” that nice girls did not date soldiers. This was a “fact” that I think the local boys may have started because they could not compete with a man in uniform! No one responded to her request, so, as I was leaving the classroom, she reached out to me and asked if I would go visit this young man as a favor to her. I agreed, took the photo she handed me, put it in my English book, and never intended to honor her request. After all, my social life was full, and I was not looking to date anyone else.
Over the holiday, a friend of mine who was a freshman at University of Georgia was home for Christmas. She mentioned that she had dated a boy who was a West Point classmate of her cousin’s. He had been wounded and was in the hospital at Fort Benning. She wanted to go see him but needed another girl to go with her. I mentioned that my typing teacher wanted me to visit someone also. We agreed we would go together to see both of these young men. She asked who I was supposed to visit, and I told her that I had no idea, as I could not remember his name. We went to my house to find the photo in my English book. Much to our surprise, when she saw the photo, she said, “He is the one I dated!”
The next Sunday afternoon, we walked into Ralph Puckett’s hospital room. There he was in the hospital bed, wearing baby blue pajamas that matched his baby blue eyes, and there was that same big grin that was in the photo. His parents and his brother were at the foot of the bed. We had just walked in when Mr. Puckett said in a booming voice, “Ralph had his fortune told last night, and the fortune teller told him that a blonde and a brunette would visit him and that he would marry one of them!” We all laughed except Ralph! He turned red with embarrassment.
When my friend and I left, we both agreed he had to be one of the most handsome young men we had ever seen. We both agreed that we would probably go back again just to visit, but she and I never went back together. I, however, did return, taking another friend with me. Meanwhile, I was dating several different boys and had no intention of becoming involved with this soldier. In my mind, I was just doing what I thought was a good thing to do for a “wounded veteran.” I was enjoying my senior year of high school—going to parties, going to Athens for football games with other dates, and making plans to attend Mary Baldwin College the fall after my graduation. I was probably going to see Ralph once or even twice a week but always took a girlfriend with me. We were getting to know each other more and more each visit. I began to take him out of the hospital in my car. He would sit in the back seat because of the huge cast on his leg. My girlfriend and I would sit in the front seat.
When Valentine’s Day rolled around, I received a dozen red roses from Ralph. This was a total surprise! I thought it meant that he was interested in me. I called my friend that was my constant companion when I went to see Ralph, and she said, “He sent me a big box of Valentine candy in a heart shaped box.” My ego was dashed! She assured me that roses meant more than candy. I began to go see him more often, and it became obvious that we were seriously interested in each other. The more we were together, the more I realized that I was falling in love with this young man.”
Reflections from Amy:
It’s hard to just minimize it all to “a handsome boy in a uniform,” but, honestly, that is often how it starts. Seeing him strut toward me that day, in his West Point dress gray, that smirky grin of his stretched across his handsome face. He puts a quick hand in the air, and, I swear, he takes all the air out of my lungs with that simple gesture. My heart is racing, my palms are sweating and, if you had told that 20-year-old hanging out of her car window in the shortest skirt known to mankind, all the hard that lies ahead for these two people? The pulling apart and putting back together, the aching loneliness while worlds separate them, would she have changed her mind? No. No, she would not have… because that boy in that uniform is all she sees—then, now and forever.
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