Stories We Tell: Jeannie Puckett
(Installment 4 of 14)
Collected and arranged by
“We lived there less than a year and received orders to Puerto Rico. Around the same time that the orders arrived, I realized I was pregnant. After the first glow of this news, my mother realized that this meant her first grandchild would be born on the island of Puerto Rico. While all the brochures for tourists proclaimed the beauty of the island with its palm trees, sandy beaches, and azure blue waters, it still felt like a primitive place to this Georgia girl in the 1950s. Aunt Martha, who was the family sage and arbitrator of all things concerning our family, was called in to discuss having a baby in Puerto Rico. Mother’s idea was that I would stay in Columbus, GA until the baby was born, and then, after the baby was a few months old, I would join Ralph in Puerto Rico. I was about to agree to this plan when Aunt Martha said, ‘No. Jeannie belongs with her husband for the arrival of their baby. Women have been having babies in Puerto Rico for decades, too. She can have a baby in Puerto Rico.’
That was the end of discussion. I proceeded to travel to New York, where we caught a ship to the island of Puerto Rico. I was seasick—or rather experiencing morning sickness—from the moment I stepped onto the ship. In spite of all the advice not to do so, I took to my bunk. I stayed there for five days, while the ship plowed through rough December waters before finally entering the calm waters of the Caribbean. When we docked and I finally climbed out of my bunk, I felt like a rat coming out of a hole. The sun was so bright and the breezes so warm that I felt I had been transferred to another planet! I was wearing all winter clothing and had nothing to put on that would have been appropriate for this new location.
The apartment was barely furnished at the time with just a table, some chairs, and two GI cots. I was homesick because it was Christmas. On Christmas Day, it was so hot, and I was still suffering from morning sickness. I staggered to the refrigerator for some orange juice out of the groceries that our sponsor had provided. When I opened the door, I let out a scream because, on the bottom, there was a dark green, fat…something! It looked like a snake that had eaten something round. Ralph rushed to my side and assured me that it was only a homemade Christmas stocking. He had taken an old Army-issued green sock, filled it with oranges, and put a love note at the bottom. The note said, ‘I know I have taken you away from everything, but I love you so much, and I hope you’ll stick with me. Please don’t leave me.’ All else fell into perspective after that note. He explained that he had put it in the refrigerator to keep the rats from getting it! I still to this very day, 70 years later, have that note.”
Reflections from Amy:
Notes tucked in a car console to be found days after he has left. Coveted, new running shoes delivered on a random Tuesday. Emails that ding in the middle of the night. Instant messages that light up a screen. Grainy photos in front of foreign, empty palaces or breath-taking pictures of Afghanistan’s lush green mountains taken on a Blackhawk ride. Or, like Ralph, oranges tucked in a green Army sock. Sometimes the words say it right out loud, sometimes they are tucked in the subtle smell of a newly delivered bouquet of roses, but they all say that same thing: “Thank you for staying. Please don’t go anywhere. I love you.”
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