She was always fascinated by falling rain, and this day was no different. Rocking gently on her covered front porch in her great-grandmother’s chair, she listened to it as she liked to do, with her eyes closed. Each time she rocked back the chair creaked, its old bones speaking to her as her own did on occasion. She loved old country bluegrass music, as any self-respecting southern woman would, especially at her age. Her favorite song was My Tennessee Mountain Home by “that young little lady, Dolly.” On mornings like this though, she just liked to sit quietly and listen to nature’s music.
Miss Annie listened to the gentle pitter-patter of the water droplets as they hit the roof above her. She could hear it rushing through the gutters and coming out on the lower end as a small river rushing through a gully. Then, her mind’s eye turned toward the rain bouncing off the patchy grass in front of her house. She could her the droplets hit the puddles that formed in the worn patches where grass used to grow, but after this morning would turn to puddles filled with mud.
Occasionally, she’d get up and make her way to the newly made mud, letting the rain fall on her to complete the scene. Stepping in that mud was a simple action that made her feel alive having the soaked, soft dirt squeeze between her toes, tickling just a bit. She might even bounce in it a little, splashing the mud up her legs and on her dress, recalling her youth when doing so was a regular activity. That action was usually accompanied by her mother smiling, telling her that it wasn’t “lady like” to do so. To this day, she’s not sure what “lady like” means for to her the meaning of “lady like” is to do whatever a lady likes. She’d always been that way, and now, at 85, she’s not going to change. The mud was inviting, almost beckoning, but this time it was her knees and ankles that told her no.
Keeping her eyes closed she reached exactly seven inches to her left and picked up the narrow glass filled with ice and lemonade. She’d done this so much, this sitting on her porch and enjoying the rain that there was no need to look anymore where her glass of lemonade was. It was right where she’d put it, the coolness of the iced glass sending a wonderfully cold sensation through her hand and up her left arm as she brought the glass to her mouth, eyes still closed, to take a sip. The entire moment was a direct contrast to the warmth of this Tennessee morning interrupted by a rain shower bringing its own version of cool, tinged with dampness and humidity. She loved the contrasts.
After a small sip, a “lady like” sip, she placed the foggy glass now imprinted with two finger-prints and a thumb print, back exactly where it came from, seven inches to the left, her hand shaking and rattling the ice just a little as she did so. Eyes still closed, her attention was now focused on two birds singing their songs amidst the falling rain. To her ears, it was two lovers engaged in conversation, not caring if anyone heard them. She imagined they were telling each other of their undying love, and how devoted they were to each other, devoted even in the morning rain. Could there be greater passion than to sing to your lover in the rain? She smiled at that thought, and then her mind shifted away from them, allowing their moment of privacy.
In the distance, the sound of thunder. It too, provided her a contrast to the gently falling rain, and its steady beat. The thunder was God’s way of splashing color to the scene being painted in her mind, a bright splash of yellow in a sea of gray. The sound did not overwhelm the setting but complimented it as it’s distance from her location didn’t allow it. She counted the seconds between God’s color splash, but it didn’t come again for another fifteen seconds. Too far away to be an intrusion, but far enough away to be an addition. She smiled again. God knows what he’s doing, she said to herself.
The wind was gentle, damp, and just a bit cooler since the rain began. The hairs on her arms came to attention when the breeze picked up, carrying with it the sweet scent of violet and wet grass. The front of her house was pocked with patches of blue crested iris, and three lemon queen sunflowers that she planted a few years ago just off the porch. There are a variety of other flowers too that seemed to sway with the gentle wind and rain creating a cacophony of smells above the violet and sunflower. She enjoyed the breeze, waiting for that moment and the tiny shiver that came along with it, eyes still closed. It was a reminder that she, too, was still here, still on this earth enjoying what God has left to offer her remaining time. She is loath to leave this life she’s come to love but knows that the curtain is slowly coming down.
The doctors told her she had months left, maybe weeks, and that they’d like to start treatment right away to prolong her time. She thought about it for one minute before telling them in no uncertain terms “no”. She would not try to circumvent God’s will. If he wanted her, she would oblige him on his timeline, not hers. Besides, she told the doctors, she’d done just fine living her life alone, without husband or kids, and her season was just about complete. Let others enjoy the earth as they wanted to, as she was allowed to do. It was time to leave and make room for others. So, she left the doctor’s office without treatment, without pain, and without attempting to cheat God’s intentions for her. And she felt good.
She still drove her car, a 1998 Ford that was given to her by a caring parishioner who no longer had need for the automobile but knew that she did. She still drove herself even at eighty-five, still attended church which was only a few miles away, and still baked cookies for the church raffle as she’d done for the past thirty years. Everyone loved Miss Annie’s cookies, and they always sold out as quickly as she made them.
She would entertain visitors on occasion as well, the pastor of her church being one of the more frequent ones. She knew that he came by to check on her as part of his flock, but she enjoyed his company. Others came by to say hello, while still others to seek the advice of the only person they knew who’d lived here her whole life. She was like an oracle to them, which she thought was funny. She could never understand the younger generation’s inability to realize their position in life, always searching for a hidden meaning.
“God hides nothing,” she’d tell them. “He’s the most honest person there is. We are the ones that are dishonest, refusing to take the gifts given because we’re always unsatisfied.”
She’d repeated those lines more often than she cared to admit, but always did so with a smile and a glass of lemonade. Miss Annie was “the sweetest person there is” was the refrain from just about everyone.
Over the years, the house became a little worse for wear, but the church parishioners came by occasionally to help her maintain it, fix the various odds and ends and generally keep it up as she became more infirm. She didn’t like the help initially, being independent her entire life, but grew to accept their kindness as her illness began to get the best of her.
The money her parents left her was barely enough to allow her to keep the only house she’d been born in along with the fifty acres, and she refused to sell when the money ran out a few months ago. When the bank called to foreclose, the local judge, a one-time friend of the family intervened, as did members of the state legislature, two of whom she’d cared for when they were younger, to ensure that Miss Annie could live out her days uninterrupted. She was grateful and baked a special batch of cookies for all concerned.
Being an only child, she knew that she’d broken her parents’ hearts by not marrying, but she never found the right man. In fact, she never wanted the right man, preferring her life as a solitary woman in a man’s world. Her salvation was her writing, which she did diligently for many years, producing children’s books, collections of short stories, and even a few novels under the assumed name Mary Allsworth.
Her stories were always about life, always about finding yourself, and always with a happy ending. She didn’t believe in putting sadness in her books because as she once said, “There’s already enough in the world. Why do I need to add more?”
She refused royalties, preferring to direct them to the church and a children’s home not far away. She had her land, the money her parents left her, and the kindness of a judge and two state legislators. It wasn’t much, but she didn’t need much. All she really needed was the rain. All she ever needed was the rain.
When they found her the next day, she was still sitting in her great-grandmother’s chair, a tall glass with a little water on the bottom of it. Her pastor found her when he came over to visit just after rains from the day before. Her funeral was well attended as she was loved by the members of her church. Her pastor gave a beautiful eulogy in which he extolled her kindness, finally telling the parishioners who she really was and what she’d done with her royalty checks.
As the attendees filed out, they all were agape, stunned that Miss Annie was the author of the books so many read to their children. They were even more astonished to find out what she’d given to the church. Simply stated, they were in awe of this woman who lived alone but was never really alone. Some regretted they were unable to tell her how she touched their lives and their kids’ lives through her writing. Someone said, “Don’t worry, Miss Annie knows now. I think she always did.”
When asked about finding her, the pastor said,
“It was a curious thing. She was sitting upright, with her eyes closed, as though she’d been listening to the rain all day. In itself, that’s not curious,” he said, “but what was, was that I saw mud on her feet, and she was smiling.”