Author: Brooke Folk - May 2018
Somewhere in a timeframe of 1942, the railway took him away from her, to never return and to never have word from him since his last kiss and "I love you." Not a learned lady, her efforts to have her husband located in the war arena, was never successful. Somewhere, in the next forty-five years, she spent her life in near solitude in the mountains of Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
Lady Ann was an assumed war widow with no closure. Cross country by rail to San Diego was his orders and that is all that she knew. Twenty-five hundred miles before he was to have special naval training and that was all she could tell local authorities who passed it on to county and state. The trail always went cold in their efforts to locate her newlywed and then off to war husband. The connecting rail lines couldn't confirm that he arrived at his destination. The mystery story of their not being accountable by passenger name could be explained away by special government change of identities aboard their trains.
Every lonesome whistle that blew on the Western Maryland and B&O line that lay in the valley of her mountain became a hoped-for returning sojourn of her soldier without a name of record. Each hoped for whistle promise of a reunion, became mournful echoes for Lady Ann. Station managers of both lines in the small community of Meyersdale, had yellowed folded papers of a map to her mountain cabin, to give to the missing returning soldier who asked the whereabouts of his 'Lady Ann'. Each station manager passed on the information to their successor for decades.
It was a nonspoken code of ethics that the station managers adhered to. Each would keep a vigil on her sparse mountain cabin, if Lady Ann didn't walk the tracks into town every now and then, to check on the safety of the yellowed note being in still good repair and visible to the station manager. In time, the Western Maryland stopped passenger service and decades later, the tracks were silent. The last station manager of the Western Maryland took the fragile note upon the station's closure and for his remaining days, would check on Lady Ann.
Her walks into town on an abandoned rail line, the very one that took her love from her so many years ago, somehow still gave her hope. The B&O, later the Chessie System, still had Amtrak service into Cumberland, Md. Even though Meyersdale no longer had a working depot, her note remained visible. At random times, Lady Ann would find someone around the station when peering into the windows. To that person, she would lament her story. Her walks into town were eventually nonexistent.
One of the last station managers, who retired from the Cumberland station, knew of Lady Ann. She was a secret icon of sorts. The code of ethics of managers was all but silent now. The last surviving manager, now well into his 80s, made pilgrimages to Lady Ann's cabin in spring and fall until he too fell silent. The yellow note was found in his will. A great-granddaughter from Lavale, MD was the beneficiary of the original yellowed note along with a loving note from her great-grandfather. A small sum of money was left to the mountain cabin assumed widow named Lady Ann.
Now in her late sixties, Lady Ann related her story one last time. She didn't need the money. You see, those few station managers agreed to put a small amount of money from their paychecks into a successful investment fund. A local bank saw to her personal banking and tax needs. She wasn't rich but lovingly cared for. The station managers of the rails, the rails that took her love from her in 1942, felt a strange compelling to start the funding. Lady Ann understood who was behind the compelling. Until now, she never told a soul.
Lady Ann answered the gentle hesitant knocking at her cabin door. The hinges were long overdue for lubricant. She explained to the young lady that nobody could enter her place without her knowing it and she liked it that way. Besides she didn't need to waste any lard on those old hinges anyway. Her pretty young visitor didn't need to explain the purpose of her visit. Lady Ann saw the yellowed note in her hand.
"Weren't no reason to wear a dress into my woods," she chided her visitor. The girl couldn't help but gaze around the cabin, noticing a 1940's time warp motif. She did offer her explanation and handed the envelope to Lady Ann. Thumbing the cash, she handed it back to the girl and asked her visitor to sit down. "What's your name girl," Lady Ann asked? Her visitor said, "Ann," just like your name." "Well if that don't beat all. Never been two Ann's in my home," Lady Ann said. "Hard to believe, but I once was cute just like you. Cute enough to get married for a couple days before I lost him." Her story was then told one last time to a complete stranger.
“For the first two years I suspected he was lost to this world because of the war efforts but I suspected wrong. Yes, the war called him but it weren’t the enemy on some foreign battlefield that did him wrong. It was around the time I bought this old hunting cabin, that I got my answer. I wanted to be alone with my God and His nature and little else. I was but a young bride of twenty years old and two days only at that, before those now rusted rails (she pointed down into the valley) took him from his home and from me. It wasn’t normal not to get mail when he arrived in San Diego, I was told.”
The young girl interrupted Lady Ann. “But I thought the officials never received word about your husband’s whereabouts?” “Heaven's sake girl, them folks never did get to the bottom of any of their investigations. Shameful, but I forgave em after awhile. It wasn’t about two months after moving into my home that I got’s a feeling come over me. It got so that I thought this move to solitude was a mistake. Maybe I was going looney bins. Not in my right frame of mind. “Why was that,” young Ann asked? “Shush up girl and I’ll tell you. You always interrupt your peers when theys trying to explain sumpin to you?”
Young Ann had an instant fondness and was happy to oblige her peer. As she remained silent, Lady Ann explained her story that no human ears heard before. The story that explained the compelling of those dear dedicated station managers to do what they did for Lady Ann. What she suspected for many years was confirmed just recently. “For years I let my imagination play with me. Every misplaced and reappearance of my sewing things, was my husband's way of telling me he was ok. Cupboard doors opening and closing, pictures always need straightening, that sort of thing.”
Lady Ann continued. “I never once gave up hope. Then just last year I gets a book I never asks for and it says there is a spirit world we know as the heavens and everybody goes there and our souls can ask our Creator for His Divine Love and we can feels it. I feels it a lot and I never stop asking for it. And inside me, I hear this small voice that I think is me thinking but I never knows how to think such things. Somehow I knows it’s my Danny and somehow I knows you was coming here too. Somehow I knows the station managers and the bank were lookin after this mountain woman and now I knows it was my Danny’s doin.”
Lady Ann points to the book across the room on her quilted bed. “That’s a powerful book, you needs to get yourself one of them.” That was the end of her story. Ann noted the title before leaving. ‘True Gospel Revealed anew by Jesus’. Ann visited Lady Ann the following spring. The cabin was empty, no trace of being a habitat for almost five decades.
Ann scoured obituaries of the local Republican newspaper. There was no trace, just like the disappearance of her husband. Walking the half mile or so back to her car, Ann distinctly heard a passenger train going through the valley. Though it couldn’t have been, the rails were recently lifted to make way for a rails to trail hiking and biking trail. The lonesome whistle didn’t sound lonesome. Ann smiled as she caught the vision of Lady Ann and her Danny waving goodby as they spirited away from their beloved Somerset County home to their promised heaven mansion. The end.
Author Notes: Writing for a local newspaper column, Lady Ann, was submitted in two parts. The Tales from the Trail column received wonderful comments from this submission.