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Editor’s Note: The following story is the winning entry for the Los Alamos Monitor’s Epic Love Story Contest. The story was submitted by Sonja Keller and it’s about her great aunt and uncle, who are now deceased. Keller received a night’s stay at the Elk Mountain Lodge in the Jemez and a bottle of Riesling and a pair of wine glasses from Ponderosa Winery. Thanks to all who submitted their stories.
When she was seven years old, Ann’s father often read her stories about Camelot and King Arthur. Ann dreamed about being a princess and living in a castle. She imagined that a knight in shining armor would come just for her one day, riding up on a white horse. It was a beautiful daydream.
Of course in real life, the only boys that she knew loved to play baseball with their friends and had little time or patience for girls. Those boys were a frustrating lot. None of them had ever ridden a horse in their whole lives, and none of them knew the first thing about chivalry.
As time went by, Ann grew up and enjoyed her childhood in 1930s California. There were lots of children around, and the neighbors were all friendly with each other. On weekends she and the other kids ran and played outside until their mothers called them home for dinner each night. As a teenager, Ann went to her school dances sometimes, but there was never anyone special to fulfill her childhood ideal of the knight in shining armor.
Ann was 15 in 1941 when World War II began. Everyone had been following the progress of the war in Europe on the radio, but now it was so much closer and scarier since Pearl Harbor had been bombed. She felt her blood run cold one day when she saw her teacher shaking hands with one of her slightly older classmates as he left school for the last time to join the army.
They parted as two men and not as student and teacher. Watching that exchange made Ann realize that she and her friends were suddenly all grown up. Many of the boys she had known all her life started signing up with the U.S. armed forces and left to fight the Japanese and Germans.
Ann joined the local chapter of the junior Red Cross, where she and the other girls knit scarves and rolled bandages for the troops. She helped her mother plant a victory garden in their backyard to supplement their ration stamps for the family food supply. The war seemed closer than ever as she read in the newspaper about new batteries being built at Fort Miley in nearby San Francisco for coastal defense.
At the same time, more and more men left to serve, and all of them seemed to go so far away. She didn’t think about her castle daydream any more. It seemed as if the whole world needed to be saved, and the whole world just wouldn’t fit inside her castle.
The war seemed like it would go on forever. Sometimes she felt like she couldn’t even remember what life had been like before the war had taken over all of their lives.
One day in the summer of 1943 she attended a war bond fundraising party with her parents. She didn’t especially want to go, but her mother insisted. She was helping to serve the food when a boy she had never seen asked her if he could help. They were almost the only two teenagers at the event, so they fell naturally into conversation. Emil was 17 and had just moved into the area with his parents. By the end of the day, Ann and Emil were fast friends and on their way to becoming even closer.
Emil lived nearby, so he and Ann saw each other every chance they got. Emil knew that he would join up with the army as soon as he graduated from high school, and he wanted to enjoy every moment that he could with Ann. It was hard for both of them to focus on school with all of the unwelcome distractions from The War along with the welcome distractions of falling in love with each other. Ann’s realization that she loved Emil seemed like it had happened almost overnight, and she knew that she never wanted to be without him.
Emil took Ann on a picnic a week before he joined the army. It was green everywhere in the glorious California spring, and they sat together in a field full of wildflowers that overlooked the ocean. When she held out a sandwich to him, he took her hand and placed a narrow gold ring on her finger.
Emil proposed to Ann, and she joyfully accepted. Two of her friends had become “War Brides”, but Ann and Emil decided to marry when Emil returned.
The hardest day of Ann’s life was the day that she said goodbye to her Emil as he left for the Pacific theater in 1944. She couldn’t hide the tears in her eyes as she promised to write and wait for his return. She felt so alone after Emil left. The war had finally edged right up against her and pushed Emil all the way across the ocean. Ann involved herself more deeply than ever in the US home front efforts against the War. The women left behind had to fight the war too in their own way.
Ann left school and took a secretarial job at the Richmond shipyard. In her spare time, she continued to knit for the Red Cross and helped her mother expand the victory garden. Ann liked to picture in her mind the future life that she and Emil would build together someday. It was hard to imagine life without The War, but she knew that it would be beautiful. The castle in her long-ago daydream morphed into a small house, and the knight’s face became Emil’s.
She carefully saved all of Emil’s love letters to her, and he saved hers as well. His letters were sometimes a little cut-up by the censors, but mostly he didn’t say much about The War at all. Instead his letters described how much he missed her and his imaginings about his happiness at their eventual reunion. Emil said that he hung Ann’s photograph over his bed, and all of his army buddies were jealous since she was so pretty.
In the spring of 1945, Ann went back to the field where Emil had proposed to gaze at that spot and remember the passion and elation that she had felt that day. Thinking about Emil was always a lovely break from the ugly realities of The War. She saw a white horse grazing in the field, and it reminded her of the fantasy she had once had of the knight riding up to her castle on a white horse.
Later that same day, she received a telegram from the war office that Emil had been wounded in action and would be coming home. Ann was so worried about Emil being hurt and yet so vastly relieved to know that he was alive and on his way back to her! Ann felt sure that the white horse she had seen was a sign of good fortune to come.
Ann waited at the dock when Emil’s ship came back, and tears of rapture and raw emotion flooded her eyes as soon as Emil came into view. He was limping, as he would for the rest of his life, but he was alive and here and hers!
Ann ran to Emil, and nothing would ever again be as electrifying as holding him and being held by him. They kissed over and over, and it felt like the moment would never end as Ann looked into Emil’s eyes. The reunion was even more wonderful than Emil had imagined and described in his letters.
Emil and Ann got married soon after his return, and a few months later they celebrated V-J Day and the end of the war. Even if Emil didn’t wear armor or ride a white horse, he was still her shining knight and she was still his princess. Marrying Emil made Ann’s dream come true, and although they never lived in a castle, they did indeed live happily ever after.