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SNAP Love Stories Entry: The love of Ralph and Nina Starnes

Editor’s Note: The following entry in the SNAP’s Love Stories Contest is from Wendy Starnes Morgan.

It is 5:03 a.m. on a Tuesday.

She hears his soft grunt as he pushes himself up off of the bed. She has never needed an alarm clock. The crack and pop of his faithful knees are the song to which she awakens.

She knows this early morning hour belongs to him, so she remains curled up in their warm bed. This dark quiet house is his church, and she is his angel.

She is drifting, the sounds of his morning routine in the background of her consciousness. There’s the rustle of his shirt and the strike of a match, then she smells the coffee he started, and the cigarette he is smoking.

She dozes, content.

She hears the click of the thermostat and then the whoosh of the bathroom door, just as the hum of the heater begins.

She rolls over and stretches, says her morning prayer as she lies flat on the bed, arms above her head.

She visualizes the long list of things that need doing, but the prospect of the coming day does not overwhelm her because she faces it with a grateful heart, full of love for him, her family and her home.

She has them, and that is all she needs.

She opens her eyes to the thin blue light that is just illuminating the room. She hears his chair at the head of the table scrape the floor and come to rest next to the single kitchen window.

She knows he is drinking his black coffee and mentally surveying their land as the sun peeks over the trees.

He meditates on their backyard, every morning, on what it represents. The flourishing vegetable garden, the fruit trees, the swaying pine trees, her endless flowers, their daughter’s swing set: he sees the hours of her life in that view, the time and love she spends on his home and family.

He’s waiting on his second cup of coffee to cool. He flicks the ashes from his cigarette and watches the birds flit about.

He notices the cat is watching, too.

He hears the squeak of the bathroom faucet. He shakes his head and smiles, knowing his quiet time is over.

She will emerge as she does every morning, a slightly smudged whirlwind, green eyes sparkling. She smells like soap and toothpaste.

Her soft black hair drifts around her head and down her back. He muses, thinking it could be the shadow of a halo.

He grins to himself, because he knows better.

He watches her taking out the dough bowl and the iron skillet. Such humble accoutrements for this divine life. In goes the buttermilk, the lard, the flour. He watches her shoulders shake as she pinches pieces of the dough and rolls and pats out the biscuits. She bends to place the pan in the oven, and he hears the metallic screech of the oven door.

She wipes her hands on her apron as she straightens, then turns the sausages over in the skillet. Over the hissing sizzle, she asks if he wants jelly or gravy with his breakfast this morning. He chooses the jelly. Her gravy is sometimes burnt, but the jelly that she made last summer is like sunshine in a jar.

He remembers her working in the garden beside him, sweating until dark when they would sit beneath the pine trees and hope for a late breeze while they talked about how she planned to stake up the hollyhocks the next day.

He thinks of the sunlight on her skin and the smile on her face as she picked the apples that she used to make the jelly. He turns these thoughts over in his mind, like a prayer.

He works away hours of his life for that smile and she is wearing it now, as he watches her carrying his breakfast across the kitchen. He eats quietly, thanks her as he kisses her soft cheek and rises to get ready for another day of work.

I wrote this about my parents, Nina and Ralph Starnes. They met when he installed a phone in the house where she was babysitting. He “accidentally” left his hard hat, so he would have an excuse to go back and see her.

That was in 1958. Two years later, they married and were together until he passed away in 1987, claimed by lung cancer. We lost her eight years later.

They were a perfect model of love, mutual respect, decency and dedication and I am forever proud and grateful to come from such fine people.