He met her one sunny summer afternoon, she was behind the counter at her daddy’s hardware store. She was a wiz at math, and could add up your order of nails, tools, and paint all in her head, tax and all, and with a mischievous wink tell you down to the cent what your total was. Then she’d lift a delicate blonde brow and with glittering green eyes and a twist of her pink bow lips and ask, “Care to make a wager?” She bet she was as accurate as the register. Most men were taken in at first. Such a pretty little thing be just as accurate as the register?
She did pretty decent most days, especially when her daddy was working in the back with customers. She would slip her winnings into her little coin purse and box up the order for the customer, never losing her sweet smile. He reckoned the smile and those sparking green eyes softened the blow a bit.
That day, seeing through the stacked shelves, her take in one fool after another, he grabbed the things he needed and came up to the register. She smiled at him and quoted his price. “Care to make a wager?” She said to him all mischief.
”I reckon a fool would wager against your intellect ma’am. It’s apparent to me that you get underestimated a lot, and that’s a shame.” He said, giving her a lazy smile.
A light pink blush stained her cheeks and she rang his order in. After boxing up this order, he offered her his hand, rough and weathered with hard work. A little taken aback she extended her hand and they shook.
”Abraham,” he said.
”Penny,” she said.
He then thanked her and walked out with his box, a smile on his face as wide as California is long.
He continued to need a rather large amount of nails during those lazy summer days of 1941. Lost quite a few hammers too.
He was 19, and she was 17 and the hardware store became the place where they would meet. Once she finished her shift and switched off with her cousin, she would walk to the soda shop, often running into Abraham on the way. He would then escort her to the shop.
Sometimes he would come in and get a drink as well, but Penny would never let him pay for her drink. She said she liked her independence, and he said her independence looked good on her.
The summer turned to fall and he kept coming by after her shift, walking to the soda shop, then past the shop to the bookstore, grocer, sometimes even looping back to the hardware store.
Her daddy didn’t like Abraham much, but he didn’t sense any intent past walking and talking at the moment, and believed there would be plenty of time to meet someone else. She had just only turned 18.
Then, the winter of 1941 came and in it the attack on Pearl Harbor. The nation responded. Men were drafted and went to war. He was 20, she was 18.
They kept meeting and circling and talking into 1942 and then in November, just before his birthday, the nation announced the draft could take 18 year olds. Just shy of 21 Abraham was called. The draft had managed to catch him and he had to go.
Sick, Penny’s hands fell from the crook of Abraham’s elbow, the sparkle leaving her green eyes in shock.
Abraham took her by both shoulders and turned her towards him, and touching her face in front of half the town asked her to marry him now, before he had to leave.
Chuckles could be heard all around when a very excited Penny leaped into the unprepared arms of Abraham and they toppled over into the grass next to the sidewalk.
There was a ring, produced from his pocket, a simple skinny gold wedding band that was his mother’s. He slipped it on her finger and she kissed him right there in the middle of town in front of everybody.
Abraham walked her home that night, to her front door where her father waited in anger for the couple. He had told Abraham earlier that week that he did NOT bless this union, that he would not allow his daughter to marry him.
Yet here he was, defying a father’s wishes. He only wanted to marry her to make her a widow, was what he had told Abraham earlier that week and he still believed it.
On the front lawn Penny’s father confronted the couple and words were exchanged. A threat was made, “If you marry him, don’t expect a dime from me Penny Johnson! Not a home besides, because this one will be closed to you!” Her daddy roared out into the neighborhood.
Penny’s mom stood at the screen door, Penny’s suitcase packed. She knew her daughter well, and even though her husband protested, she brought her daughter her things in an old suitcase, and gave her a kiss on her cheek goodbye. There was only so far she would go against her husband.
Penny left the house with Abraham, her head held high as he walked her to her best friend Betty’s house. Explaining the situation, Penny stayed with Betty’s family while Abraham got things on track for a civil ceremony. Penny was 19 now, and could marry without consent.
So she did.
The day dawned bright, a couple of days later, and in her best winter party dress and heels she married Abraham in his only black suit. They had mere days before he left.
Abraham set her up in his apartment, he had lost both parents as a teen and had a pretty good place. For three idyllic days, they honeymooned and made silly hopeful plans, and on the fourth morning he left, to do his duty.
Back ramrod straight Penny gave her husband a beautiful smile and said, “Care to make a wager?” Laughing, her husband asked what for. “I bet I’ll see you back home in 6 months,” she said, her pink lips quirking into a familiar smirk.
”Hmmm, a man would be a fool to bet against you,” he said smiling and he drew her close and kissed her with great reverence. Penny’s heart stumbled a bit, and her composure faltered, but only for a second. She had to stick to her bet, and win.
Abraham wrote often. The war was never spoken about, how long he had been gone never mentioned, but they made plans. So many glorious and beautiful plans.
Penny found a job at the grocery store in town and was one of the best cashiers there, of course. Her momma would come through her line, and ask after her, and in turn Penny would ask after her and her daddy. Stubborn, pig headed daddy.
Then around Abraham’s birthday in 1944, the letters stopped. Penny worried. Men with telegrams came to her town every so often and her stomach would tumble down to her knees. She felt relieved and guilty all at the same time when they didn’t come up to her. Months passed. She feared the absolute worst.
Finally, after the New Year and onto February she received a bundle of letters. They had traveled an interesting journey before they reached her, and she breathed easier as she tore through 4 full letters. An excellent start to the new year, albeit a little late.
Eventually the war ended. The war ended and Abraham came home. Penny didn’t even know what day he was to arrive until the apartment door shook and there he stood tall and proud looking a little thinner, a little sharper, with shadows under his eyes and eyes filled with a pain that had nothing to do with his body. Penny’s eyes drank him in and settled on his smile, as wide as California was long. Wordlessly she ran into his arms and cried.
It took daddy 5 years and two grandchildren to get over the fact that Penny married Abraham and he had the audacity to come back from the war alive. Both men put aside their differences for Penny and had an easy truce for the next 20 years. Then her father passed.
Twenty years after that, with 4 children and 10 grandchildren Abraham passed as well.
Penny was still extremely good at math when I met her. I could not believe how well she could total up a customer’s sale, with tax, and be correct right down to the dollar.
Laughing, blonde hair now white, green eyes still a sparkle with mischief she asked me, “Care to make a wager?”
And I’m afraid I did.
I was told this story during my years working for Dillard’s department stores. While pieces of this story has been altered for continuity and names have been changed, this story to the core is a real love story of Love during WWII. Penny happily told me of her love when she was 85 years old and I was 18. I asked her cheekily if someday when I became a writer could I write about her one true love and she said yes.