“Hey kiddies,” she said, approaching the bench where my four-year-old brother and I sat waiting for our daddy to come out of the auto repair shop. I froze, stifled by the terror that arose in my throat. I swallowed, not sure if I should answer her. I’d never been that close to the legendary Buckeye Annie.
There she stood: old, wrinkled, toothless, disheveled and grinning from ear to ear. She shuffled a little closer and my heart thundered in my chest as my eyes frantically searched for my daddy. Maybe she wanted to eat us like the witch in Hansel and Gretel.
Abruptly she turned, shuffling off in her scuffed saddle oxford shoes. Perhaps she had seen my daddy as he stepped through the door, beckoning us to follow him. I climbed into the car scooting close to Daddy. “Buckeye Annie….she was going to…she scared me,” I whimpered, sniffling.
“Ah, she’s harmless,” he chuckled.
My friends were amazed. Buckeye Annie had never spoken to any of them. It was the ‘50’s and everyone in our neighborhood knew the legend about her. I’m not even sure her name was Annie. She was called Buckeye Annie because she wandered up and down Buckeye Road all hours of the day and night. Thin, bedraggled, she had a shuffling gait and toothless grin.
Rumor had it that her husband and son had been killed in a car accident on Buckeye Road and she wandered in search of them. It was also said that she owned the row of dilapidated apartments off Buckeye Road where she lived. The most incongruous part of the legend was that she was rich, hiding all her money under her mattress, and that she acted poor so nobody would steal her money.
As a child, I believed every word of it. I never questioned why she pretended to be poor to keep from being robbed if everyone knew her money was under her mattress. In my eight years, she was the only rich person that I’d ever encountered. In comparison, I thought we must be rich also.
I was eleven when we moved from that area to the southern part of town. Buckeye Annie was still wandering the street, still an object of ridicule and derision. Everyone talked about her riches, the amount of money stashed under her mattress increasing over the years.
I was a teenager when we returned to that area. I started attending a church on Buckeye Road where I had a radical encounter with Jesus Christ that would change my life forever. I got involved with the youth group and formed friendships that have lasted through the decades.
Buckeye Annie was still wandering the street, her shuffling gait slower than before. She was also wearing scuffed oxfords, perhaps the same pair. The rumors about her hadn’t changed.
She walked past our church often while we teenagers stood out front. Sometimes we snickered, but mostly we ignored her. I wasn’t afraid of her anymore, nor did I feel pity or compassion, I’m ashamed to say.
I had another close encounter with her on a Sunday afternoon. I was staying with the pastor’s daughter, Carolyn, and we decided to walk to a nearby diner. We never went there, mostly because we never had money, and it wasn’t a burger joint with a jukebox, or a malt shop that teenagers liked to hang out at.
We sat at the counter and ordered hamburgers. Buckeye Annie was sitting a few stools over from us. She cackled, flashing that toothless grin when the waitress sat down her plate of roast beef, mashed potatoes with gravy and corn. Our eyes widened, nudging each other when she took her glass of milk and poured it over the plate of food. She stirred everything with her fork, picked up her bread, sopping up the milk in between bites.
Although she pulled a wad of cash from her pocket, placing it on the counter before shuffling out the door, I knew the stories about her being rich weren’t true. That realization came much in the same way as when I understood my family was poor.
I’m not sure when Buckeye Annie ceased her wanderings. I realize now that she was just a poor, dejected soul. We were the rich ones, saturated with our Heavenly Father’s love. We could’ve shared that riches with her, had we only invited her into church.
Such a simple thing, but we never even thought about it.
**true story - 50 years later, I still remember exactly how Buckeye Annie looked.
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