She used up all 99 years end-to-end and when she departed for her heavenly home last week, Annie Withers left behind a legacy of love, laughter, hard work and plenty of dancing.
I tell you Annie’s story because she is another of that great generation that we are losing so fast. Their lives are faded memories left in care of the next generation who is also nearing the top rung of the ladder. Ragged old photos, musty boxes of papers, keepsakes and occasionally written words on a treasured letter or card are what remain of a life lived in a world we’ll never see again.
You can’t speak of Annie without remembering Wayne, the love of her life. They were married for 73 years before Wayne departed in 2007 for that special place in heaven where old cowboys become young again.
Annie came from a family of farmers and dairy people from West Texas, relocating to Bingham, New Mexico. Annie and six of her 11 siblings moved there and everyone worked to keep the family fed. “My brother and I would get up early and milk 20 cows by hand, clean up the barn and be to school on time. I milked cows and drove a team since I was 9,” she once told me.
Wayne met Annie at a country dance near Bingham. “I didn’t see her for a long time after that,” he said with a grin. “Her family was pretty timid nesters.” Wayne would ride 9 miles to the dance, stay until 2 a.m. and ride back to be ready to work all day.
They were married in 1934. Wayne had just turned 22 and Annie was four months short of her 18th birthday. They moved to the Oscuro Mountain area to ranch with Wayne’s dad and brothers. Wayne was quick to say Annie was the “other best hand on the place” when it came to helping him with the cattle.
The boys broke and rode a lot of horses to make a little extra money at $5 a head. And then they headed to some little rodeos that were around at the time–Carrizozo, Capitan, Ft. Stanton, Socorro, Magdalena. Again to make a little money.
At a Bingham rodeo “the boys” asked Annie if she wanted to ride a bull and she said, “Sure, why not.” And she did and she rode it to the whistle. Then she said they were in Colorado at another rodeo and she rode again. In big overalls and a pair of borrowed boots, she won $5.
After three years on the homestead at the Oscuro Mountain ranch, Annie and Wayne added to the family with a daughter, later to be joined by two more girls. Wayne would be out on the wagon for a month at a time following cattle all the way to Three Rivers. Annie would be left alone to tend to all the chores and fend for her family with only a horse for transportation.
In the joy of their great love for each other, buried deep in their hearts was the grief and anguish of seeing 40 years work go to the government when White Sands Missile Range claimed first one ranch for bomb testing and then later another in an expansion of its boundaries. “We didn’t have enough left to start over, so we just went to town,” Wayne said.
Wayne always lovingly teased Annie and her eyes sparkled when he did. “Do you want to know about the girls I danced with or the broncs I rode?” he would ask with a twinkle in his ornery eyes. There was a dance somewhere every week and the Withers didn’t miss many of them. They spent 70-plus years together loving to dance. “We even won some contests,” they said.
You can only feel joy when thinking of them together again. The teasing, the stories and oh yes, the dancing. Annie and Wayne, your love story will now last forever.
Julie can be reached for comment at email@example.com.