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Ted's life after, and everyone else's as well.

She waited in the pickup, watching until he was through the gate and out of sight before turning the pickup back to the highway and home. Tears ran down her cheeks. Even then a feeling of great loss and fear choked her heart. Even then she knew Jake would never come home.

Setting a cottonwood log on end on the old stump in the middle of the woodshed, Ann dropped the ax on the end of a dry wood. With a crack, the log split neatly down the center. Again and again the ax fell striking the wood with a monotonous crack until there was a scattered pile of kindling around her feet. In this way Ann freed her mind for a while with monotonous work.

Setting the ax aside, Ann stooped to stack the wood in the crook of her left elbow to carry it back to the house, knowing that the day was only beginning. After warming herself in front of the stove there were chores to do, cattle to feed, all the things that Jake would do if he were here.

The trudge back to the house, her arms loaded with wood, from the woodshed seemed longer each day. And each day a little colder. Ann longed for her husband. Longed to be held in his strong arms. More than anything else, longed to sit hand in hand in front of the Christmas tree she had bought and decorated with flickering lights and glass ornaments she had purchased. Even the presents were wrapped and sitting invitingly under the tree. Not many. One from her parents. One from Jake's brother. Several from friends and neighbors. None from or for Jake. Ann had sent those presents to him in the mail weeks before. But nothing had come back from Jake. Ann remembered the words of the song; "Christmas is a special time of year." But this Christmas seemed more a special kind of torment.

The kindling crackled in the stove as it caught the fire from yesterday's newspaper, but still the great iron stove shed no heat. Ann wondered if she would ever be warm again, not just her body, but her soul? It seemed the stove was a reflection of her loneliness. Cold, hard, battling a loneliness of its own against the cold. She felt so tired and alone. How she wished to hear Jake's laughter when he came in from his morning chores. But now there was no laughter. There was only the cold and the darkness of her spirit.

Turning, Ann picked up her heavy coat and went out into the yard then around the house to the barn. Already the milk cow was waiting patiently for the morning milking. Entering the barn, Ann scooped a bucket of grain from the bin and dumped it into the trough. Pushing open the door. The cow dutifully moved to her place and began munching the grain. Ann began milking slowly, the milk ringing against the sides of the steel bucket.

Somehow this was the chore she hated the most. This was Jake's first job in the morning and last at night. Now here she was doing the work belonging to her man. Eventually her hands caught the rhythm and her mind moved on to other things.

Carrying the heavy bucket to the calf pen she filled two feeder buckets and held them over the fence for the youngsters. Greedily they sucked at the rubber nipples until the buckets were dry. Then, hanging the buckets on the fence, Ann took the remainder of the milk to the house.

Now the kitchen felt warm. The stove generating heat through out the room. Ann warmed her hands over the iron top. Feeling almost joy as the stove battled to overcame the bitterness of the cold in her icy fingers.

The phone rang. Moving across the room Ann picked up the receiver from the wall phone. "Hello?"

"Mrs. Maddock?"

"Yes. This is Ann Maddock."

"Mrs. Maddock, this is Major Crawford from the National Guard. I have some news about your husband."

Ann nearly dropped the phone.

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