Ann Childs stood Paul Garrett up, and he bid her aloha.
Paul was working for the Missouri Pacific Railroad in 1967. He and a buddy stopped at a cafe in Helena for lunch and took the table next to one occupied by two pretty young girls. They flirted until it was time to go back to work.
The first time I saw my future spouse:
He says: “I think I was smitten.”
She says: “He was handsome. He had on jeans and he had sandy blonde hair and he was just very good looking.”
On our wedding day:
He says: “We got married at her sister’s house in Warren, and after we were married we had a late dinner with our friends who had come to the wedding.”
She says: “I was so nervous, wondering if it was the right thing to do. I knew he was the one but getting married is a big step.”
My advice for a long happy marriage:
He says: “Make every decision together. We’ve always been in it together. We didn’t have separate bank accounts. We didn’t make decisions about hardly anything without talking about it. Share and be equal in the marriage.”
She says: “Always put God first and then family. It’s 50/50 with us — he’s always included me in all the decisions we make. He’s done that from the very time that we started talking about being married. He ordered our first car from over there and he let me be a part of that.”
Soon after that, Paul, who had wrecked his car, saw Ann pass by as he waited for his friend to pick him up.
"I waved and she ignored me because she thought I didn't even have a car," Paul says.
Paul and his friend went to a parking lot where the teenagers hung out. Ann was there, and he asked her for a date.
"She said, 'I'll go out with you if you'll take me to Moon Lake dancing,'" he says. "That was the club across the Mississippi River from Helena. What she didn't know was that I couldn't dance a lick."
Ann went there every Saturday night with her best friend and she loved to dance.
"I was always the first one out on the floor and of course he wasn't going to tell me he couldn't dance," she says. "My gosh, the moves he made."
Paul's self-deprecating humor made her laugh.
They went out a few more times before Paul, who had been in the Marine Corps Reserves, was called up to serve in the Vietnam War.
They wrote to each other, and after Paul had been in Vietnam for a while he sent a letter saying he would be taking leave in Hawaii. He asked her to meet him there. Ann wrote back that she would, and he sent her a money order for $300 -- enough for a round-trip ticket as well as a new outfit.
Ann's sister, however, discouraged her from going, questioning whether Paul's motives were honorable.
"I wanted to go but when she started talking like that I decided not to go," Ann says.
It was too late to let Paul know she wouldn't be there when he arrived so he looked for her when he got off the plane.
"All the other wives and girlfriends were there, but there was no Ann," he says.
Ann was staying with a family in Marvell, and Paul called their house from a pay phone.
"At that time when you called person-to-person, the operator would have you on the line and they would ask for that particular person, but you could hear the operator and the other conversation," he says.
Paul heard Ann's friend's father tell the operator that Ann had gone out but would be back in about 30 minutes.
"I knew right then that she wasn't on her way to Hawaii," he says.
He had six days of leave.
"My R&R orders had right there in big letters not to leave Hawaii for the continental U.S. In other words, you're AWOL if you fly out of Hawaii. I thought about it, and I decided I was going home anyway," he says.
He was anxious and had a couple of beers, and then fell asleep and missed his flight but was able to get on another one two hours later. He called Ann as soon as he got home.
She told him she hadn't had a date in months but she had one that night and she couldn't see him. She asked him to take her to church the next morning. Paul was put off and opted not to do that, but he did visit in the afternoon.
"When church was over and I got home, I hadn't seen Paul and it upset me highly," she says. "I think that's when it hit me. He did show up that afternoon. I had started crying about it."
He asked her to see him off in Little Rock the next morning, and she demurred, saying she had to work.
"I thought, 'Well, this is it. I'm done with you,'" he says.
He was lucky to be seated next to the pilot's wife on the flight from Dallas to Los Angeles, who offered to drive him to another building after they landed so he could make his connection to Honolulu.
"I had to run to make my flight and if I hadn't made it back, I was AWOL," he says.
Ann, in the meantime, was wracked with guilt and sorrow. Her letter of apology was waiting for him when he got back to Vietnam. A few months later he proposed in a letter.
Paul completed his tour of duty in February 1969, and they exchanged their vows on March 8, 1969, in Ann's sister's home in Warren.
Paul and Ann, of Jacksonville, have two children, Mike Garrett of Austin and Kimberly Brown of North Little Rock. They also have one granddaughter.
They have traveled since they retired, he as a locomotive engineer and she as a bookkeeper, but not to Hawaii.
"I've always kidded her. She wants to go to Hawaii and I've said, 'You had your chance. I sent you the money for a ticket and you didn't show up,'" Paul quips. "We'll probably make it next year."
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Ann Childs and Paul Garrett were married on March 8, 1969. They almost parted ways after Ann stood him up in Honolulu. “I guess it was meant to be,” he says. “We’re 50 years in here and still together.”
High Profile on 03/24/2019
Print Headline: He was AWOL, absent without love, till it was yes