Jim & Florrie

My parents’ wedding was today (in 1948). Though both are now dead, they were able to share sixty anniversaries. It is as if I attended the wedding itself, my mama told me the whole story so many times: such a rich farce, and such a glorious love anthem.

They weren’t intending to get married on Valentine’s Day; they thought that would be cheesy. But the day got selected for them by “events.” You see, my father-to-be was in a tuberculosis sanatorium. My mother-to-be had given up much better prospects, “much much better prospects,” and a life unfolding in another province, to fly to his side. They needed to get out of the hospital for one night — by way of the chapel, with a chaplain on call, and a few witnesses lined up for an almost military operation. The problem was the man in charge, at Christie Street. He had to wink, to make their escape possible. Happily, he was discovered to be an old sentimentalist, and so Valentine’s Day was the ticket. The dear old git contrived to have his staff look the other way, and off they ran to the chapel. Then out the door, with a few friends, to a memorably segregated reception in a hotel downtown. TB positives in one room, negatives in the other, and my future parents bobbing in between.

The wedding cake was cut with an aeroplane propeller, a keepsake of my father’s from the late War. I have the photograph, to prove this. I also have the propeller, for public inspection, up here in the High Doganate.

Sixty wedding anniversaries is a lot. I saw quite a few of them. In light of the world, as it has fallen out, I am amazed by what I saw. They were always lovers, and in a serenity thought improbable today. But also with a fierce passion. I cannot forget my embarrassment, once, upon stumbling into their kitchen. They were a couple of wrinkled oldies — octogenarians at the time — and they were kissing like a couple of teenagers.

Nor will I forget the last anniversary. By this time things had got worse. They were now in a nursing home, but still together. (Another administrative miracle had had to be performed, to pull that off.) It was their sixtieth anniversary, and both feeble; on top of which my father had lost almost all of his marbles. But character is the last thing to go.

My mama lost her composure, said she couldn’t bear it any more. Papa only sat there, gently smiling, with this look of unearthly benignity in his face. For months he had been unable to thread two words together. And now he was dying. A pneumonia would soon carry him away.

Mama shrieked, “Jim! I have been talking to you all morning! I’ve been telling you everything, and you just sit there and don’t answer!”

Suddenly he put a whole sentence together:

“It will be okay, Florrie.”