FOR BETTER OR WORSE
I chose my wife, as she did her wedding gown,
Not for a fine glossy surface, but such qualities as would wear well.
(The Vicar of Wakefield)
Just before we got married William was told he would do the rest of his apprenticeship in the Sheffield steel works; so for one long weary day we pounded the pavements looking for somewhere to live. It seemed a hopeless task. We read notices in local shops and asked people on the street – to no avail.
Just as we were about to give up and go home, a man asked us if we were looking for somewhere to live. To cut a long story short, when he had satisfied himself that we were gainfully employed and respectable, he told us that he and his wife and two children could let us have two rooms and use of the kitchen. We just had time to see them before catching the train home.
July 21st 1951 was a beautiful day and I remembered ‘happy is the bride the sun shines on’. I determined to enjoy every moment. At home we had a bathroom and a bath but the hot tap gurgled and spat out hot water grudgingly – ever more so with each additional bath. I told the family politely but firmly, that today of all days I was to have the first bath and to my surprise, they agreed. The morning passed in a haze but at last it was just Dad and me alone, waiting for the taxi. I couldn’t believe how calm I felt. I loved my dress, Dad looked great and my family and friends would be waiting at the church. Why didn’t I feel at all nervous?
Walking up the path to the church I remembered how Evan and I used to follow this same path, reluctantly, every Sunday morning. Walking slowly down the aisle it seemed that everybody turned round and smiled at me. Except for the eldest of the aunts and she was crying. What was that all about? William and Gerry were beaming and looking incredibly smart (apart from the thick navy woollen socks William had chosen) and Annie was a lovely bridesmaid. Her mother had treated her to a crushed raspberry dress in a rich fabric which probably cost the earth and she had pale pink feathers in her hair.
When we got to the part where we plight our troth and it was William’s turn, there was silence and I realised his stammer was the reason he had been keen to get married at sea. I looked at him and smiled encouragingly and he smiled back and still nothing. I could feel everybody willing him to speak but William and I were perfectly calm and in the end the Reverend Sokell said it all for him, so in theory I was married to him.
There were great waves of relief as we walked down the aisle to the triumphant swell of the organ. Now we could relax and have fun. All the guests were taken to Rimmington in a coach and I was so glad we had chosen to be in the countryside where the fields were not blackened from the cotton mills and the birds were singing.
It felt really special greeting our guests. Three of the nurses in our set had travelled up from London and my special guests were the Miller family: the girls had been left at home but young David was there his eyes out on stalks. William’s mother was resplendent in black and white - she was still in mourning for William’s father. Originally she had asked William; were we church or chapel, crust or crumb. Now she could see for herself. She seemed to be enjoying herself and was treated to true northern hospitality.
After the toasts Hector asked if he might say something. He started by saying that he expected everyone was wondering what the Millers – a Jewish family, were doing there and went on to explain how we had met; that I had nursed his son, David and become one of the family. By the time he had finished I decided if ever I wanted a reference he was my man!
The afternoon flew by and it was time for us to leave for our long journey. I changed into my going away suit – cherry coloured with bag and shoes to match and the palest duck egg blue blouse. Jerry was driving us to Manchester, in his tiny ancient banger, where we would get the overnight bus to London. It would be some time before we saw the marital bed.