They met when they were teenagers.
On fire watch, when incendiary bombs rained flames over the school roof, they spent the nights playing games and eating black market biscuits.
That was in the war. Back then she was graceful and quick witted. Back then he was sharp and handsome.
“She was a looker even then,” he said. “I fancied her but we weren’t courtin’.”
National service and nursing training meant separate ways for a while. A few years later they met again. At a dance, down Roker, he saw her. He was with his mates, and a girl called Robson on his arm.
“I saw her. She was dancing with this lad, he was a hunch back mind but he could dance. I got me mates all lined round the room and every time he went to ask her they buzzed him off.”
“Buzzed him off?”
“Aye, you know, cut in,” He explained. “So in the end she had to dance with me. She was a good dancer too.”
They danced ‘til the band finished playing. He walked her home, across the river, five mile out the wrong way. That was the start of it. They courted and eventually married. He never said what happened to Robson.
He taught me to dance as a child; foxtrot, waltz, quickstep. I don’t remember her dancing at all. I barely remember her walking or moving from her sitting room chair. I wish I’d known them both before age, illness and the inevitable grind of life shrunk them down. An impossible wish.
Old memories are patchy, misleadingly highlighted with photographs and over-told exaggerated tales. An unreliable slide show of family mythology. Mostly I am left to wonder.
I imagine her as a young woman; smart, athletic, stylish. Her hair perfectly arranged in her trademark coiffure. Her waist was, as she said frequently, a mere 21 inches then. Wearing a beautifully tailored dress which spun out as he twirled her around the dance floor. She would have laughed at his charming and ever-so-silly stories. One marriage, four children, seven grandchildren and a great grandchild later, he still tells those stories. I’ll never know if they are true or not.
They had a long run, a whole lifetime of stories, and some are now lost forever. Theirs is story of a boy and a girl in the blackout, and of dancing and family and love.
A team of two for seventy four years.
Married for most of it.
Argued for some of it.
Loved for all of it.
It’s unimaginable to have one without the other.