An imagined story of how my grandparents met:
…clear sight intensified the purple sage-slope as it rolled before her. Low swells of prairie-like ground sloped up to the west. Dark, lonely cedar-trees, few and far between, stood out strikingly, and at long distances ruins of red rocks…
Reg pushed his empty dinner plate aside, the smoked haddock and poached egg long gone, and laid the book face down. He had read it so often he even recalled more lines – a broken wall, a huge monument, looming dark purple and stretching its solitary, mystic way, a wavering line… to a dim line of cañons from which rose an up-flinging of the earth…
He shook out another Passing Cloud and lit it from the butt of the old one; he would never do that in public, but here, at home, alone, his collar off, his shirt unbuttoned, what did it matter? He sat back in the creaking kitchen chair, and saw those prairies and cedar trees, the line of cañons, and then other actually remembered sights, the lush jungle of the Amazon, the greasy brown Negro River, the busy streets of Manaus, The Teatro Amazonas – the magical night when electricity lit up the town as the street lights came on for the first time. And then Cape Verde, when Reg had surprised the natives with his fluent Portuguese…
He stubbed his cigarette out on his dinner plate then took it to the kitchen. He would wash it later when he boiled some water for a drink, no point in wasting the gas.
He had disciplined himself not to feel lonely, although alone. Should he go down to the Salisbury, the Conservative Club? Drinks were cheaper there, and although he was somewhat short of funds, someone might stand him a drink or two. Maybe Don or Ken would drop round, his sons-in-law were decent chaps, they might suggest going out for a swift one, Don would favour the Locomotive. Decent chaps, they were indeed decent chaps, his two youngest daughters were lucky to have married such fine men, although the young men were lucky to have the Matthews girls as their wives.
He returned to his book.
… a vast heave of purple uplands, with ribbed and fan-shaped walls, castle-crowned cliffs, and grey escarpments…
He put the book down and lit another cigarette, and sat back gazing up through the swirls of smoke. His four children’s mother, Ida… Ida Walford when he had met her, Ida Isabel Penny Walford. He knew her elder brother, Horace, they had been at the Polytechnic together. March 24th, it had been, March 24th. Reg hadn’t thought of Horace Walford for a while, and never dreamt he would bump into him again that early spring afternoon as he strolled through Regent’s Park.
It was a perfect day, the grass a brilliant green, the bright April sky was blue and clear of any but the smallest wisps of cloud. The ornamental may trees were heavy with blossom which scented the air. Sometimes he had wished and certainly dreamed of being back beside the sea where he’d lived as a child, but on beautiful days like this, strolling in the park, tipping his hat to others who were strolling too, he was happy.
“Walford, old man! How are you, old chap! I can’t remember when I last saw you!” Reg raised his hat to the beautiful young lady with his friend, a petite person, with an enigmatic expression and a serious, appraising look.
“Matthews! What a fortunate coincidence that we should both be taking advantage of this lovely Sunday afternoon! May I introduce my sister, Ida? Ida this is Reginald Matthews, we were together at the Polytechnic, great chums!”
“Good afternoon, Miss Walford, how pleasant to meet you. Your brother and I were indeed great friends.”
“How do you do, Mr. Matthews, I seem to remember Horace saying that you and he used to go running together.”
“What a memory you have, Ida! Yes, Matthews and I were in the Polytechnic Harriers, but I never managed to beat him,” her brother replied. He crooked his arm and Ida slipped her gloved hand through. “We were just heading towards the bandstand, Matthews, some regimental band is tooting its horns this afternoon. Care to join us?”
Reg stood up suddenly, his chair rocking but then settled back onto its four legs like a skittish horse. Rewind! Rewind back to Zane Grey and the high sierras and the rolling plains! Rewind through those years of waiting to marry Ida, the war, the children, the failure after failure, disappointment upon bitter disappointment, until he served the Queen again in the second war, and all the time, polishing his shoes to a mirror shine, letting money slip through his fingers – the drinks are on me, chaps! Moving house again and again, until here he was in this miserable little terrace with his miserable little pension, Ida dying last April, without him ever able to say how much he really loved her, his children, his four grandchildren, his books, his well-thumbed collection of Zane Greys, Louis L’Amours, Max Brands…
Maybe his life had started before, but his life had really begun on that spring afternoon in Regent’s Park.