I walked up the path of the 1950’s semi-detached home and knocked on the fly screen door.
Within minutes my husband’s grandfather appeared on the other side. Monte, with his grey beard and balding head, ushered me down the hallway past photos of himself, his wife Irene and their three children. Past portraits of the grandkids who’d since grown and provided them with great-grandchildren. Smiling faces shone out from behind each pane of glass. A lifetime of memories encapsulated in this tiny walkway.
“Love, get Suzie a cuppa,” called Monte, raising his voice over the sound of his shuffling slippers. He leaned in and whispered, “I’ve got her well trained, see?”
I rolled my eyes. “If she hears you say that, you’ll be in trouble. She’ll trade you in for some handsome young stud.”
Monte’s eyes twinkled in delight, instantly transforming him into a young man. “She would never. We were meant to be from the moment we met. I’d spotted her a couple of times and asked her out but she turned me down. Her father was very strict you see, and although she was 18, he still ruled over her.”
“Maybe she just thought she could do better.”
He rewarded me with a booming laugh. “Well, she would’ve been right. But don’t tell her I said that.”
I smiled at him, a man who’d adored his first love for practically a lifetime.
“You should have seen her on our first date. Wearing a canary yellow dress, cinched in at the waist. When she spun it would fan out in a circle around her legs. She was the most gorgeous woman I’d ever seen.”
His eyes were misty, a million miles away, in a different place and time.
“You know, I think underneath it all, you’re a bit of a romantic. I can’t believe you remember exactly what she was wearing on your first date,” I said, frightened the sound of my voice would break the magic of his memory and cast him back to the present.
It did. He seemed to come back to me then and brushed it off in his usual brash manner. “How could I forget?”
He stood up and left the room, returning with a crinkled, faded photograph. The young couple smiling back at me looked like they’d had the time of their life. The man with the tousled hair was barely more than a boy. He had his arm wrapped around the girl’s waist and looked like the cat who got the cream.
“This is why I remember what she was wearing. Not because I’m romantic but this sits in the lounge room and I see it every day,” he said, handing me the photo.
He was right. Irene looked gorgeous in her 50’s style dress and curled hair clipped back at the sides. But it was their smiles that really lit up the picture.
“We’d been to a dance in the park. This is after we’d spent our night dancing in the rotunda.”
“And this picture is why you remember her in her yellow dress?”
He nodded and stirred the tea Irene had placed on the table for us while he waited for me to finish with his prized photograph.
I turned it around so he could look at it. “The photo is black and white, Monte.”
He blinked up at me. Confusion whipped across his face and vanished just as quickly, like he’d never realised this before. When he saw that photo he heard the music, smelt her perfume, and saw that yellow dress spinning.
“Maybe you need to admit you remember the colour because it’s embedded in your mind,” I suggested.
“No, it’s not just in my mind. It’s right here.” He tapped his chest, indicating his heart. “Where it belongs.”
Monte’s story touched me. There was no antagonist, unless you count Irene’s over-protective father, there was no black moment or some huge secret pulling them apart. No angst. Just love. This is just a love story, nothing more, nothing less. A story of two young people who liked the look of each other, met, fell in love, had a family and created a life together.
Sadly, Monte passed away two weeks after this conversation. It was a great shock to everyone but none more than his wife Irene. But that’s not the end of their story.
A year later I went to visit Irene, who by this time was in a nursing home herself. Her body was crumpled but her wit and her fire were as alive as ever. Remember the cool girls in high school? Well, Irene was the nursing home equivalent. She bossed people around, didn’t tolerate fools and still managed to be side-splittingly funny.
I sat with her one day while she had her lunch. In-between telling people off for the terrible food, she was telling me how much she missed her husband. Hesitantly, I shared with her the story Monte had shared with me. The story of the young girl in the yellow dress, going on her first date with the boy who would love her until his dying breath.
She smiled up at me, her face alive with mischief. “I bet he didn’t tell you how my father hung over the back fence, yelling at him to have me home by 10. Scared the life out of him.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at the image of Monte, rushing off down the path to the screams of Irene’s father. “No, he didn’t tell me that,” I admitted.
“How about how he hit a cow with his bike on the way home?”
“Nope. Didn’t hear about that either. Maybe I need to hear this story from your side.”
She patted my hand. “I think you do.”
And we sat there, drank tea and chatted and laughed, mostly at Monte’s expense as she told me the rest of the story he had started. Together we remembered him. We remembered them. As a couple. As a love story.
Adelaide author Suzie Jay grew up within walking distance from the beach, dreaming of life as a famous author or Johnny Farnham’s back-up singer. After a stint as a teacher and stay at home mum, she decided to make her dream a reality, writing romance- not singing, because she can’t hold a tune. She didn’t give up on Johnny all together and in her spare time sings along to 80’s hits, bakes and binges on Netflix with her own knight in shining armour- who’s more likely to wear tattered footy jumpers than chainmail.