Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Valentine's Day at the Hydro
The building is gone now, but it was famous in its day. My grandpa used to tell me stories of the people he met when he worked there all that time ago. In his photo album he had a picture of a smiling young woman in a bikini, all muscle, legs and smile, her dark hair framing her face. An Amazon in a bikini. When I asked about her, his face seemed to contract and for a moment he said nothing. Then,
"I forget. It was a long time ago anyway," and he turned the page.
Much later when I was grown up and he was a lot older he told me her name. Louisa May at the age of 21, a tall, beautiful young woman. She was full of fire and fun. This was five years before grandma snapped him up.
"What they used to call a live wire," he said with a slow smile.
Then with a little sigh of remembrance he began to tell me about her. How she was the first in among her peers to get a car from her work as a legal advisor. Somebody at the council had said she was too young to know the law. She invited him to test her and when he did, she left him in no doubt that she might be young, but she knew her way around the law. In fact, grandpa said, she went on to become a lawyer, but he did not know what had happened to her beyond that.
She was the first to go to university among her peers as well and when she came back all qualified and knowing, she was the first to join the health hydro and became an accomplished swimmer. Grandpa had applied to work at the hydro and he was a dashing gentleman then. Tall, muscular from working in his dad's car mechanics shop and with dark hair and laughing eyes. He was one boy among six sisters and had been brought up to treat women well, so he was popular with them. But Louisa May at that time was resolutely single, determined to make her own way in the world and for the world to know about it too. Not for her, marriage, kids and housewifery. She was a career woman at a time when such beings were mocked and derided.
She loved to swim though. She was first in line to join up and first in the pool. From the first day of swimming she never missed a day. Being a regular and a beautiful regular at that, grandpa saw her all the time. She was long and lithe in her bikini and when she spoke she was witty and funny. He fell for her in a heartbeat, but he would not push his way into her heart. He got to know her first that was his way. She got to know him and bit by bit she got on in the world from our town. When she was high up in the law, grandpa decided he would ask her.
He wasn't paying attention, he says now, it was Valentine's Day and as usual, Louisa May came to swim first thing in the morning. Granpa had prepared the pool and went for a swim. Louisa May joined him and they swam lengths for a few minutes. When she took a break, he told her that he loved her and asked her to marry him. Her smile vanished and she frowned with seriousness.
"Don't answer now Lou," he'd said, "Think about it. You've already done so much and I will support you to do more. We don't have to do what others expect of us."
He realised then that he sounded like he was pleading and stopped. Louisa May sighed.
"You know I really do care about you," she told him, "You are the sweetest of men, but I'm not in love with you and I couldn't pretend when some other woman who was in love with you wanted you more."
He felt his heart plummet in him. The hot humiliation of her rejection made worse by the kindness in her eyes. He did not say a word. Instead, he kicked off from the edge of the pool and swam underwater, the tears falling from him and mixing with the water in the pool. She swam after him, but he swam faster and when he could swim no more, he got out of the pool and left. He told his boss he was resigning, but I suppose his boss had guessed what had happened and told him to take time off and think it over. But grandpa did not need to think it over. Every day Louisa May would come to swim and he would live her rejection all over again in his mind. He loved her so much and the pain of that rejection was nothing mere words could heal.
He went to work back in his father's car shop and for months would hardly speak. Louisa May had left a letter for him, but he never read it.
"They call Valentine's Day, the day of love," he said, "but for me it was a massacre, which is something else Valentine's Day is famous for."
Five years later, a beautiful blonde walked into the car shop to pick up her car. She took one look at grandpa and for some reason, her car kept breaking down. She got talking to him and slowly opened him up again until to her surprise and his own, he proposed. They were married and had three kids, one of whom also got married later on and had me. Now that's love for you.