May and Tom celebrated their Diamond Wedding in May 2003. They had not applied for a telegram from the Queen. Tom, a local government officer who had left his Northumberland mining family far behind, would perhaps have appreciated a royal recognition of this 60 year marriage achievement, but May would not have appreciated it at all. She carried all her life a burning love for the father who had died in her teens and who had been a socialist in the 1920’s and 1930’s when it mattered. While Tom had the final say in all things practical, May ruled when it came to people and what was politics but people writ large?
They had a lunchtime party in the small hotel in the centre of the old village and then went back home for tea and cake. It was a repeat of the Golden Wedding celebration, but everything had faded somewhat since that vibrant occasion. Quite a few of the friends and relations from before were no longer there, while May and Tom were like an old photograph, losing colour and already fixed somehow as a snapshot of themselves. A lifetime of being the perfect gentleman carried Tom through his duties as Mein Host and his loud asides of “Who are all these people?” only made his daughters more proud of his performance. May was already very ill and stayed in her seat instead of mixing, but she had dressed up beautifully in lilac with her usual pride and smiled on her guests’ delight in meeting each other again with her carefully honed awareness of other people’s pleasures. It was a lovely day and if Tom was somewhat bewildered and May struggled to maintain her gaiety, everyone else thoroughly enjoyed themselves. May and Tom had always given a good party.
In a matter of months May was dead, her strong will finally allowing her heart to stop and someone else to look after the world. Tom succumbed more and more to dementia, but never behaved less than politely. He stoically endured for 5 more years until he too decided enough was enough. In that time he never mentioned May and no-one knew what was going on in his head. He had never displayed sentimentality.
Going through the house afterwards, his daughters came across a small bundle of flimsy airmail paper closely written in the 1940’s with permanent ink. From the North African desert, to South Africa for the hospital ship home to Newcastle, on to jobs in London and Huntingdon and Sutton Coldfield, through to retirement first in Hathersage and then in Dronfield, Tom had always carried with him the letters May had sent him in the war years to anchor her boy safely to herself, his true home.