“You know, I’ve never told anyone this Claire, but, I loved a woman once. I first saw Jenny at a tea dance in the community centre. It was a cold night, I remember that, and when she walked in she was wrapped up in a coat with a woollen hat on. I watched her go into the cloak room and when she immerged she took my breath away. Her red hair fell in soft curls around her face and her smile as she scanned the room, her bottom lip full and red like the roses that used to grow in the garden. I was taken by a desire to kiss her, wondering if she would taste as fresh as she looked.”
Claire sat mesmerised by her grandmothers story. This was not how she expected this conversation to go. It had taken her years to tell her mum she was gay, but now she had met Louise and they wanted to get married. She had felt so nervous coming here today, but as soon as she had blerted out, “gran I’ve got something to tell you, erm, I’ve met someone and we’re getting married. Her name is Louise,” her grandmother had started her tale.
“I was there with some friends from the nursing school, you see, one of our nights off. We had to be back in the nurses home by 10 or matron would have our hides, so we always arrived early. Vera, you remember Vera? She went to school with Jenny, and she had invited her to join us. Vera waved to get Jenny’s attention and she came over. She walked over, her skirt swishing side to side. Oh Claire she was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. It wasn’t allowed of course back then, what I felt.” She grimaced ruefully taking Claire’s hand in hers, and giving it a squeeze.
“Jenny was older than me, just a few years, and when the music started, she asked me to dance with her. It wasn’t unheard of for girls to dance together. So many men had died during the war, and during the war well, there were very few organised dances so dancing to the radio in your front room was the only way to dance! Anyway, as the opening notes to The Andrews Sisters In The Mood rang out, we rushed to find a space on the dance floor among the many couples, many of them were girlfriends dancing together hoping a boy would cut in, but I wasn’t.”
“The moment she took my hand, I felt a connection Claire, I got goosebumps. We twirled and kicked out our steps as we danced, and when that song ended we danced the next. I never felt so good as I did dancing with Jenny. We met again the following week at the dance, this time Jenny walked me back to the nurses home. We walked arm in arm, chatting and laughing. No one thought anything of it, you see, because it wasn’t unusual to see girls walking arm in arm. I couldn’t go to the dance the following week because I was working, so we made plans to go to the cinema instead.”
“There was a Rex Harrison movie on, The Rakes Progress, but truth be told, I don’t remember much. We held hands sat there in the dark, our fingers twined together the way we wanted to be, but couldn’t.”
Claire made them a cup of tea, her mind reeling. Her grandmother had loved this woman, what had happened? Of course the 1940’s were not good years to be gay. It was illegal for a start. Once more Claire said a silent thank you to those who had campaigned and fought that war so she could love and marry whomever she chose. She took the cups of tea to the front room and resumed her place next to her grandmother on the sofa. Claire sat silently waiting for her to continue.
Peggy turned her eyes back to Claire and studied her granddaughter. She reminded her of herself when she way young, the long dark hair with natural curls that often reacted badly to the heat. Straighteners were a modern miracle, although today Claire’s hair was down, the curls coming half way down her back. Her own hair, now silver grey, was curled up in a bun. Jenny had loved her hair. Often commenting that she was like a wild woman with her curls, and Peggy would laugh back that she would give anything to have the vibrant red curls instead of her wild dark locks.
“We saw each other as often as we could,” Peggy continued. “Going to the dances or cinema but in the summer of that year, Jenny got engaged. It was a man who worked with her father, and a good match, so her parents encouraged her to accept, which she did. I remember she took me to the park with a bag of chips and told me the news. We both cried. It would be the end of our friendship, he was moving to manage one of the branches and they would be moving away. Jenny thought her parents had done it deliberately because they did not like our friendship. We hardly saw one another after that. When she came to the dances Geoffrey came with her. They danced together now and I sat on the sidelines.”
Claire found tears forming in her eyes as her grandmother spoke. It was clear she had loved this woman and her heart was breaking retelling the tale. With a start Claire realised this was the first time she had ever told this story, the first time she had shared this part of herself. Claire put her arm around her grans shoulders. “Oh Gran, I am so sorry,” she whispered. “Did she go?”
Peggy nodded. She married him 12 weeks after the announcement. I went to the wedding of course. It broke my heart, but I wanted to see her happy, and to wish her well. And, she did look happy Claire, truly she did. She wore a simple white dress, and Geoffrey looked like he couldn’t believe his luck. I knew he was a kind man because she had told me so but oh how my heart broke knowing we would never see each other again. They were going north the following morning.”
“Half way through the reception which was held in the community centre, she found me crying in the bathroom. Through the walls we could hear our song, the one we first danced to, by the Andrews Sisters, In The Mood. We didn’t speak, we just held each other, there in the bathroom and then I left. I never saw her again.”
Peggy didn’t tell Claire that Jenny had lifted her chin and kissed her. A gentle kiss at first that had deepened. For that whole song they kissed and held each other, oblivious to the location, in those few moments there was nothing else in the whole world but them and the feelings they could not, would not name. When the kiss had ended, Peggy had fled the reception, going straight home. Eighteen months later she had met John, Claire’s grandfather, and six months later they wed. He was nice enough and she loved him in her own way, but Jenny would always have her heart.
I hope you enjoyed my story for Musically Ranting #3 ‘1940s’, click HERE for more posts inspired by the topic.