For the next several months, we stopped in for a visit with Mary nearly every week.
Her windowsills were soon lined with little potted plants (I like plants) and every light bulb in the place had been replaced at least once and most of the doors and windows adjusted. (Frank likes to tinker.)
She would show us the amazing quilt she was currently working on and talk about the eventual recipient.
Then she would serve us tea.
Take our picture.
Week by week, we got to know this marvelous person.
"I haven't told you how Ray and I met," she said, sitting back in her chair and taking a sip of fragrant tea.
"No, that's one story we haven't heard yet," Frank said.
Mary was silent for a moment.
"Are you comfortable with telling us, dear?" I said.
"Oh, yes! I just need to gather my thoughts," Mary said, smiling.
She set down her tea cup and leaned toward us. "We weren't suppose to be there, either of us."
"Where?" Frank said.
"At the dance."
"Maybe I'd better start at the front," Mary said, smiling. "There was a big dance. For New Years. The war was on and people needed some . . . diversion."
"Ah. The war," I said.
"Yes," Mary nodded. "It was 1944 and we thought the war was never going to end. So any chance we got to kick up our heels and forget for a little while was welcomed. The only problem was that these affairs usually got rather out of hand."
"People tried a little too hard to forget?" Frank said.
"Yes," she smiled, "but not very . . ." she puckered her brow, ". . . I guess 'classy' is the only word I can think of."
I smiled at her. "I take it your parents didn't approve?"
"Definitely not. Especially because my best friend, Bea, had gone to one of them and ended up getting married."
I frowned. "Getting married isn't so bad."
"Well, not when it happens normally. You know - planning, family invited. The problem was that Bea and her beau got married the night they met."
"Umm, okay that is a bit different."
"How is that possible?" Frank said.
"Well, closer to Vegas, I don't think would have been a problem," Mary said. "Here, in Alberta, it wasn't strictly legal. But it was done and the young couple certainly acted as though it was a real and proper ceremony. By the next morning, there was nothing else to be done but have another ceremony. This time with witnesses. And very quickly because the groom only had a 48 hour pass."
She smiled. "So the rest of the parents in the town were a trifle . . . gun shy. So to speak."
"I can certainly understand that," I said.
"Anyway, back to the dance." Her eyes twinkled. "Neither of us was supposed to be there. Me, because I wasn't quite 18 and Ray, because his parents didn't approve of dancing."
"So how did you end up there?"
"Well, I crawled out my window and Ray told his parents he was going to the library."
I laughed. "You rotten kids!"
Mary smiled. "Yes, weren't we? Then we both felt so guilty about what we had done that we just hovered in the shadows on the outskirts of the party."
"And that's when you met?"
"Yes. Out on the fringes of 'Guiltsville'.
Frank and I laughed.
"Go on," I said.
"Well, this handsome soldier saw me standing there, tapping to the music and he came over and asked if he could get me a drink." Mary smiled. "I didn't drink, but I was afraid to tell him, so I just asked him to bring whatever he was drinking. He grinned and disappeared. A couple of minutes later, he handed me a tall glass."
Mary snorted softly. "I remember staring down into that liquid and ice cubes and thinking about how flawed my plan had been. Then he leaned closer and whispered, "It's just ginger ale", into my ear. I was so relieved! We spent the rest of the evening perched on the table furthest from the dance floor, and talking."
Her eyes moistened. "It was the beginning of over fifty years together." She looked up at us. "And we never did stop talking."
"What a beautiful, wonderful story, Mary," I said.
"Thank you," she said. She looked away. "The only thing that dimmed our happiness was the fact that we never could have children."
"Oh, Mary, I'm so sorry!" I said.
She shrugged. "Yes, well, life is what it is."
We were silent for a few moments.
Frank looked at the picture over the fireplace. "But I thought . . ." he didn't complete the sentence."
Mary followed his gaze. "You thought they were my children?"
"Well . . . yes."
She smiled. "Well, they are, in a way."
I raised my eyebrows.
"I saw that picture in a store and loved it. So I bought it and placed it there, where pictures of one's family should go." She smiled at it fondly. "So they are my family. My 'pseudo' family."
I touched her hand and smiled.
"Well, enough of that!" Mary sat up and gave her grey head a shake. "More tea?"