Link back to Chapter 39
In mid-December Owen and Wendy and I played another Saturday night concert together at the ‘Plough and Lantern’. Bill Prentiss was retiring at the end of the year, and he had decided to spend the autumn bringing in some of his favourite amateur musicians from the thirty years he had been hosting live music at the ‘Plough’. Wendy had taken a little persuading on this one, since the date for the concert was only a couple of weeks after our wedding. We had decided to wait until after Christmas to go away for a honeymoon, but still she dragged her feet about the concert for a long time, and before she finally agreed to it she extracted a solemn promise from Owen and Bill that there would be no public mention of the fact that she and I were newlyweds. She was also the one who suggested making the occasion a fundraiser for the Oxford Gatehouse, and Bill had readily agreed to put out a donation box.
Wendy and I arrived at the ‘Plough’ around seven in the evening; Owen was already there setting up the sound equipment, and he gave us a cheery wave from the small stage as we came in. The place was about half full, and behind the hum of conversation I could hear Christmas music playing in the background. Bill came out from behind the bar and greeted us with warm handshakes. “Congratulations!” he said with a wide grin; “I hear the wedding went well?”
“It was lovely, thank you, Bill”, Wendy replied.
“You’re not going away yet, though, I hear?”
“No, we’re going to Ireland for a week after Christmas. Actually, we’ve been spending a lot of time this past couple of weeks fixing up our new house”.
“Ah, so you got the new place, did you?”
“And it’s been plenty of work for you, no doubt?”
“It helps that Colin’s an enthusiastic carpenter”, I replied; “He built all our kitchen cabinets for us, and he and Emma have been helping us out with the painting and decorating”.
“Is Colin in school?” Bill asked Wendy.
“He’s doing a carpentry apprenticeship. And Emma’s in the second year of her nursing program, and Lisa just started her masters in Modern Languages, so we’ve got a rather studious house right now”.
Owen had stepped down from the stage and threaded his way between the tables toward us. He greeted Wendy with a hug and a kiss, clapped me on the back with a grin, and said, “You look outrageously happy; married life obviously agrees with you!”
“I think so; I think I might just have beaten the odds and gotten lucky twice in a row!”
Wendy laughed and took my arm; “You keep forgetting that I’m the lucky one here”.
“It’s our only argument so far”, I said to Owen with a grin, “and she just won’t admit that she’s lost it!”
“That’s because I haven’t!” she replied mischievously.
“See?” I said; “If this keeps up, we’re going to need marriage counselling!”
Bill laughed; “Well, it’s good to see you two looking so happy”, he said. “Would either of you like anything from the bar to be going along with?”
“Maybe a bit later”, I replied; “I think we should get busy with the sound checks now”.
Mickey’s trail had begun as scheduled on October 24th and had lasted for three days. The crown prosecutor had stressed the seriousness of the offence, given that the breach of the restraining order had taken place in concurrence with an assault with a dangerous weapon, and that Mickey had a previous record of violent offences against both Wendy and Lisa. The defence had argued that he had not actually used the switchblade to hurt anyone – in fact, the only person to hurt anyone with it had been Lisa – but the prosecutor had made short work of that argument; intent was clear, he said, and the crown had chosen not to lay any charges against Lisa. In the end the judge had agreed with the crown’s case, and a week later we had been present in the courtroom again when Mickey was sentenced to four years in prison with no possibility of parole until two years had been served.
As I had expected, Lisa had found the trial process very upsetting, and I was glad Wendy and I had left a few weeks for her to get past it before our wedding. We had chosen the last Saturday in November for our wedding day; we had asked Rees about participating, but in the end he had elected to sit in the congregation with his parents. Wendy’s vicar Elaine had been delighted to officiate at the service, although she had taken me to task light-heartedly for stealing Wendy from her congregation and making a Baptist out of her. Wendy’s parents were looking quite frail, but they were obviously very happy about our marriage. All the members of my immediate family were there, and Joe and Ellie had come from Meadowvale, along with Will and Sally. Merton College hosted the reception; Owen had been the master of ceremonies, and of course he had roasted us enthusiastically, regaling the guests with stories about me going all the way back to the first day we met. Afterwards Wendy and I had slipped away to a nearby hotel for the rest of the weekend before driving back in to work on Monday morning.
Early in the planning process my mother had asked us why we wanted to get married in late November, when neither of us could take the time to have a proper honeymoon. “Why not have the wedding after Christmas?” she asked, “and then you could go straight off afterwards”.
Wendy shook her head and said, “The thing is, Irene, we want to have this Christmas together, as a family. We don’t want to have to wait until next year for that”.
I saw the understanding in my mother’s eyes, and she reached out to give Wendy a warm hug. She had been doing a lot of hugging since my father died; we had all noticed that she had abandoned some of the reserve that had characterized her for as long as I could remember. At the wedding, before Wendy and I slipped away, she held us both close with tears in her eyes, whispering in my ear, “I only wish your dad could have lived to see this”.
Mike and Becca brought my mother to the concert, arriving at about a quarter to eight. They were living out at Northwood now; the day after our return from Canada they had come to visit us and tell us that they had been talking to my mother and had decided to move into the old house with her, to help her with it for as long as she wanted to stay there. “It’s not that far from Oxford”, Mike said to me; “It’ll be a short commute, but in the end I think it’ll be worth it”.
“Are you sure it’s not going to cramp your style a little?”
He grinned. “It’s a big house, Tom!”
“Well, that’s true. Rick and I used to set plastic model kits on fire at the back of the servants’ quarters, and no one was any the wiser!”
I saw them coming in as Owen and I finished a final tuning of the instruments on the little stage: our two guitars, and Owen’s cittern and bouzouki. My mother and Mike waved as they found a seat at a table toward the middle of the room, and Becca came over to the stage to chat for a minute. “All ready, then?” she asked me.
“Are you nervous again?” she asked Wendy.
“Just a bit!”
“I don’t know why”, said Owen with a grin; “She knows the songs well, and her voice is as gorgeous as ever”.
“Of course it is”, Becca replied, “and you three sound better than you’ve ever sounded before”.
At that moment I saw Emma, Lisa and Colin coming in, along with Matthew and Alanna McFarlane. Emma was now in the middle of another practicum, working on the oncology ward at the Churchill Hospital. It had been an emotional time for her, with her experience of cancer in her immediate family, but I was proud of the way she was handling it, talking about her struggles sometimes with Becca and me, but still doing what was required of her and – as far as I could tell – doing it well.
Matthew was in the middle of the second year of his Masters degree in political science, and he was also doing some interning with the Oxford Research Group. “Do you know about them?” he had asked me earlier in the Fall, when we had gone out for a drink together.
“I can’t say I do”.
“They’re an independent organization – sort of a peace and security think tank. They do research and dialogue and develop policy recommendations to try to move the world away from militarism and toward human rights and a more equitable distribution of resources”.
I grinned at him; “Sounds like that came from a publicity leaflet!”
“Well, one of the jobs I do for them is website development!”
I laughed; “What else do you do with them?”
“I’ve done some writing – they do a lot of work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and I’ve helped with some recent policy papers. It’s early days yet, but there’s a chance I might be able to get a job with them as a full-time intern once I’m done my masters”.
“Where would you need to live if you did that?”
“Probably London, although I think there’s some flexibility”.
“How old are you now, Matthew?”
“I’ll be twenty-four in a couple of weeks”.
“Quite a bit older than Emma, then”.
“Four years, give or take. But she’s older than her years in some ways, isn’t she?”
“In some ways”.
He looked at me steadily for a moment, and then he said, “She’s told you that we love each other, hasn’t she?”
“Yes. I don’t pry, though, Matthew; I don’t usually ask her for information unless she volunteers it”.
“That’s what she’s told me”.
“I know enough about the way she sees the world to know that she won’t always see eye to eye with you about the kind of work you’re interested in”.
“She’s more interested in the little picture – humans being good to each other, small scale, local level. I’m not against that, of course – especially not as a Christian – but I think it’s going to take more than that to stop some of the awful things going on in the world”.
“How do you handle that disagreement?”
“What does she say?”
I smiled at him; “Smart move there!”
He grinned; “Thanks!”
“She says it’s not a disagreement, it’s a difference in emphasis. I worry about it being a bigger difference, though. I don’t want to get ahead of you guys, but I think if two people are going to have a life together, there needs to be a basic respect and appreciation for each other’s career choices”.
“I get that, Tom. The best I can say right now is that we’re talking about it. We talk about it a lot, actually”
“That’s good”. I looked at him in silence for a moment, and then I said, “I like you, by the way. I’ve tried not to be an overprotective dad, but I can’t say I’ve always gotten it right”.
“I’ve got no complaints. Neither has Em, but I’m sure you know that”.
I excused myself from my conversation with Owen and Wendy, stepped down from the stage and went over to greet our children. Lisa had a backpack full of books and papers slung over her shoulder. “You brought some work with you, I see?” I said.
“Hope you don’t mind”, she replied apologetically; “I’ve got that paper due on Monday”.
“Of course not; hopefully we don’t distract you too much! How are you, Matthew?”
“I’m okay, thanks, Tom; looking forward to hearing you play”.
Emma had her hand on his arm; she gave him a mischievous grin and said, “He’s got this ‘making a good impression thing’ down pat, hasn’t he?”
“It never hurts!” I replied. “Listen, have you heard from Sarah?”
“She and Eric are coming, and so are Uncle Rick and Auntie Alyson”.
“Oh, good – I didn’t know if they were going to be able to make it”.
Wendy appeared quietly at my shoulder; she handed me a bottle of water and said, “Something to drink before we start?”
“Are you looking forward to this, Wendy?” asked Emma.
Wendy shrugged awkwardly. “You know me – I get nervous sometimes”.
“You sound great; you’re going to be amazing up there tonight”.
Wendy leaned forward and gave her a gentle hug. “You’re pretty amazing yourself. You should be up there with your dad, you know?”
“I’d rather listen to you”.
“Thank you”. Wendy glanced at me; “I think I’m going to step outside for a minute of fresh air before things get going here”.
“Maybe I’ll come with you”.
Outside, the December air was cold. There was a small patio area in front of the pub, with steps leading down to Walton Street. We walked hand in hand down to the street, the wind lifting Wendy’s hair from her shoulders. “What about you?” she asked as we rested our backs against the low patio wall; “Are you nervous?”
“No, not really”.
She moved a little closer, and I put my arm around her. “How are you doing tonight, Mrs. Masefield?” I asked.
She turned her head and looked up at me, and after a moment she reached up and touched my cheek with her fingers. “I like the sound of that name”, she whispered; “I like it a lot”.
I bent and kissed her lightly on the lips; “I’m glad”.
She leaned back a little, looking at me with a sudden intensity in her eyes. “What?” I asked.
She shook her head; “I’m just trying to work out what exactly I did to deserve you”, she replied. “I can’t, though. I never expected to get a second chance; I expected to be alone for the rest of my life”.
I drew her close again; “Me too”, I whispered.
We stood there quietly for a few minutes, watching the cars go by on Walton Street; I recognized my brother’s car and waved as he turned off toward the car park around the back of the pub. Eventually I said, “Well, shall we go in and do our stuff?”
“It’s about that time, is it?”
“I think so”.
“Well, lead the way, my man”.
Back in the pub I saw Owen chatting with Lorraine beside the stage. Bill Prentiss was standing just inside the door looking at his watch, and when he saw us coming in he smiled and said, “About ready, then?”
“Ready as we’ll ever be”, I replied.
The bar was almost full now, and we threaded our way between the tables to where Owen and Lorraine were standing; I saw Rick and Alyson and the children sitting with my mother, and Mike and Becca, and I greeted them with a wave. Owen smiled at us and said, “Ready then?”
“Let’s do it”, I replied.
He led us up onto the little stage; we sat down on high stools as the people in the pub applauded, and Owen and I picked up our instruments and plugged in our patch cords. Owen looked questioningly at Bill Prentiss, wondering if he was going to introduce us, but Bill smiled and gestured for him to continue. Owen leaned toward his microphone, his guitar in his hands, and said, “Welcome to the last of Bill’s nostalgia concerts”.
Everyone in the pub laughed, and he continued, “How about a big round of applause for Bill? He’s been a loyal supporter of live folk music in Oxford for over thirty years, and there must be hundreds of people in that time who got their first taste of performing here at the Plough. Bill Prentiss, everyone!”
There was a tremendous outburst of applause, cheers and whistles, and Bill smiled and waved from behind the bar. When the noise died down, Owen spoke into his microphone again. “Most of you know us”, he said. “We played as a folk group here in Oxford back in the early 1980s, but then we left university and did our own thing for a while. But now we’re back together again”. He waved his hand toward Wendy and me; “This is Tom and Wendy Masefield”, he said, “and I’m Owen Foster, and for tonight, we’re Lincoln Green”.
He leaned back from the mike and nodded at me; I played a single chord on my guitar, Owen counted us in, and the three of us began to sing simultaneously:
“God rest ye merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Saviour
Was born on Christmas Day,
To save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray –
And it’s tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
And it’s tidings of comfort and joy”.