Wednesday, 20 May 2009

A "Dear Stella" Letter

Christmas 1951 has been and gone. It was not a happy time for me as next month, January 1952, would be one of the worst birthdays I'd ever have.

Having lied to Stella about my age she would be expecting me to be 18 and then to be called up for National Service. In fact, I would be 17, Stella is 23, and with a full year ahead of me before I would have to don a military uniform of some sort. I had to make a decision: should I make up some story about deferment of National Service or come clean? Either way would be squirmingly difficult.

My evening at Jimmy Quinn's Dance Studio in mid-January was going to be my last. I had made that decision as I travelled on the bus from my home in Kensington Avenue to Biddulph Road South Croydon. I was feeling unhappy and uncomforable and this melancholy was further enhanced as the class ended when a chap who regularly attended the classes came across to Stella and me just before we left. He asked me a question: "Would you mind if I took Stella out now and again when you are called up?"

What a question! It came right out of the blue and was totally unexpected. This chap, Alfred G, was slightly taller than me and was about 25-ish. He lived in Coulsdon and worked in the family business of shop blind supply and fitting. He was a nice enough chap; polite and even a little shy it seemed to me.

I was quite taken aback by his question. I mumbled something about 'I guess that is OK if Stella wouldn't mind ..." or something like that. I was so stunned I cannot recall exactly what I said. Alfred smiled and said "Thanks...cheerio then" and off he went back to Coulsdon.

Stella and I strolled back to her house in Brantwood Road and I was feeling quite awful. I did not linger as long as usual that evening. I kissed her goodnight three times and then said I had to try and get a bus home tonight and so she got her key out and went indoors. I got home much earlier than usual and made my mind up as to my course of action: I'd confess that I'd lied.

The term "young and foolish" fitted me exactly then. I could also add "coward" to that term. I just knew I'd never be able to face Stella after my admission about my real age, so I wrote a short letter, hence the cowardly bit.

This letter said simply that I was sorry I'd lied and felt so ashamed that I could not see her again. It was my goodbye to my first love. I think Stella was very fond of me, loved me even ... and many years later this would be confirmed. Stella worked as a shorthand typist for a firm of leather merchants in London Bridge and every lunchtime I would phone her and talk about "little nothings" for twenty minutes or so, using the phone in Charrington's accounts office. I just loved talking to her; to hear her voice. This would all be a thing of the past now. No more phone calls, no more dancing, or cinemas, or walks on Sunday afternoons across Riddlesdown, or Coulsdon or any other place. My letter ended my first love affair, an affair that never involved anything more than caresses, kisses and a deep feeling of love.

I was utterly lonely and ashamed. It was the worst time of my life for quite a while. I longed to see Stella again but hadn't the courage to face her. I dreamt of her every night and it was so real. I would see her approaching me outside Kennards and she'd smile and walk on by. This was a strangely recurrent dream too, never varying. I just wanted her to say my name, or just say hello in my dream but no; she just walked on by.

Eventually I started going to a dance, mainly on Saturday evenings. There were plenty of places to go and I was never short of a dance partner, but it just wasn't the same, by a long chalk. I steered clear of The Orchid for a few months just in case Stella and Mavis, and maybe Alfred, were there. Much as I yearned to see her face again I knew my courage would desert me again should our paths cross.

I'll skip through the rest of 1952 as most of it is a bit of a blur. Various young ladies would dance with me but none of them meant anything other than a dance partner and I cannot even recall a single name of any of them.

My love life was ended but my now ordinary and lonesome life had to go on.

11 comments:

Argent said...

Oh, Philip, what a heart-rending story! I don't think you were a coward or an idiot - just a bit young and foolish perhaps. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Star said...

Oh but I don't think that is the end of the story, is it? Surely more to come? Didn't you get back together again, even by chance, on the dance floor?
From the other Stella!
Blessings, Star

PhilipH said...

Silver: Thank you; very foolish indeed was I. But when you're young ... well, we live and learn.

Star: Because Stella remained in my heart and soul it was impossible for me to forget her. I used to see her in my dreams quite often but never in person.
About ten years ago I was scouring the web to see if I could find her again. I did. I wrote another letter to her. She replied. She had married Alfred. My wife and I were invited to her house and so I did at long last see her, and her family. I was so happy to learn that she'd had a good life and I am still in touch with her daughter and son. Stella and Alfred have both since died. Love is a many splendoured thing...

the walking man said...

And there you have it, a fool paradise turned into a reality meant to be. Well said Phillip. Well done it took a man's courage to write that letter.

Shadow said...

don't we all do foolish things like that at 17??? yes we do. yet they are the things we'll think about as life takes us further and further along the course of life. maybe to learn from. maybe to learn to let go and move on. maybe to fill the memory banks for when we need to tell this to the youngsters who one day will come to us for advise. who knows...

The Bug said...

Well I'm glad you found Pat later!

Fickle Cattle said...

Heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing.

http://ficklecattle.blogspot.com/

Vera said...

At least you have known love, both in that long ago one, and with your wife. It shows you have a warm heart!

Pauline said...

There's no point in regretting love is there? And how awful to have felt so heartbroken and foolish for so long - most of us have similar memories but may not be able to articulate them so well. Glad you finally got to see S again and set thing straight. She married Alfred! Huh.

Snowbrush said...

I think you might want to tell us how you and Stella got back together for her to say that she loved you, or at least had loved you.

Angelina said...

The young heart feels the enormity of love so much so that it takes our breath away. I would not have it any other way!