It would be easy for me to blame myself, to feel guilty, for hauling Penny out West and then leaving her friendless, cold and alone in Vancouver. That would explain her turning to a handsome, older man for support and comfort.
Indeed, you can imagine Penny falling in love with him even though he’s married. This kind of thing is hardly unusual; I’m sure it happens all the time.
The problem with that scenario is that it’s contradicted by the letters; letters from Penny to me and from me back to her. These missives, as often as three or four a week, are filled with love, affection, warmth, promises and commitment. Penny wasn’t alone and friendless; I was extending my moral, emotional and romantic arms around her from across the Atlantic.
And she was doing the same back to me. The evidence in the letters shows a growing, mutual understanding and a strengthening bond between us.
This is backed up by actions in the real world. I write to her Father and Penny receives his permission to marry and financial support. She discusses her purchase of a trunk to bring her clothing, her finances, the payment of her Eaton’s bill, her travel arrangements. Writing words on paper is one thing; doing something about them is another.
And there are Penny’s actions at Greenshields Incorporated. There were three mailings a day (what a postal service!) and she went through every one looking for a letter from me. Her girlfriend Mary said she got so many, she was being “spoiled.”
That’s another thing. Every woman has a close female friend: Penny had Mary. They had meals together, got ready to go out together (Mary used Penny’s tub because her husband’s university rooms only had showers), and they went to concerts together. Do you think, if Penny was conducting an affair with an older, married man, Mary wouldn’t have known about it? It’s just not possible.
We know she didn’t suspect it because the first letter we have from her, to Penny in London, shows she’s confused about what’s going on. She tries to provide sympathy and support, but clearly she doesn’t know what Penny is up to. If only they could talk things over, she says. Had she known about Hugh, both the tone, and the advice, would have been different.
So to make Martha Croome’s theory work, Penny has to not only act like a woman in love with her boyfriend, she has to write letter after letter pledging her love – AND – she has to keep her affair from her best girlfriend. Some trick.
This takes us to her reunion with her family in Toronto and meeting my parents and relatives. Picture the scene. She would have to lie to all of them about her real feelings. And she would have to look happy and excited for them to believe it. I realize screen actors do this for a living, but it’s hard to believe Penny could have pulled this off, as she did, if she were just playing a part.
The letter from her Father and Maureen, in 1965, after the wedding, shows just how thoroughly convinced they are at Penny’s happiness in marrying me.
Martha’s statement, which I felt when I was in Vancouver, but which wasn’t reflected in Penny’s letters, suddenly starts making sense when Penny steps off the boat in Avonmouth. She is no longer madly in love with me. She wants to back off, live on her own, postpone any marriage plans. I try to keep things going, but within a week she’s gone; out of my arms, my sight and my apartment.
I’m only 23-years old and my world has come crashing down around me. I’ve got all those letters, but I haven’t got the girl who wrote them.
I keep working at the Romford Recorder, then get a better job in London with the Associated Press, and I continue trying to win Penny over. We have what amounts to “dates,” and we make love. It’s like I’ve stepped back in time to the brief period when I lived in Sault Ste. Marie and Penny was in Toronto.
What didn’t strike me then, but certainly has since, is finding a reason for Penny continuing to keep me on a string. Sure, I want to marry her, but she was ‘a big girl’ as she once wrote. She could have just said she’d changed her mind. The wedding’s off. Have a nice day. That would have led to some heartache, but I was a good-looking boy, I had a good job and Hell, this was London in the swinging 60’s. Finding someone to cuddle wasn’t exactly a problem.
So, I’m left with a question I’ve asked myself for years since the event. For most of the Fall of 1964, Penny showed no sign of wanting to get married at all. Then, in November or December, something changed. The marriage was on after all. When you’re in the middle of all this, when you’re the affected suitor, you don’t ask why, you’re just happy it’s happening, But in retrospect, this sequence of events seems extraordinary.
It was especially so, because Penny reverted back to the girl I originally knew, the one who wrote all those letters. The pictures from our honeymoon are deeply affectionate. Penny looks like she’s in love, and I certainly was. Indeed, in this period from January 1965 to September 1966, we led a charmed life; going to work, enjoying our apartment, walking in the park, taking day trips, making love.
Penny was calm and relaxed. I didn’t see or feel any conflict in her personality or in our relationship. Looking back, I think the real reason was that Hugh Lawson left us alone. He was taking a break from his campaign. The call from Donny to come home put an end to this idle and opened a new, darker chapter in our lives.
Which takes me back to the original question. What’s the motivation behind these events?
I think what we’re seeing here is someone trapped in a box of her own making. I believe all the letters were a true indication of Penny’s feelings in Vancouver. She met Hugh Lawson in Vancouver—maybe even had a fling with him—but if she’d been in love with him, she never would have left. That much is clear.
However, somehow, between Toronto and Avonmouth, Hugh got to her. It could have happened on dry land, but having Penny captive on a small ship is the ideal place to put the squeeze on her. And what is the pitch? He says, “I can give you everything you want: a big house, status, clothes, a cottage, children, a BMW, love, and sex you’ll never get tired of.” To which she says, “but Hugh, you’re married.” And he says, “I can get unmarried.”
Very appealing. The problem is the boyfriend. She says, “What am I going to do with him?” He says, “Put him off. Say you want to live on your own. Let the marriage plans just fade away.“
More or less, this is what Penny does. But—like a lot of married men before him—Hugh doesn’t start to divorce as promised. Penny is left with the offer but no follow-through. She’s also getting pressure from her friends and relatives back in Canada asking, repeatedly, ‘when’s the wedding?’
Hugh flies over. They have sex at a posh hotel. He makes more promises. She says, “I want to do this, but you have to prove your committment. If you don’t start divorce proceedings this year, I’m going to marry Frank. Take it or leave it.” Again, he doesn’t deliver. And so Penny calls his bluff. The wedding is scheduled for January 30, 1965. Eat those bananas.
While I’m as happy as a clam, Penny and Hugh are at a stalemate. Donny’s admission on December 10, 1964 that he’s had to sell the family cottage in Muskoka as a result of the Windfall stock crash must have been shocking, but it doesn’t change the dynamic. Penny goes ahead with the wedding as threatened. We move to a great flat in Hampstead, London is wonderful and we both have good jobs. It was the happiest time in our life together. Back in Canada, Hugh moves to Toronto. I don’t have a date, but I’m guessing it happens sometime in 1966 and that shortly afterwards he gets Donny to ask Penny to come back home. In any event, we’re back in Toronto in time for me to edit the World at Eight for CBC Radio News during the Six Day War in June of 1967 and for Penny and I to attend her father’s funeral following his death Nov. 13, 1967.
The pictures on the left tell an interesting story, and I realize it’s a stretch to extrapolate mood from media. All the same; Penny looks a bit lost in her 1961 picture on the dock. In 1962 she is a perfectly-made up, calm, rich young woman. In the 1963 picture she’s just flown up to Sault Ste. Marie from Toronto and made love to me minutes earlier. There’s a lovely smile on her face. The picture with the stuffed toy was taken at our apartment in Vancouver in December, 1963. She really is the little girl still, isn’t she? The Wedding is in 1965. She looks pretty happy. And later in the week, she looks delighted on our Honeymoon. In 1966, we’re at the seaside again and Penny looks as happy and relaxed as in any picture I have of her. Notice the change in 1967? I have other pictures from this visit to my parent’s cottage, and she’s looking worried in all of them. Finally, in 1968, maybe weeks from our separation, Penny has retreated behind big sunglasses. They say eyes are a window to the soul; Penny has hers covered.
The rest of the story happens out of sight (of me) but probably plays out as I’ve suggested elsewhere.
Penny has put Hugh in a corner, Hugh uses Donny to put Penny in a corner, and the only way out is for her to go home, become his mistress again and divorce me. She still refuses to break her marriage until he gets a divorce himself. He—finally—does.
Hugh tells Penny to break with me on a Friday. She tries, is horrified at what she’s doing, begs for forgiveness and makes love to me instead. She phones Hugh on Sunday from the Loblaws parking lot. “I can’t do it,” she says. Hugh puts on the pressure, “Tell him you’re leaving him,” he insists. This time, she does just that.
The price of re-admission to high society is way more than she expected because, somewhere along the line, she’s fallen in love with her husband, just the way she felt in Vancouver. Now she’s leaving him and lying about why. No wonder she’s crying her eyes out.
Women, generally, don’t like emotional confrontations; normally they’ll do anything to avoid them. But she has another with me a week later. Again, it’s the same response, a river of tears.
Later, when she takes possession of what has cost her so much, it turns out Hugh isn’t the charmer he appeared to be. The marriage becomes a nightmare. She starts to drink more. She doubles up on her “diet” pills. Things get a little fuzzy after that.
But, there’s no going back. Confessing what she’s done is impossible. It would turn her into a liar, a gold-digger, a whore. She’ll have to start all over again, from scratch.