Penny Peace in Sault Ste. Marie, 1963, after we’d had sex for the first time

THERE’S another way to look at Penny and me and that is to think of me as Aladdin, minus the happy ending.

Aladdin was a poor boy who, thanks to a stroke of luck, wooed and won the heart of a princess. I was the son of an over-educated and under-paid United Church minister who, through the beneficence of my aunt Marion, and my own educational laziness, found myself mixing with the sons and daughters of Toronto’s plutocrats at a cram school called Meisterschaft College.

Emphasis here on ‘daughters,’ specifically Penelope Elizabeth Peace, the daughter of T. Eaton Co. executive Gordon H. Peace. Why she found herself there as opposed to Havergal, the school she had been attending, is a good question.

In any event, after a few, very few, encounters, I began to write letters to her from Kelowna, then England and Africa. She wrote back and something happened in the air mail bags flying across the Atlantic. The result was that when I surfaced in Sault Ste. Marie, she flew up to see me, kissed me hungrily, took her clothes off and had sex with me, and within months came out with me to Vancouver where she became my live-in girlfriend.

Fed up with the weather and sensing I was facing romantic competition from somewhere, I left for England, proposing marriage from Pincher Creek, en route. There’s nothing sexier than a man who leaves you and proposes going out the door. She accepted.

However, when she arrived, it was clear her decision was very much in doubt. I persisted, like Aladdin, and won the lady’s heart on January 30, 1965 in the South Kensington Registry Office. Considering the number of men who were hustling her at Greenshields Incorporated in Vancouver and Dominion Securities in Vancouver, London and Toronto, this was a major accomplishment. Considering the difference in our status, this was unbelievable.

How had I done it? By writing, mostly. I was a writer and I wrote beautiful letters. I was also hopelessly in love with her, which helped put some heart and soul in my words. Words count. They gave me two-and-a-half really happy years with the princess and nine less happy months before a married man, 15-years her senior, stole her from under me. More or less literally, since she made passionate love to me 48 hours before she left me for him.

Penny at Brighton beach in either 1965 or 1966. The barefoot princess

I had done well; I had picked this prize peach out of the tree despite a horde of rich, powerful men who wanted to bite into her fruit. It’s taken me a long time to realize this fact. Eventually, money, power and influence had their way. The poet was left in the dust by someone in a Mercedes who owned a fashionable house, a beautiful cottage on Georgian Bay and a $100,000 sailboat.

She was unblemished when I had her. No harm came to her when she was in my arms.

I don’t think those who preceded me, or followed me, can say the same.