London Letter

My big moment as father of the bride

BEVERLEY BAXTER September 12 1959
London Letter

My big moment as father of the bride

BEVERLEY BAXTER September 12 1959

My big moment as father of the bride

London Letter


You may recall that a few months ago I described how the Baxter family moved from their house in St. John's Wood to a flat in South Kensington. It was the end of a saga, the end of an epoch, as far as our family was concerned.

The story brought some charming letters from Maclean's readers but it also brought a pointed and even pungent comment from a gentleman in Winnipeg. Here is the letter in all its pristine simplicity:

"Dear Baxter: Do you think you're the only guy who ever moved from a house to a flat? Come of! it.

Yours truly,

H . . . K . . . ”

I see his point and yet it seems to me that he has failed to realize that in the lives of all of us there are moments in the unforgiving years that are like a theatre curtain descending at the end of an act.

It was so when we left St. John’s Wood and became Kensingtonians, but hardly had we settled in when my daughter became engaged to a lively lieutenant in the Royal Navy. It was decided that the wedding would take place in July just before the summer adjournment of parliament.

Not since the British landing in Normandy has there been such preparation or so much planning. Over the weeks right up to D-Day the womenfolk and their friends were planning, sorting, rejecting, while a male dressmaker completed the allcontinued on page 57

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really quite decent to the bride’s father; they allow him

to come to the wedding

important dress for the young bride.

We decided that if possible the wedding should take place in the crypt of the Palace of Westminster, where, incidentally, Guy Fawkes hid with his barrel of gunpowder on November 5. It was also the same setting where a suffragette hid as a protest against the national census that included women although they were not allowed to vote. The poor creature was arrested and fined but so indomitable was her spirit that she later threw herself in front of a horse at the Derby and was killed.

But all is not grim in the crypt. As the bride appears she can see to the right an alcove with a beautiful shining font for the baptism and the christening of infants. The church is ready for any eventuality.

For some reason the father of the bride nearly always attracts the very minimum of interest; in fact he is merely allowed to be present, which is darned decent. Yet no actor on the stage was ever so ruthlessly rehearsed as was I in the role of the father of the bride. My wife had put me through it. my daughter had put me through it. and secretly in the fiat I had put myself through it. It wasn't much of a role, but I wanted to play it well.

An arch of swords

So in due course, when the wedding hymn was sung I walked slowly up the aisle with my daughter. When we reached the altar safely 1 stood with the radiant Meribah on my arm until the hymn came to an end. Then the clergyman began the familiar words: “Dearly beloved. we are gathered together here . . .

I have heard those words a hundred times or more — perhaps three hundred times — in the course of a long life, but how vividly they take on a special significance when the bride is also your child. Suddenly nothing is at all a cliche.

Still standing, I heard my cue and had to go into action. "Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?"

Fortunately there were no words for me to speak because quite rightly the father of the bride is regarded literally as being dumb. But according to rehearsal I took with my right hand my daughter's left hand and gave it to the vicar's right hand. Following which I stepped back and sat down beside my wife. My own opinion is that I performed my intricate task with dignity, confidence and solemnity although our friends were too shy to say so.

So there came from the vicars lips those moving words which are so familiar yet seem to take new meaning every time they are spoken. And in the process of speaking those words our daughter was leaving us, her parents, to live and love as the wife of this tall, young naval lieutenant, Brian Stark. Lest I seem unob-


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servant or lacking in detail, my son-inlaw had his own support in the person of an equally tall young naval officer as best man. Just to add to the general effect there was also a naval guard of honor who made an arch of their swords when

the bride and bridegroom emerged from the chapel.

And then came the reception on the terrace of the House of Commons. The crypt could hold only a comparatively small number but the terrace was gen-

erous of space. The one fear had been that there would be rain, in which case the party would have been held in the members' dining room, which is available on Saturday because the House is not sitting. 1 wondered uneasily about having

to use it. but a radiant sun drew diamonds from the Thames as it gurgled approval in its passage to the sea.

It was not so very long ago when as members of parliament we stood on the terrace and watched the massed flotilla of the bombers wending their way in the skies to keep their rendezvous with the dusk before they dropped their bombs on Hitler’s fortress of Berlin. It was on this north bank of the Thames that the Romans came and said: "Here we shall build a city that will live forever and forever.’’

George Drew spoke and John Diefenbaker cabled

And on this day of Meribah’s wedding there was the mayor of my borough of Southgate, bedecked with the chains of office, and there was the chairman of my Conservative association, which adopted me as their candidate twenty-four years ago. And in the strewn company there was “Nanny.” who brought tip our children in the St. John's Wood house. Do you wonder that I felt both proud anti

humble? There were, of course, speeches.

At the appointed moment my old friend Col. George Drew called for silence and said kind things; and in the process satisfied both the eyes and the ears of the assembled gathering. But then in due course there came the one doubtful factor. From every side there was a demand for the bridegroom to speak. My son-inlaw (it is strange to write those words

Big Ben chimed benediction

And understandably we were deeply touched by a most warm and kindly message from Prime Minister Diefenbaker. In fact so cordial was the whole atmosphere that even Ralph Allen sent me a cable reminding me that my next London Letter was due.

There were friends waiting at our flat when we came home from Westminster, but after appropriate refreshment they drifted away. The story had taken form.

Like all parents we hope that our daughter, committed to the peregrinations of naval service, and our son married and settled in Montreal, will find their way many times to the new homestead in Kensington.

To them there is the adventure of the unknown: to us as parents there is the accumulation of the years with their rich memories. Adventure lies ahead for the children who have grown to womanhood and manhood. They have come to responsibility at a time in history when life will not be easy — but that is a challenge that they will meet with all the confidence * of youth.

Once more I ask you. the readers of Maclean's, to excuse me for giving over this London Letter to something so personal: but which of us can hear unmoved the courage, the reverence and the gentleness of those sacred words that join a man and a woman in holy matrimony?

Big Ben was striking the hour as we left the Houses of Parliament and it seemed louder and more vibrant than usual . . . but perhaps that was just imagination, ir

even after the lapse of time) coolly took his place and with his wife at his side, proceeded to make a speech which would not have been unworthy of a young Disraeli.

Flustered? Shy? Nervous? Not a dam bit. Truly there is something about the navy. A few hours later the newlyweds flew to Norway on their honeymoon. The great day had come to an end.

Back in our flat with friends we discussed the day’s events and the pleasant things that had happened. If you will forgive perhaps too personal an incident I got particular pleasure from a present which came from Ireland — from an ML whom I knew in the Commons ten years ago and had not seen since then.

We had not even exchanged letters yet he went to the trouble to remind me that his friendship was not dead. It was at once a pleasure and a reproach to me, for if the situation had been reversed I do not think I would have sent more than a congratulatory message — if that.