Back in 1951, the pubs in New Zealand closed at 6pm, while hotel bars stayed open for their guests until 11pm. Now, Rae had ever been in a pub but it seemed like the most natural thing to go for a drink before dinner. Earlier, as she had climbed into her car, her mother had warned, ‘Don’t go up to his room and stick to ginger ale.’ Now feeling slightly rebellious, Rae let Ted order her a gin and tonic. As she sat on her bar stool sipping her drink, she felt that she had finally arrived.
Dinner at the hotel restaurant was a relaxed and leisurely affair. It was generally assumed by the staff that men ate more than women did, and accordingly, they were always served bigger portions along with seconds if they wanted them. Their buxom waitress, Nancy, was all over Ted, keeping his plate full while giving Rae the cold shoulder. Although Rae was very petite, she was more than capable of eating huge quantities when the food was good. But if she was slighted by the waitress, she hardly noticed, because Ted only had eyes for her.
After dinner, they took a long walk around Oriental Bay. Wellington had never looked as beautiful to Rae as it did that evening. Back at the hotel, Ted invited her up to his room for a pot of Earl Grey tea. She was rapidly falling for this stranger whose voice sent shivers down her spine. They drank their tea and continued chatting until Ted dozed off on his single bed. Feeling tired, Rae curled up next to him and fell asleep, as though it were the most natural thing in the world.
At midnight, the ringing of the phone woke them abruptly. Ted instinctively went to answer it but stopped short when Rae screamed. ‘Don’t answer that, it’s my mother!’
She ran around in a panic, gathering her purse and shoes. Ted accompanied her to the car, then leaned in the car window and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. ‘Good night and sweet dreams, Rae.’
When Rae got home, her mother was waiting in the kitchen, a pot of tea brewing, and an expectant look on her face. Obviously, her mother was full of questions but she remained smugly uncommitted throughout the inquisition.
Three weeks later, Ted was back on business and he rang again. Her mother answered the phone, while Rae signalled to her that she was not in. Accordingly, Win informed Ted that Rae was off on a weekend trip to the Marlborough Sounds, and then promptly agreed to have dinner that evening.
That is how it came to be that Rae was home alone on a Saturday night, while her mother was out having dinner with her date. At 4am when her mother got home Rae was livid but she suppressed all interest in what she had to say about the evening. Even so, she was wounded by another snide remark, this time that Ted, fifteen years Rae’s senior, was too old for her. Somehow, Rae bit back that if Ted was too old for her, then he was equally too young for Win, being fifteen years her junior.
Still, Rae learnt something about herself that morning; she was willing to fight for her man. Next time Ted called, Rae almost tripped over the carpet in her rush to answer the phone. On their second date, they had dinner again and went dancing afterwards. Only this time as they were saying good night, Ted leant his head in the car window and kissed her gently on the lips.
Rae Baker and Ted Wood, my parents, were married at the Wesley church on 19th February 1954. In 1955, my father invented the first automated starting stalls for racehorses. Together, my parents travelled the world, visiting one exotic location after another, while he installed his invention. My mother has often said that her life truly began the moment she met my father. By anyone’s standards, my parents had an incredible life together right up until my father’s death on 26th February 2001. Had he lived, my parents would have celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary this year.