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In love, sometimes the shoe just fits

Date

John Elder

It's surely the aim of all couples: to keep their love young. AS Valentine's Day approaches, John Elder spoke to some of the folk at the Brighton Classic Residences retirement village about how they met - and how they learnt the secret of making love last.

Valerie and Barry Stow.

Valerie and Barry Stow. Photo: Angela Wylie

Valerie Stow met her husband Barry 44 years ago. She tells the story.

I was 24, a single mother with a daughter 3½ years old, and still waiting for a divorce. Barry was 32, widowed with a two-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son.

Parents Without Partners was a new organisation back then, for single people with children to meet one another. We used to call it PWP. Sometimes there were events that catered for children, and others where it was just the adults.

Valerie and Barry Stow met at a parents without partners dance.

Valerie and Barry Stow met at a parents without partners dance. Photo: Angela Wylie

I had an older friend living down the street, a man who used to take me to their dances. We had an arrangement that if he met someone to take home, I'd make my own way. On this night we were going to a house party in Caulfield South.

It was Barry's first night at PWP and I snapped him up. I saw a nice-looking woman moving in on him, and I thought, ''If he's good enough for her, he's good enough for me''. It was that simple really … a bit primal.

At the end of the night we were looking for our shoes. You had to take them off to dance inside the house. I remember him saying, ''I can't find my Raoul Merton shoes.'' (A fancy brand, handmade in Melbourne in the '60s and '70s). It was an indicator with how he was with clothes.

Myra Fisher.

Myra Fisher. Photo: Angela Wylie

He always looked great when he went to work in his silk ties and handkerchiefs. He's what you'd call a snappy dresser.

In search of these shoes, Barry went upstairs, and then came down again. ''You should see this little kid upstairs, singing all these songs and keeping everyone entertained.''

Unbeknownst to him it was my daughter Claudia, singing her repertoire. ''Oh … she's yours,'' he said.

Myra Fisher and husband Ron.

Myra Fisher and husband Ron. Photo: Angela Wylie

In the car on the drive home he held my hand and I thought that was very nice, very romantic. We had a cup of tea and he told me his wife had died, she was only 28. I remember him saying, ''I hate my own company''. I could understand it.

We just talked non-stop for hours. And then he went home to the country. He was living in Yarram, about three hours away in Gippsland. A few days later he wrote me a beautiful letter. We had a courtship by mail for some time. It was unusual for me to have a fellow. I didn't have any boyfriends after I broke up with my husband. I didn't have any other men in between. I had opportunities but Barry was the one who made an impression. He was always a dynamic sort of person, a go-getter, ambitious and he had a really good mind.

He was always studying and trying to better himself. He did his HSC [Higher School Certificate] at night, and then his bachelor of business at night, too, while working as a health surveyor for the council.

Keith and Norma Deutsher.

Keith and Norma Deutsher. Photo: Wayne Taylor

He became a captain in the Army Reserve. And he later worked as a town planner. I admired him for all that. And I was impressed he wanted to meet my family straight away and he fronted up with his children. That was quite brave in those days.

If you met someone who you were serious about but they weren't prepared to take on your children, I think that's quite sad. It was quite a big issue for both of us.

Within about six weeks we knew we wanted to be together. And we ended up having a son together; he turned 40 recently.

Keith and Norma Deutsher who have been together for 70 years.

Keith and Norma Deutsher who have been together for 70 years.

What do I think about being in love? In the beginning you cling to each other and then in the later years you are able to be a lot freer. I always needed a break from home, even if it was to go out and see a film. I tended to do that in the heat of the moment, so there were arguments.

I think you're in love at the beginning, and if you're lucky it progresses. If you both grow mentally at the same time and allow each other to grow, that's a big thing - you can come out the other side together, with something very deep between you. We've had our stormy patches like anyone.

Two years ago Barry had back surgery that went wrong and he ended up in a wheelchair. He'd had non-Hodgkins lymphoma 20 years ago and needed a lot of radiotherapy on his lower back. Plus there was degenerative tissue. All the surgeons say, ''If you don't have the surgery you'll end up in a wheelchair'', and he ended up in one anyway.

It's an incredible test of a relationship. You have to maintain a sense of humour if you can. Your world becomes a narrower place in many ways, but there is also a deepening of the relationship.

We moved into Brighton Classic Residences to make our lives easier. And it is. Barry can do a lot of things here himself, where before he had to wait for me to drive him. And because he is more independent, I am more independent.

I've started a book club, which seems to be going well. (I did a degree in my 50s and later a postgrad in creative writing.) Barry helps people with their computer troubles and has started a men's group. I'm 67 now. Barry is 74 and 10 months. And I can tell you: he's still a snappy dresser.

 

Myra Fisher's husband Ronald passed away on Valentine's Day last year. They'd been married for 60 years.

My family were Ten Pound Poms. My dad had been a soldier in Africa and when he returned to England he hated the cold and everything being so miserable. We came out in 1949. It was marvellous: white bread and Kraft cheese and it was sort of provincial. Now it's sophisticated and elegant and all these sidewalk cafes. We lived in Carlisle Street in Balaclava, where my mother had a hat shop. My sister Lillian went to Elwood Primary School but I was 17 and already working.

Three years later, we were all sitting at the table when dad read us a letter from his sister. She wrote: ''Charlie, this fellow's come out of the Navy and he's disenchanted with England same as you.''

Dad said, ''We've got to show him some hospitality''.

His name was Ron Fisher, 26. He was a Ten Pound Pom too. On the night my parents went down to pick him up off the ship, I was down at a dance hall called the Maison Deluxe, at a committee meeting. It was 10 o'clock when I walked in and Ron stood up and I fell in love. He was so gorgeous. I liked his looks and the way he spoke and the way he ate. He had a commanding presence.

I took him to the Maison Deluxe in the Broadway, in Elwood, because that's where you went dancing. No booze, no drugs, just tea and coffee. I said, ''If you want to dance with any of the girls, feel free'', but I hoped he wouldn't. And he didn't.

Three weeks after we met, Ron proposed. It was the most romantic proposal. He said: ''How would you like to marry a man with £59 in the bank?'' I said, ''It's too soon. Ask me next week.'' We only knew each other five months when we finally married. It wasn't a perfect marriage but it was a very good marriage.

Ron never had much of a profession. He'd been in the Royal Navy since he was 17¾. He floated around in shops and working as a salesman. The recession in the mid-1970s I think it was, it sent us broke. We muddled along until we were in our 50s when we opened a butcher shop in Clayton. We made a bit of money and went back to England for a visit. They called me the wild colonial girl.

We had three children, but 12 years ago we lost a daughter to an aggressive form of cancer. She left a daughter aged seven. She's 20 now. We have five grandchildren and they adored Ron. He never took them to the zoo or the pictures, but he was always there and listened to them.

All up we lived in Moorabbin for 39 years. When it got too much for Ron with looking after the pool and the trees, we moved into a lovely apartment in the retirement village. It's mostly women there; the men tend to fall off the peg first.

I told him, ''I'll show you how to use the washer and the dryer in case I die first''. He'd look at me and laugh and say, ''Myra, I'll be long gone''.

He was 87 when he died. As he lay ill, he said: ''Don't cry, because what a good innings I've had.''

Ron wasn't romantic as far as it went buying cards. On our 60th anniversary, I woke up and gave him a card and he said he didn't have one for me. But he'd written something very beautiful on the one I'd bought. So for me it's special that he died on Valentine's Day. We were meant to be. I always believed that.

 

Keith and Norma Deutsher went to the same primary school and didn't even know it. Keith talks about the romance that launched 70 years of marriage.

My cousin had a party one night. Norma Murray, as she was known then, lived a couple of houses away with her sisters. Her elder sister had been in my grade at Gardenvale State (primary) School, and Norma had been in the grade below. I didn't recognise her and she didn't know me. Our paths had never crossed. That was six years before we met.

We were 18 years old now. I thought she was a good-looking girl and I chatted her up, and made an arrangement to take her out. This was just before I had a car and I walked the two kilometres to her place. Her mother said to make sure I had her home by 10 o'clock. I took her to the pictures at the Gardenvale Theatre. It was before the (Nepean) highway was widened, so it's not there any more.

I felt a real attraction to Norma right from the start and that deepened over time and we started seeing each other. In those days you'd start seeing and spend a couple of years getting to know one another. Then you'd get engaged for a year or so, and then you'd married.

This was 1942 when we started seeing each other and back then it was almost mandatory that you'd go to the florist and buy a corsage. This was a little arrangement of maidenhair fern and a flower like a rose or carnation or a gardenia. There wasn't any tomfoolery in those days - no nooky. You waited until you were married and that was that. It didn't bother me.

We were both working. Norma was a dressmaker in Toorak. She made a lot of frocks for the Baillieu family. They were frocks for the upper crust. She'd spend three days sewing on the sequins by hand. You wouldn't see anything like that now. I later did a course in accountancy but at the time I was working as an engineer in my father's factory. I soon had a car, a Gloria Triumph, a beautiful low-slung car that would be worth a lot of money now. At lunch-time I would drive to Toorak and Norma and I would have a pie or a sandwich. But we didn't see each other all the time. Maybe once a week.

When plans had been finalised for our wedding, Norma set about making all the bridesmaids' frocks, one for each of her three sisters and an evening frock for her mother. We married on January 8, 1944, and we've seen 70 years go by together. We were blessed with a son and a daughter and we now have seven great-grandchildren.

I was always a keen collector. As a youngster it was cigarette cards and stamps. Later, with Norma, it was Wedgewood crockery that became my greatest enthusiasm. We travelled the world in search of early pieces and along the way we amassed one of the biggest collections in the world. It's in the top 10, and that's including places like the Smithsonian and the Louvre. We ended up donating some very rare pieces to the National Gallery of Victoria, and Norma and I were made life members. Norma is 92 now. In six weeks, I'm turning 92. Growing old is something you get from doing nothing wrong. Life's good.

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