A Close Call

In a previous article, A Winning Courtship (QC-T February 2, 2011), I related how my father Kelso Roberts, using initiative and daring (undoubtedly instilled in him through his military training and subsequent experiences during WWI), bested a serious rival for the hand of my mother Lilian. Soon after, they became engaged and the wedding date was set for August 19, 1931, in Toronto. It was to be one of the city’s high society events of that summer.

The wedding photograph of the bride with her coterie shows there was a maid of honour, five bridesmaids and two flower girls. The bridesmaids wore identical elegant dresses and hats, as did the flower girls. The maid of honour’s dress was cut slightly different around the throat to match the bride’s, although she wore the same hat as the bridesmaids. Lilian, looking absolutely gorgeous, had her veil swept back. All were holding exquisite flower bouquets, except for Lilian’s, whose was somewhat larger and more elaborate.

Lilian’s demeanor is most serene, however, anyone looking at this photograph would be unaware that just a few hours earlier it had been anything but! A last-minute missed communication almost wreaked havoc on the costly and meticulously arranged affair.

Two factors need to be considered before relating the details of this close call. First, it will be recalled that Kelso was some 10 years older than his bride, who was in her early twenties. Further, he had been gassed in the war, taken prisoner, escaped and recaptured several times before being liberated in November 1918 – when Lilian was still a child. Then, he attended law school, following which he established a mining law practice in northern Ontario before settling in Toronto. It could be said, therefore, that he was somewhat of a “man of the world” in comparison to Lilian, who’d had a more protected and affluent upbringing.

Second, and perhaps as yet unknown to Kelso, Lilian had quite a temper. During their courtship, while going to considerable lengths to cultivate good relations with his future in-laws, he undoubtedly was on his best behavior when with Lilian, who was so petite and lovely by his side. Perhaps she didn’t yet know that he would be a most devoted husband who would never cast a wayward look at a well-turned ankle, nor have any desire to “live it up with the boys.” In any case, neither of them was prepared for what happened on the eve of their wedding.

It seems strange now, but in those days, it was considered bad luck for the bride to attend the wedding rehearsal the day before the ceremony, not to mention the rehearsal party that followed. Lilian, by her own subsequent admission, was “green with envy.” What you can’t see you can’t control – and it eats away at the imagination! So, when Lilian thought Kelso should be back at his room in the Engineer’s Club to get a good night’s sleep, she phoned him. There was no answer. She phoned again a bit later with the same result. And again . . . and again!! To use her words, she was “as mad as a hornet” when she finally went to bed. History does not record how well she slept.

Meanwhile, where was Kelso? Well, after an early arrival back at the Club, he had gone to the roof to watch the stars and undoubtedly contemplate a happily shared life with Lilian, commencing the morrow. Eventually, he returned to his room and had a good night’s rest. However, upon descending to the lobby of the Club in the morning, he was more than a little startled when the porter informed him that his fiancée had called on several occasions the previous evening and seemed “somewhat agitated” that he wasn’t responding to her calls. Maybe, after all, a shaken Kelso was aware of Lilian’s darker side.

He wasn’t going to risk her not showing up at the church in a few hours, so he undertook emergency steps. Thus it was that Lilian, looking out of her window that morning, spied her future brother-in-law pacing up and down the sidewalk working up his courage to present her with his brother’s excuses (brides and grooms being forbidden telephone communication on the Big Day!) and a big bouquet of flowers. This preventive action worked because the wedding went off without a hitch – and Lilian’s serene look in the photograph is witness to the fact.