How I fell in love with my late wife

maryI met Mary in the spring of 1986, at the Castle Folk Club in San Francisco.

It was just like the traditional English folk clubs I’d experienced while living in the UK 15 years earlier; a “select room” upstairs from the Edinburgh Castle Pub in the Tenderloin, where you’d buy your pints and fish ‘n chips downstairs and bring them up to enjoy with the music. Dick Holdstock and Allan MacLeod were the club hosts, and they had invited me earlier to be one of the “residents” who would each lead a few songs before the featured “guest” performers. That night we were delighted to have Jane Rothfield and Allen Carr, who were known as Atlantic Bridge in those days.

Mary had moved to California a few months earlier from Madison Wisconsin and was very familiar with folk music and venues like The Castle. Charlie Fenton, a well-known caller who had met her at one of his dances, had invited her to the club. As I entered the club I immediately noticed her and joined them in one of the circular booths. After howdy-do’s and such I joined the residents at the front of the room for the Calling On song. The rest of the evening was great fun, with excellent floor singers [un-scheduled performances by members of the audience], residents, and a wonderful pair of sets by Jane and Allen. I didn’t see Mary again for nearly two months.

There was a very good Friday night song circle that met in a church in Ross called The Marin Folk Club. It had a very different format than The Castle, more typical of the American scene, in that there were no “performers,” just people taking turns singing, or requesting a song, or passing, however they chose. I didn’t recognize Mary as the woman with Charlie who I’d met at the Castle before, but just a very attractive person totally concentrating on her handwork. When her turn came she looked up at me and requested Shoals of Herring, the perfect request for me, as my role model, Louie Killen, sang and played it on English concertina. She had heard him sing it in Madison, as I had in Tyneside.

I was smitten. She left kind of early, and as she was gathering her things, I gestured to my buddy Ernie Noyes that it was time for us to leave, too. We all walked out to the parking lot together and I asked her name. My head was buzzing. As I drove Ernie home she was all I could talk about. “Do you think she’ll be at the Shamarama in Oakland tomorrow??” We’d see.

shamaramaNext day I had arranged to meet my friend Sara at the party in Oakland to score some weed. When I got there I saw Mary WAS there, and my heart leapt! I said a brief “hi” and went off to make my deal. She was unaware of why I was gone so long, and when I finally reappeared, welcomed me warmly.

It was a fairly hot day and she wore a little, thin country dress. I noticed how calm and happy she seemed and told her how much that appealed to me. This was a music party and I had my instruments, but I didn’t play a note that day, just talked to Mary. After a couple of hours it cooled down considerably and I asked her if she’d walk me to my car to fetch my sweater, and she agreed.

When we got to my car I popped the trunk and pulled out the coarse, gray, homemade Irish cardigan with knotted leather buttons that I’d purchased years before at the Dublin Flea Market. She loved it, and in her little dress she looked really cold, so I wrapped it around her and said, “No, here, YOU wear it”.

We took a very pleasant walk around the cool neighborhood on the Berkeley/Oakland border. At one point we stopped at a beautiful rose bush in full bloom and both bent our head to smell the same rose at the same time. With our heads so close together, I kissed her, and told her she was absolutely gorgeous. That was IT!

She had come to the party with Charlie [thank you AGAIN!] and left her car at his house in San Francisco. We went and found him, to let him know we were leaving, and that she’d be getting a ride to retrieve her car.

We both lived in Marin at the time. I’d mentioned somewhere in our long talk at the party that I lived in Mill Valley on Summit Avenue in a large old building that was being painted and had scaffolding all around it. I don’t know why I thought that would be of interest. Her brother had lived in Mill Valley a few years before, but Mary was not very focused on geography. She was an extremely shy person, and this was part of why she always did handwork at parties, so as to avoid engaging strangers. Mary worked as a nanny and lived a bit further north in Greenbrae.

She agreed to come home with me “for a cup of tea,” after we got her car. We traveled north in tandem in our cars from the Mission District through the city and over the Golden Gate Bridge. She was obviously very happy, singing along with the radio as she drove along. As we got to my preferred Stinson/Mill Valley exit, I waved my arms wildly to tell her this was where to get off. She didn’t see me. I got off. She continued north, assumedly to her home in Greenbrae. I was crushed.

I went home dejectedly and hugged the cat. The large building I lived in was cut into 10 apartments, close to Mill Valley’s downtown, but at a curvy, dark bend in the road. I turned out the porch light and went to bed.

At 1:30 in the morning the doorbell rang. The most beautiful, shyest woman in the world had taken the chance of her life, by ringing the correct doorbell, and was there, standing on my porch. This was one of many miraculous events to follow in our life together, which had just begun.

We made tea, which went very cold from lack of attention as we made passionate love. Next morning we breakfasted and basked in our bliss. After she left I found a note at the side of the bed, which read “Take a hike with a new friend.”

hikeWe did, at one of my favorite places, Azalea Hill, which is at the top of the Fairfax-Bolinas Road. We talked so easily and freely of all matter of things. She told me she had an 11-year old son, Paul, who was deaf. I told her that was wonderful and that I was deaf for a while at his exact age. We discussed how my Jewish family felt about Germans and how her German family felt about Jews.

We’d been on the trail for a couple of hours and were heading back towards the car when I excused myself to go off and take a leak. As I was returning she called over to me to say she’d found something interesting on the ground at this spot.


It was a German Pfennig from 1772!



At the edge of a dirt fire road in Fairfax!!
It was our sign that our family’s fears were not for us.


Shortly after I first told Mary I loved her I noticed how much more I loved myself now that I had someone to be nice to. Didn’t know I could be that nice.

Mary's Engagement Dad story

18. Wedding

Dutch MaryAudienceE CrescentAlea & Paul Visit Mary