A Summer Romance That Lasted by Peggy (Nixon) Gualtieri
It was a Sunday morning in May of 1953. I was in the laundry room of the Staff Hotel in Deep River doing my weekly wash. A fellow nurse at the Deep River Hospital stopped at the door and said “Oh, Peggy, you should have been at church this morning. Wait till you see the new student minister!” My fault - - no Presbyterian should be doing laundry on a Sunday!
I had graduated as an R.N. from the Kingston General Hospital in the fall of 1947 and had come to Deep River in the spring of 1948 to work in the hospital and occasionally at the Atomic Energy Plant in Chalk River. Within months I was the office nurse for Dr. Bill Skelly, the very kind chief of the hospital. I was in my twenty-fourth year and life in the Staff Hotel and the Deep River community was exciting and enriching. The town of Deep River was alive with a vibrancy scarcely matched in any other small town in Canada. The cultural breadth of our social life was due in large part to the presence of “the Brits” – the atomic scientists from Harwell, England. We locals were eager acolytes and together we created the Drama Club, Choral Society, Music Society, Art Club, Photo Club, Sailing Club, etc. etc. I will not attempt to name all of those involved in this expression of creative talent for fear of omitting someone but it seems unfair not to acknowledge my clear memories of Nat Moss, Geoff Hanna, Truda Goldschmidt and the Carmichael’s. My own highlights are of playing Cecily in “The Importance of Being Earnest” and doing four of the five sets for “The Circle of Chalk”, an esoteric play with a Chinese theme. The backdrops for this play were a monumental challenge. The canvases were colossal in size and I painted them while they were hung on a wall in one of the old prisoner-of-war huts still sitting in the outskirts of the town. I remember being high on a ladder, late at night, painting the red and gold dragon for the fifth act. I also remember being “high” on the ladder from the pungent fumes of the gold leaf paint! I used to worry that I would keel over and not be found until spring! The photo club was another source of great fun. I still have the exceptional black and white, glamorous photos which Jimmy Baird and Gord Broomhall took of me.
It was a wonderful life but something was missing – a man. Since Queens and KGH I had had seven proposals of marriage but I knew that none of them was Mr. Right. My dear friend and fellow nurse, Eleanor “Duffy” Flett, decided to do something about this. The June Ball, held every year on the second Saturday of June and for which I had designed and painted many of the decoration, was occurring in a few days and I did not have a date. Duffy approached the handsome young student minister, Nino Gualtieri. It seems that Nino had already seen me in my nurse’s uniform wearing ballet slippers and leading my ballet class down the hallway for a noontime practice. My sartorial outfit piqued his interest. He had again seen me alone at the famous Ox Roast the Brits had staged to celebrate the ascension to the throne of Queen Elizabeth Two. At the street dance that evening, prior to the Queen’s Coronation on June 2, 1953, he searched for me but I was in my room painting a mural for the Yacht Club. Duffy arranged for Nino and me to meet and suddenly I had a date for the June Ball. I was in sheer heaven. I thought I was the luckiest girl on the dance floor. The next day - Sunday – I was not in the laundry room but walking to church on the minister’s arm. That afternoon we canoed across the Ottawa River to the beach on the opposite shore. Paddling back we began to talk about music. I had a large, eclectic collection of 78’s and Nino said “You know what – if you have a record of my favourite piece of music I will marry you”. Then I said “Tell me what it is” and he replied “No, no, you won’t have it”, but I persisted. Nino, by now a bit shaken by his recklessness, said “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and I said “Name the day!” Nino’s joke is that he ran around frantically for two years looking for someone good enough to take his place but finally just had to sacrifice himself. Nino’s widowed Italian mother was displeased that her twenty-two year old son had proposed to a nearly twenty-nine year old spinster. It was the disaster of the century for her but others thought it was the romance of the century.
We were married the second Saturday of June in 1955 and fifty-four years later we are still in love.