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The love affair began with a 1939 Buick convertible. The only hitch for Marion Nicholson? Her father bought it for her brother, not for her. For the "car-mad" young woman, it would be the start of a decades-long passion for cars.

When she was 24, she bought her own, a new 1950 Mercury Coupe. "My friend said she wanted a baby, a house and a husband. I wanted an apartment, a fur coat and a car." She was told she drove like a man, she says with a hint of mischief.

Marion Nicholson is tiny and elegant. She plucks from piles of photos on the coffee table as we speak, 51 years of a marriage with husband Tom before her. Notes in hand, he watches from across the room, immaculately dressed in vest and tie. His attention to detail reveals the engineer he was before retirement, arriving here from England in 1953 with Avro.

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Before they met, Tom and Marion crisscrossed the country in their jobs. Marion taught Grades 1 and 2 before moving into administration, trading in cars every few years, loving both the luxury and the freedom. She ticks through the cars that came before Tom – the Mercury, a 1954 Ford and the 1956 Buick hardtop she had when she met him.

In 1958 at a dance, Marion says Tom made a beeline for her across the dance floor. Tom mulls over the word beeline. She confirms it was a beeline, and he acquiesces. Love at first sight? "I'd been in love three times. From age 20 to 30, I had many romances. But Tom was the last," she says. "I wouldn't give him my number that night. I thought he was responsible, a great dancer and quite good looking, but he wasn't sure what his prospects were. He let me talk while we danced. I like to talk while I dance."

From bits of information that night and a directory, Tom found her number. Mutual love bloomed, their temperaments finding a rhythm that would last a lifetime. "I told her if she wanted to get kissed, she had to quit smoking," says Tom. Marion quit smoking. "I realized I could always get another cigarette. He saved my life."

On a trip from Toronto to Muskoka Sands one summer, Tom's 1955 Ford Fairlane rolled to a stop. "I always had my tools with me, and that car had a straight-six. Very easy to work on. Marion sunned herself on the rocks, and I fixed the car. An hour later, we were on our way. I think she liked that I could take care of things."

Marion hands me a picture from that trip, the two of them smiling inside a cottage. "He thought something else was going to happen on that trip. It didn't."

Any favourite car? "We had a 1974 Ford Maverick. Marion quite liked that one." Marion gives him a direct look. "A Maverick? My favourite was the first Cadillac we had."

"But we took that Maverick twice to the East Coast!"

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"Well, I enjoyed the East Coast," comes the dry retort.

There's a big difference between a Maverick and a Cadillac. Long retired with just one car, I ask how they reach agreement.

"I learned long ago it is easier for me to drive an expensive car than for Marion to drive a cheaper one," he says. It is Marion who haggles and buys the cars.

She's itching to replace their current 1999 Cadillac Seville; she'll likely get her way.

Marion and Tom Nicholson crisscrossed Canada for work before crossing paths at a dance in 1958.

They speak in tandem, yet never over each other. Their words braid around the stories they tell; gentle corrections, tiny asides, patience and passion in equal amounts. "I'm dramatic," says Marion "and Tom is not. He's a few years younger than I am. Always go for a younger one," she tells me quietly. I leaf through a stack of cards. Each one, more than 51 years' worth, filled with original poetry from Marion to Tom.

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For all the talk of cars and courtship, it's these words of poet John Newlove that Marion slips to me as I leave:

"… the greatest beauty is to be alive, forgetting nothing."

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