On the night that we wed.
It is totally impossible to reckon but that wedding day was 61 years ago. It took place at Steiners in Newark on the corner of South 13th Street and Clinton Avenue, in the very building where I attended school when it was the Hebrew Academy of Essex County.
We’ve been through a lot, this man and I. Not always in peace and tranquility; sometimes in anger, door slamming, screaming voices. The outbursts are usually mine.
There has been drama. The death of my grandfather, Pop, took place three weeks before the wedding and it was a great shock. If a young couple needs a reminder that even in happiness, bad things can still happen to good people, that was it for us. We thought of Pop as old and compared to us, he certainly was. I was 20 and my almost-husband was 22 when my 77-year-old grandfather suddenly slipped away. Doesn’t sound old to me these days.
My mother used to say people plan and God laughs. True of course, but my own favorite story is from the preface to John O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra. The character in the tale is a Baghdadi who has heard that the Angel of Death is coming for him. He escapes to Samarra only to find that Death has already arrived to claim him. Hence, we learn that all plans are no more than maybes or probablies. There are no definites in our lives, except for the work of that relentless angel himself.
Things befell us. Heart disease. Cancer. We lost all four parents. Parents do want their children to outlive them but it doesn’t make their passing less traumatic. We thought it wasn’t yet time for them to go. Ha. As if the decision was ours! There was always something more we wanted to share with them, all four of them, but they weren’t there anymore. Thus we followed the custom of visiting their graves to tell them the events of our lives. We spoke aloud as they quietly listened. We wanted to make them proud of us, since we were their children. And we wanted them to know of the remarkable next generation that we and they had brought forth. Soon we will visit again to tell them of more weddings, and the arrival of Lior, our newest great-grandson, into our lives. Do they hear us? I think so!
This man who I married was a good choice. I recognized that very soon after we met in the tiny hamlet of Parksville, NY. It was not an unusual story at all. Girl meets boy at Catskills hotel where he is a waiter and she is a day-camp counselor. Romance blossoms. Parents approve. Three years later the chuppah in Newark, NJ.
But what was it that I saw in him? He was really smart. He could be the one to get me through the mandatory college calculus class. And he was. As I left the exam, in which I got an A, Rolle’s theorem, a nightmare which became a wonderful triumphant vision, soared out of my brain into the clouds, never to be seen again. I think, without that special tutor, I’d still be a college student at age 81. Couldn’t have done it without him.
I saw that he was kind and gentle, with no rough edges. His calm and my temper tempered each other. I was a feisty fighter and he was a peacemaker. Between us we’d learn to deal with adversity and to triumph over it.
I knew that he was a hard worker as soon as I saw him hoisting the heavy trays at the hotel, striving to get the orders right. Serving three meals a day to 60 freely complaining hotel guests was often less than entertaining. Far less. But he did it because it helped pay for his tuition in college, where he was the head of his class for four years straight, pursued by graduate schools and choosing Stevens Institute in Hoboken where years later a tree was planted in his honor by his employer, a major American corporation. It stands tall, a window unto the magnificent view it shades, the Hudson River and the New York City skyline. It remains the only tree planted on the campus in honor of an alumnus.
I myself was a casual student, doing what came easily and ignoring what didn’t, except for the cursed calculus. If, in fact, opposites attract, well, we were the proof. There is no tree honoring me on my university campus but I feast in the honor bestowed upon him!
For many years after he retired he became the head of the woodworking shop at Camp Ramah in Nyack. Just a few short weeks ago, our children dedicated a mezuzah to be placed on the doorpost of etz at camp, a touching tribute to his devotion to the camp and the campers. He was a rosh etz of remarkable creativity and diligence, spending inordinate amounts of time creating projects for his groups, especially during the long winter between sessions. Our own home celebrates Shabbat with a challah board, made in etz, a lifelong remembrance of those busy summers.
Now, in our dotage, he continues to busy himself with etz of a different sort, furniture building. Our neighbors in West Orange recognize him since he’s often on the driveway sawing or hammering his latest project. Our home is a tribute to his carpentry and our children and grandchildren gather his work and treasure it in their own homes. With the adage, build it and they will come for a visit, he helps them to design art from wood and then he creates something magnificent, something that will be significant, beautiful, and permanent in their lives.
Above all he shares a home with me, always with love and kindness. I pray for our continued life together, reaping joy from our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Schehechaynu!