When you are 86 going soon on 87 years old, memories of past years are more remembered and cherished than the memories of yesterday. I am obsessed with past beautiful memories and less so with many not-so-long-ago ones.
My first great love was my Yiddish-speaking Zaideh (grandfather) Moshe Zvi whom I had for only the first eight years of my life. As he held me on his lap and sang soft Yiddish songs to me, his tobacco-stained fingers wiggled through my blond curly hair, his wet lips kissing my cheeks, calling me “tataleh” (little daddy), “zeeskeit” (sweetheart), “lichtige welt” (a world of light ). “neshoma meine” (my soul). It was 80 years ago but the memories are is if it were but yesterday. I was 8 years old when he died and I have never gotten over his death . My first great love lives eternally within my heart and mind.
My second great love was his daughter, my father’s older sister Chaya, who loved me as dearly as she loved her own five children. When my parents would punish me, she was my savior and rescued me from my father’s leather belt which fell across my bottom often when I disobeyed. Her vocabulary, similar to her father’s was frequently “meine shaine kind” (my beautiful young child) and she too would call me “tataleh”. She was always ready to give me hugs and kisses, sometimes making her own children feel jealous.
My mother and father were not demonstrative. I don’t recall ever hearing them tell me “I love you”. But they showed love in ways other than words. Clothes, books, toys, summer camps, travels around the world, monetary gifts….of physical things I never lacked for anything. But I never heard the words “I love you”. They did, I know they did. They just could not bring themselves to say it.
I was 26 years old when I met by coincidence (“hashgacha pratit” divine intervention,) the third and the greatest of my loves. Our Israeli ship was docked in the port of Naples, Italy for ten hours to reload food and water supplies. Brief trips to Mt. Vesuvius and the ruins of Pompeii were made available to us. But I had been there once on a previous visit so I declined and opted to tour Naples city on foot.
Returning some hours later prior to sailing out of Naples en route to our final port of Marseilles, I met a beautiful young lady who had returned to the ship from her visit to Pompeii. She said “shalom” and I returned the “shalom”. We sat on a deck chair and she described impressions of her tour.
In the middle of her exciting remarks she apologized to me for not asking me how I enjoyed the Naples visit. She was interested in what I had to say and she paid devoted attention. I invited her to join me at the dining room table and she gladly agreed.
On the menu for that evening the appetizer was chopped liver. Neither she nor I ordered it. And pity to the hundred or more passengers who chose to eat it. They were attacked by stomach ailments which caused them to dash for a place in line at the public toilets if they were unsuccessful in reaching their cabins on time.
Alone on deck for 18 hours, she and I talked about our lives, our families, our hopes and dreams for the future and by the time we disembarked in Marseilles the next day, we knew almost everything about one another.
The ship had docked on Saturday late in the afternoon and because it was still Shabbat she remained aboard ship without disembarking and going through immigration procedures on Shabbat. It made a deep impression on me and I waited on board with her until we saw three stars in the heavens, indication that Shabbat had ended.
She was waiting for a train to Roanne to visit an uncle and I was waiting for the train to Paris. We made an agreement to meet four days later at the American Express office in the center of Paris. We even set a time to meet… one o’clock in the afternoon.
I arrived at 12 noon and to my joy she arrived 15 minutes later. In a rented car, I drove with her to the Tuileries, to Montmartre, to Malmaison, back to the Louvre, and a short walk on the Champs Elysees. She wanted the Eiffel Tower and I wanted my feet on solid ground. We bought ice cream cones when her Eiffel experience returned to base.
For the next two days, we met and walked and talked and talked and walked. Paris was in rare bloom and my heart was turning in that direction.
On the third day, she told me she was taking the channel crossing to England and would remain there for a few weeks. I met her at the train station a few hours before her departure carrying a large box of assorted chocolates tied with a huge blue ribbon and bow. She scribbled her address in Tel Aviv and promised that if I wrote, she would reply.
As the train was about to depart the terminal I gave her a kiss on her forehead and I promised to write often. And when the train was out of sight, I walked to the terminal café and ordered an espresso which I could barely drink due to the tightening in my throat.
I hastened back to my hotel room, threw myself on my bed and began sobbing. I then knew that I had fallen in love with her. During the next 10 days I wrote her 14 postal cards expressing my feelings for her.
My days in Paris were miserable without her. A week later I sailed on the Queen Elizabeth to New York where I had an academic position waiting for me. Letter followed letter… me to her and her to me. And finally I proposed marriage by mail.
Her response was as warm and loving as her personality. She happily accepted my proposal and I flew back to Tel Aviv, where we were married on January 24, 1960.
From the day of our marriage until her painful death 56 years later, not one day or one night ever passed without each of us telling the other “I love you”, holding hands, embracing and kissing.
Every day was a day filled with love. That love was taken from me on September 23, 2016 but lives on within me as the original love that once was.
I am obsessed by the memories of our love, a love that once was and a love that will continue to keep memories alive until the Angel of Death kisses me upon my lips and reunites me with my greatest love.
A love that once was and a love that still lives within my beating heart.