I was at my fiftieth birthday party; my mother-in-law apologized for not being able to buy me a gift. I replied “mother you have given me the greatest gift of all, your daughter.” Twenty seven years prior, sitting at a department store lunch counter, my eyes were fixated on the most extraordinary woman I had ever seen. I pondered ‘what saint had died that God had sent his most beautiful angel to earth. An angel with the mirrored face of Grace Kelly. The sculptured figure, a Marilyn Monroe would envy. Unadorned except for lipstick, eyes of blue, a blue never seen, hair spun of gold. Not a curl out of place. I was mesmerized.
I questioned management and to my surprise was told she was a lipstick sales girl at the cosmetics department. I too worked there in a different department. Working up my courage, I asked her if she would like to join me for dinner that weekend. She gave me her address and phone number.
Arriving at her address standing inside the entrance to the Health Street projects, wearing a sequined form fitting dress with a blue cape. She seemed out of place escorting her to my father’s ten year old rusted Pontiac; we agreed to try a neighborhood Italian restaurant. At dinner our conversation was somewhat one-sided I was too stunned to do anything but stare. She light-heartedly quipped that she expected to be picked up in a Cadillac or at least a Lincoln. Where not all Jewish boys wealthy? I laughed and remarked that I was working part time to put myself through college on the way to graduate school. She unabashedly declared that she had not finished high school. It did not matter for I had found a treasure.
The evening still young we decided to try out the ‘Totem Pole’. A dance club in the Dedham area where fox-trotting, waltzing, even tangoing, to the base voice of Vaughn Monroe. She followed my steps, gliding across the floor without effort; I complimented her on her dance skills. She remarked that she came from a family of dancers and her aunts were Rockettes, ‘perfection in cadence.’
As the music came to a close, I escorted her to the car and drove to the hill at Boston College overlooking the lights of Boston. I asked permission to kiss her; there was a long lingering kiss that I did not want to end. On our second date, I asked to marry her. I knew what I had and did not want to lose her. To my utter joy she agreed. We discussed our probable future, I a conservative Jew, almost orthodox, she a non-practicing Catholic, I told her that acceptance of our relationship with our families was highly improbable. She remarked that her mother, though divorced would never accept the arrangement. When our relationship had become known to my parents, a cousin had seen us together; a wall of icy silence between my parents and myself came about. They would never allow it. The family car was denied of me. Family dinners became intolerable. I came home only to sleep. She was admonished by her mother, ‘How could you marry a Jew? Never!!!’ Her reply: “I do not care, I love him.”
Our social life consisted of Friday and Saturday dinners, a movie or both. Our kingdom, a park bench in the Boston Common. We held each other, kissing, holding our bodies tightly together, obvious to the outside world. Our plan, marriage on the night of my final exam by a justice of the peace, then a self-imposed exile to New York City. A position with the department store was made available to me. The next six months we lived in a residential hotel, a hot plate, a few pans, plates, and silverware were our only possessions.
One night my youngest sister called. There had been no communication between my family and me. My parents had read in the local newspaper of my marriage. For nearly six months they had mourned the loss of a son. Now they had accepted the fact and would I like to come home? The timing was perfect for I had received my draft notice there was no other place to go.
Arriving with our meager possessions on a Sunday morning, my bride was initially received coldly, but my wife’s beauty and beauty of soul captivated my parents. My wife became a favorite to my mother. I was soon on my way to Fort Dix in New Jersey then to Fort Knox in Kentucky. My homecoming after training at Christmas time was greatly accepted the warmth.
Three months later, I learned my wife was pregnant. With my father’s help my wife flew to Kentucky to join me. Our son was born in a suburb of Fort Knox. When he was six months old, I was discharged I came home to live with my parents for a six month period.
Three years passes. Good years, bad years, buffeted by the travails and vicissitudes of life, enduring debilitating depression, years of great success, miserable failure. The angel I married buoyed my spirit, steadily steering the vessel of life through many storms and dead calms. Accepting my weakness never denigrating my love!
Now the final chapters are being written. She resides in an exceptional nursing home, her body crippled with psoriatic arthritis, incontinent, her mind slipping into hell of dementia but her will to live burns fiercely like a bonfire. Her wit still sharp in its dryness; there now is what was and will never be again. Yet, when I enter her room, my breath, upon seeing her, is still taken away. The hair thinned, the body twisted but the face is the same which in ancient times surely would have launched a thousand ships, not a wrinkle not a blemish. I want to ask her as her favorite song refrain goes:
“Lay your head on my shoulder, your warm and tender body next to mine, for the good times”
They were the best of times. As I hold her crippled hand to my cheek, gently kissing her forehead it is enough, it is enough for she is still with me, she is still with me.
I cannot build her a Taj Mahal. I can only leave this simple document for her. Now, the end has come. God has called back his most beautiful angel.