Wednesday, May 10, 2006

MEMOIR: How I met my wife Sybil

After I graduated from college in June 1948 I moved to Washington, D.C. to work. I was 23, unmarried, and eager to make up for what had been a cramped social life because of wartime and the need to work full time while in school. I had graduated from an all-boys high school at 17, working on a full-time job during my last semester. Over the next year, I worked while attending college at night. Then came three years in the army, isolating me from a normal social environment. After my military discharge, I crammed 3-1/2 years of academic study into only two calendar years.

This hectic lifestyle was a serious constraint for a young guy eager to date girls. One of the few I ever had time to date with any regularity was a classmate who worked with me on the college paper. Our dates were usually spent on Sunday afternoons putting out the paper at the print shop.

Washington, heavily populated by young single women, was paradise for a guy who had been socially deprived for so long. Until I met my wife, I did my best to make up for lost time on the dating scene. In the process, there were some strange episodes.

I met a girl from Alabama at a party, took her home, and made a date for the following weekend. Greeting me when I picked her up, I was stunned when she said to me: "I didn't know your mother was born in Russia!" But then I hadn't known that she was an FBI clerk. She had checked me out in the bureau's files and probably feared that I was a security risk who might jeopardize her career. I never saw her again.

Washington's then-current anti-Communist hysteria figured in my relationship with another young woman. She was a lovely girl from an upscale New York suburb. As a mere plebeian from the Bronx, I was much impressed by her privileged, WASP-establishment credentials. After a couple of dates, she casually informed me that she was also "seeing" Senator Joe McCarthy, who was then a bachelor. I quickly crossed her out of my little black book.

My plebeian background was also a factor in my relationship with an attactive girl I met at a party in suburban Maryland. She had been driven to the party by a friend. I volunteered to drive her home. She lived on a side street off Washington's Wisconsin Ave. It was foggy out and the street was poorly lit. As we drove down the street I saw a large, multi-story building in front of us which I assumed was an apartment house.

When we approached it, I asked the girl what floor she lived on. She looked at me as if I was joking. The building turned out to be her family's palatial, single-family home. As a boy raised in a Bronx working-class neighborhood where everyone lived in tenements, I had never known anyone who lived in a house.

After nearly four years of dating a wide variety of Washington's young ladies, and failing to meet the "right girl," Sybil, a native of Boston, appeared in my life just before Thanksgiving Day in 1952. I never dated another girl again.

My friends and I used to exchange girls' phone numbers the way we exchanged baseball cards as kids. Sybil was the product of such an exchange. Several of my friends shared a large house. Sybil had been invited to dinner there by one of the residents, all of whom had been charmed by her. But she apparently declined invitations to date any of them, and her phone number was passed on to me, along with the information that she was a Phi Beta Kappa. I had never known a girl with such imposing intellectual credentials. I eagerly called her for a date.

"Three guys recommended you," I told her when I phoned. (In telling the story of how we met, Sybil now insists that I cited "six guys.) She had apparently never encountered that line from a guy before. We conversed amiably for several minutes, and she agreed to go out with me on a blind date. Sybil lived in a rooming house with about a dozen other young women. When I came to pick her up, her room mate first came down the stairs to scout me. I evidently passed the physical examination, for Sybil appeared shortly after.

I don't recall details of our first date, but Sybil claims I took her to a free documentary film showing. I do, however, vividly remember our second date. We went to a National Symphony Orchestra concert. The program featured my favorite piece of classical music, Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony. We held hands, and I was so emotionally turned on by the music, that I began to perspire. I think Sybil assumed the sweating was produced by romantic fervor.

Genuine romantic passion, however, did develop rapidly, and we have always considered Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony as "our song." In addition to her academic credentials, Sybil was very pretty and had a delightful sense of humor. I thought she looked like Claudette Colbert, a popular movie star of that era. Sybil was also a bit of a clown, and would break me up imitating Charley Chaplin's walk. We married seven months after our blind date.

Her family background was similar to mine on both the religious/ethnic and socio-economic scales. Her father was a postal clerk and her mother a clerk for the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service. Her father served in the Army during World War I and was wounded and gassed in France. She was able to attend an elite private college, Colby College in Maine, largely because of a scholarship for the children of wounded war veterans.

When we met in Washington, Sybil was employed as a service representative for the local telephone company. She became a high school Latin and English teacher after we later settled in New Jersey.

Her father was born and raised in Ireland, the son of Jewish immigrants from Latvia. I will always remember when he met my maternal grandmother, who spoke no English. My new father-in-law proceeded to talk to Grandma in fluent Yiddish but with an Irish brogue that obviously floored her.


Blogger Chancy said...

Beautiful story of how you two met.
I had to chuckle when I read this.

"and we have always considered Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony as "our song." (High brow indeed :)

My husband and I have two songs that are our songs "Because of You" by Tony Bennett and "Some Enchanted Evening" from "South Pacific"

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 4:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Ajju said...

Beautiful story. Thanks for sharing it! :)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 8:30:00 PM  
Blogger OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Wonderful story and very romantic, too. I did chuckle when I read the line about Shostakovich...A great song! I wish you a very Happy Anniversary (a little early)...53 years is quite an amazing amount of time. BTW: My father came from Latvia as a little boy of 5 ir 6...!

Thursday, May 11, 2006 1:37:00 AM  
Blogger saz said...

Mort - You should write a book. Each one of your blog entries is like a chapter and leaves me hungry for the next chapter! What a wonderful story....

Thursday, May 11, 2006 1:51:00 AM  
Blogger goldenlucyd said...

A huge and heartfelt Mazel Tov from the Donns to you, your delightful wife and entire family! I really loved hearing the whole story. It was just delightful. Hope your trip back home was uneventful.
All the very best,

Thursday, May 11, 2006 2:46:00 AM  
Blogger Treifalicious said...

Octogenarian - I'ts amazing how the singles scene has changed and yet not changed. For instance:

"But then I hadn't known that she was an FBI clerk. She had checked me out in the bureau's files and probably feared that I was a security risk who might jeopardize her career."

Nowadays, she would have just Googled you. :)

It's very sweet to read about how you met your wife. It gives me hope in my own search for the right guy, but in a way it's awfully depressing as it seems men just aren't that sweet anymore. It seems people are all out to get as much as they can out of people without giving. ESPECIALLY when they are 23.

It also gives me an idea of what men think is important in a woman, in an eternal sense.

Tell me, Octogenarian, were you looking for a wife or were you just dating to have a good time?

This might be the biggest dofference betwen dating now and dating 50 years ago.

*Sigh*, more senior citizens should blog.

Friday, May 12, 2006 12:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Claude said...

Mort, I loved every bit of the story, including the dates which preceded the blind date with your wife.
How lucky you two are, being able to celebrate your 53 wedding anniversary soon.

Sunday, May 14, 2006 7:29:00 AM  
Blogger Mildred Garfield said...

Claude sent me.

I am so glad that I read this post about your dating history and then how you finally met the love of your life!

Reading your post reminds me of my dating life, one of these days I should make a post about my adventures while I was single. ( and I was single for a long time) :)

Sunday, May 14, 2006 2:01:00 PM  
Blogger Planet Akka said...

Once again I am charmed by your wonderful way of telling stories. Thank you for sharing stories like this.

Sunday, May 14, 2006 7:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Maria said...

This is my first visit to your blog. I loved this wonderful story of romance and a marriage that lasted for ever.

Sunday, May 14, 2006 8:26:00 PM  
Blogger Peggy said...

My husband and I met later in life so in all probability we won't see the 50th anniversary (unless he can make it to 90). I like your blog a lot and will now be checking it regularly. How different your life is from mine in rural Scotland!


Tuesday, May 16, 2006 12:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Fran Nathan Rutt said...

53 years ago - I remember the day well. Mazel Tov!

Sunday, May 28, 2006 8:27:00 PM  
Anonymous George said...

Discovered you web page thru the AARP article this month as I'm sure many others will. Your writings are entertaining, thought provoking, and emotional and I thank you for allowing me to visit.

Saturday, July 01, 2006 7:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Terri said...

Oh, gosh, did I ever enjoy this story, Mort! Pure romance.
I'm reading Betty Garrett's book, where she talks about how the McCarthy era affected her actor husband, Larry I found what you said about one of your dates very interesting. That was an unforgivable time in our country's history....And I'm afraid to say, I see shadows of it present day.

Friday, July 07, 2006 5:46:00 PM  
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Friday, November 17, 2006 7:01:00 PM  

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