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.