Before You Were Born

Before You Were Born: From Russia With Love

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Stories from our parents’ surprisingly romantic youth: A demure piano student charms a womanizing Russian photographer in one month.

My parents didn’t know each other when they were growing up in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Dad was a bad boy who partied a lot and had tons of girlfriends, while my mom was a piano player and a serious student. They met years later in America. What got the two of them talking about marriage after one month of dating? I got them to rehash the whole story, between arguments about who had their facts straight.

S: You guys both grew up in Tashkent. How come you never met there?
M: Tashkent was a huge city. But besides that, Dad was eight years older than me! He has this crazy story he always tells that he remembers seeing me walking down the street with my sister and my uncle when I was nine years old, but I don’t really believe he saw us.

S: So you don’t think he pointed at you and said, “That’s the girl I’m going to marry?”
M: There was no way that was going to happen. I was a good girl. I knew how to clean, cook, do laundry. I graduated from a four-year music school where I studied piano for hours a day, and at night I would go to classes in order to get my high-school diploma. I was a little chubby, too. I don’t think I was his type. He wasn’t into good girls.
D: In Russia, I was partying a lot. I made good money as a photographer and I wasn’t working too hard, so I had a wild life. I had a lot of friends. I had different girlfriends all the time — I didn’t even call them girlfriends. I was dating girls, using them. I was changing them every day, every two days. Then all my friends got married.

S: So you felt like you had to be part of the crowd?
D: Some of them got married twice, some of them got married once, some of them got married three times. I wanted to have a family also. And my mother was pushing me.
S: Is that why you moved to America? To find true love?
D: I had an American girlfriend in Tashkent. Her name was Nancy. She was studying Russian language. She was telling me, “It’s no problem, you can come to the U.S. with me.” The Russian government gave her an apartment and I threw parties there. I still had girlfriends on the side while I was dating her. Then her mom came from Scarsdale to visit her in Tashkent, and she probably told Nancy not to be with me, because Nancy cooled off after that. But you see, I didn’t need to go to America to find a cool American girl!

S: Did Nancy have anything to do with your move to America?
D: No. I had a drink with her when I landed in New York, but that’s about it. My sister was already there. Actually, she had met your mother during the immigration process a year before when they stopped in Italy.
M: His sister thought to introduce me to him but it never happened.
D: My sister knew she wasn’t my type, and thought I wouldn’t like your mom’s appearance.
M: When I came to America, we lived in Queens. My mother knew this person or that person and they told her they know this guy or that guy, so I was being set up with a few guys. I couldn’t pick any of them. I didn’t like them.
D: I was in Dallas for almost a year, but then I moved to Brooklyn with my parents. My sister stayed with her husband and her two kids in Texas. I got a job as a driver, but I was also partying a lot, going to Russian restaurants, fooling around. I was ready to get married, but I couldn’t find the right person. I was thirty-years old, but I wasn’t settled. The lady who wanted to set me and your mom up was my mother’s friend. I have no idea how she knew your mom’s family.
M: That woman’s daughter-in-law’s parents were friends of my parents.

S: The woman’s son’s wife’s parents? Sounds sketchy.
M: What was more sketchy was our first date! Your dad called me but we barely spoke on the phone. He lived in Brooklyn, I lived in Queens but we decided it would be nice to meet each other in the middle because Manhattan is the place to be.
D: I think it was because that way we were not obligated to go back with each other.
M: I didn’t want guys coming to my house. I lived with my parents! I didn’t know Brooklyn and I wouldn’t go there. I wouldn’t know what to do in Queens. He just came from Dallas, and you can get in Manhattan easily. So we picked the library on 42nd St. It was right in the middle —
D: — and it was close to the train station. This way we were not obligated to each other. If she didn’t like how I looked or I didn’t like how she looked, we could turn around and go back. We hadn’t even had a chance to talk before. We met on August 20, 1981.

S: What was the date like? Was it love at first sight?
M: He came with his dad.
D: I came with my sister… I don’t remember my dad being there.
M: Your whole family came! Your sister, her husband, their two kids. And they weren’t small. They were like eleven and fourteen. They picked me up. His sister remembered me from Italy so she knew what I looked like. They all sat in the back of the car. I was in the front with your grandpa and your dad drove. We all went together to some Chinese restaurant. That’s how he is, you know. I would think, “Oh, the guy wants to see the girl alone.” But he brought his whole family!

S: That must have freaked you out!
M: He brought his whole family to look at me. He said to himself if he doesn’t like me, he’ll just be with his family anyway. I was the one who was uncomfortable. His mother probably wasn’t there because there was no space in the car anymore!
D: You knew that I could send you home if I didn’t like you. But as soon as I saw her, I thought, “She is so charming and attractive.” I thought she wouldn’t want me.
M: I was very nice, I was kind. I was shy, a pretty girl in her twenties. I was good wife material. He saw that.
D: We went to this Chinese restaurant and I think my sister’s husband brought vodka. I think I had some. That’s a Russian thing to do, to bring your own alcohol to a restaurant.
M: He talked too much, he was tall, skinny, he had a lot of hair, a mustache. He was a good catch. He knew how to charm people. So it was nice, but he wasn’t serious. I was twenty-three, twenty-four, old by Russian standards and I was looking to get married. He thought that every girl would run after him. But I didn’t know if I was going to go out with him again.

S: You obviously went out with him again. Dad, did any family members accompany you to the second date? D: After the first date, we went to Great Adventure, the amusement park, with my friends. I didn’t pay attention to her.
S: Mom, don’t you hate roller coasters?
M: I was young then. I was okay, but it still a little scary. Mostly, I felt uncomfortable. Your dad wasn’t talking to me!
D: After that, she really thought I wasn’t serious about her. When I called for a third date, she didn’t want to see me. That aggravated me. Here I am, a handsome man and she didn’t want to see me. I started pushing and sweet-talking her over the phone. Finally, I convinced her. Then we started dating every day.
M: When he had girls, they were after him all the time. I needed a guy who would give me attention. I expected a serious guy. He was talking about other girls. There was this girl in Texas waiting for him.
D: That girl came to see me in New York, and I was busy with Mom, so I told her we shouldn’t meet anymore.
S: Didn’t you parents disapprove of Dad?
M: I’ll tell you the truth — my parents were trying to talk me out of going out with him. They were saying maybe I should think about it, not rush. Maybe they saw who he was, and they wanted a guy with a nice job, earns a lot of money, they wanted parents that they could socialize with. I don’t think they saw any of that in Dad. Maybe that’s what made me think twice, too. I don’t know how he talked me into it.
D: I decided to go to Dallas to talk to my parents about marrying you.

S: Dad, when do you think you knew?
D: I came one time to her family. The parents were sitting and the children were bringing the food to the table. I realized the family was good, too. I said to her: I want to marry you. After I was dating with her a month, I decided I’m going to be married and this is the girl I want to marry.

S: In one month?
D: Yes, we met in August and decided to get married in September. When you know, you know. She still wasn’t sure if I was serious. I convinced her I was serious and not to worry. I got rid of all the girlfriends. I brought my parents to visit her parents. My father was really against it. Her mother, too.
M: We started talking about when to do the wedding.
D: We wanted to do it sooner. We decided to do it in December because her uncle had passed away a while back and in Jewish tradition, you can’t go to any celebrations or have a wedding until a year passed.
M: In Russian tradition, you don’t have engagements and waiting like you do here. A guy couldn’t stay in my house if my parents were there. We had the mentality of Russia, not America.
D: After our parents talked and we decided to have the wedding, we had a close relationship. M: The bond was pretty strong. He saw how good I could be as a wife. I knew how to take care of the house. For the guy, this is important. I would be a good mother and wife. We would have a good family.
D: She wasn’t smoking or drinking. I was looking for a family-oriented girl. One that could take care of me, but also take care of the children. M: These days, guys and girls are too independent. They are too focused on careers, not enough on family. Young people don’t want to commit anymore. Well, obviously something worked back then. We are married almost thirty years!



This article originally appeared in 2010.