Before You Were Born: Marriage Interrupted

Stories from our parents' surprisingly romantic youth: They got married, split up for a decade, and reconciled just in time.

By Lorraine Duffy Merkl

My parents, Margie and Jack, were married for twenty-nine years, but spent over a decade apart in the middle of their marriage, which also happened to coincide with my formative years. They were opposites who attracted, and they prove the adage, "If you love someone, set them free; if they come back, they're yours." I recently interviewed my mom about what drew them together.

So how did a homebody Italian girl like you meet a hard partying Irish guy like Daddy?
When my family moved from Upper Manhattan to the Bronx, I became friends with Edna, a girl in the neighborhood. We used to take the same train to work. Your dad was her younger brother.

Did she introduce you, like a set-up?
No. She invited me to her brother-in-law's bar. I met the whole family and their friends. Your father was fun — life of the party.

So his big personality was the draw for someone as reserved as you?
Yes. That and he was good-looking. He looked like Victor Mature.

You once told me you'd be hanging laundry on the roof and he'd come up and suggest a drive to Rockaway and you'd end up staying there for three days.
My clothes would be all over the roof. I'd have to rewash everything.

You went along with his spur-of-the-moment behavior, though. On some level you must have liked being spontaneous.
I did, in small doses. It made life seem a little more exciting. But I was always really a home person. I liked to cook. I sewed. I liked to have company over. Your father's problem was he found day-to-day life boring. If he saw he had nothing to do, he just couldn't sit and watch a show or read a magazine. He had to be on the go. So we'd end up in Rockaway or down the Jersey Shore where people we knew were staying. He liked to be where the action is. Most the time, I couldn't wait to get home.

Was there spontaneous behavior that perhaps wasn't as exciting?
I'd open the drawer to put on my rings, and they'd be gone. He used to hock them when he lost a bet, then get them out again when he won. At first he used to ask me for them, but eventually he just took them.

That makes me sad.
Water under the bridge.

So after nine years of marriage, I came along.
I thought I couldn't have a baby, so when I wasn't feeling right, I went to the doctor thinking you were a tumor.

Thank you.
What can I tell you?

So the three of us lived as a family for the first two years of my life. Then what happened?
My life changed. I'd had a baby; I quit my job at the phone company to stay home and take care of you. Your father's life didn't change. The gallivanting, the gambling. You can't live like that — you know, bar-hopping, coming home late — with a baby in the house. At least not in my house.

NEXT: "Is it fair to say you loved me more than him?"


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