Before You Were Born: "We both had weird families..."

Stories from our parents' surprisingly romantic youth: happy families are all alike.

By Jessie Male

I often tell people that my parents met climbing the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War, and my father shielded my mother from the oncoming tear gas. In truth, the forces arrayed against them were more familial than political. Without support from their families, the two leaned on each other to navigate post-college life. I recently interviewed them about these trying times, and how they beat the odds to maintain a loving partnership, forty-four years later.

So how did you meet?

D: We met at the big March on the Pentagon in Washington. Then back at school, after finals, I drove Ayn home to East Northport, because we had a break for a couple of weeks. And that's when I met her family — her parents and her lovely brother.

What was that like?

D: It was okay.

What does that mean?

D: I think I had dinner there. That's it. They were fine.

When did you realize they weren't fine?

D: The first time, they were fine. But before the first time I met her sister, I knew that there was something off about her. Very mean-spirited.

M: This was around the time birth-control pills came out. They were hard to get — you'd think they were illegal, but they weren't. I had to go to this doctor in Brooklyn and make believe I had a sore throat, and then tell him I was really there for birth-control pills. That goes to show you where things were at. But I told my sister, and then she told my mother.

D: I said, "Why would your sister do that?" She said, "That's the way she is."

M: And that's the way she still is. You can't tell her anything.

Mom, when did you first meet Dad's family?

D: The first time you came to the house, the table was upside down. My mother and my brother had had a fight.

M: They used to fight, and I mean fight. I mean throw things at each other. Once we came home from a date, and the police were there because of Johnny. That's when Johnny moved in with our friends the Newmans.

And that didn't end well.

M: They couldn't stand him.

Mom has a schizophrenic brother, and you have an unstable brother —

D: So they canceled each other out.

M: But your father's parents were divorced, so then I had to meet your grandfather separately. I remember your Aunt Gladys and Uncle Henry having a giant fight over [laughs] what a Waldorf salad was. I'll never forget that.

When did you get engaged?

M: April 1969.

Why only four months between getting engaged and getting married?

M: I didn't have anything but debts. I needed someone to move into Manhattan with me to share an apartment. So we had to get married.

Why didn't you guys just live together?

M: Because your father's mother was against it.

D: None of the parents would have been too happy about that. So we got engaged, and the wedding was in Mom's parents' backyard. My father was not invited, because Grandma would have killed him.

M: And Johnny was supposed to be the photographer, but he didn't show up. He threw a tantrum. And it was really hot. And they didn't have air conditioning. And Grandma brought petits fours, and they were melting [laughs].

D: Why am I not enjoying this?

M: Aunt Shirley threatened to leave because the rabbi was running late. And Uncle Irving was the bartender, and he got drunk.

D: Everyone got drunk. It was hot.


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