I met my husband the same year his first marriage fell apart. Theirs had been a short union, under three years, but in that day divorce was still scandalous in most circles and cross-cultural unions considered dangerous or an indication of an imbalanced mind. Which is why my my husband’s parents, Hannah and Ralph, did not want to see me, know me, hear about me, or so much as consider my existence when Stephen told them he’d fallen for an Irish-Polish Catholic girl whom they would come to love as much as he.
This was before the house in Delray Beach. Hannah and Ralph were snowbirds, spending a month or two every winter in North Miami Beach, at the old Colonial Inn. They had a regular social crowd there, a group of five or six couples, New York or New Jersey Jews all, who palled around together. They played Hollywood gin rummy by the pool, went to jai alai, ate at The Famous (kosher) restaurant downtown, took in the revue at The Americana. A few months after Stephen and I met, Hannah and Ralph, worried about their eldest coping with his failure in the marital department, sent for him to join them for two weeks, which he dutifully did, taking a room on the opposite side of the pool at the Colonial.
Now there was nothing Stephen hated more than a Boston winter. He should have been delighted to bask in the sun and enjoy maternal attentions and paternal pride. But he was lonely. After the first week, he sent me a plane ticket then told his parents his plans: I would arrive the next Tuesday. They were aghast. Not the shiksa! they cried. How can we show our faces around here if you bring the shiksa! But I love her, he told them. I want you to know her. They were adamant. We will not speak to her. We will not meet her.
Alright, Stephen said. Do what you must, but she’s still coming. I’ll check out of the Colonial and move into the Suez. The Suez was the motel next door. There were tears and protestations from Hannah, scowling disapproval from Ralph. But their son was a grown man. He did what he wanted. When he told me of their opposition, I said: Maybe we can win them over. No, I do not think so, he told me, somewhat mournfully. And maybe it was his tone of voice, of this man I loved who had already suffered enough from the break-up of his marriage, but I decided to punish these cruel parents for their refusal to meet me. I thought: Get in the way of his happiness? I’ll show them!
Basically, my plan was this: They expected a blond, blue-eyed, slut of a shiksa who would ruin their son’s life. Well, then that’s what they were going to get. I dyed my dark brown hair platinum, I bought a very short black crepe suit. I bought false eyelashes, upper and lower. Luckily, my eyes were already blue.
When I got off the plane at Miami International, Stephen was waiting for me. I saw him some ten yards away and my heart leapt. I click-clacked towards him in my black crepe suit and spike heels. He glanced at me, then looked beyond me. I had to stand in front of him and pluck his sleeve to get his attention. Uh, Stephen. I’m here, I said. He started and dropped his far off gaze to the bleached out hussy in front of him. Mare? he asked, is that you? Well, yeah, I said, fluffing out my hair with an upturned palm. Do you like it? He was drop-jawed but covered quickly. I like you any way you choose to be, he said, his voice low and heavy with subtext. I laughed. We hugged. We kissed. We got my luggage and to the hotel in record time.
The next day, he told me he had to go make an appearance at his parents’ hotel next door and then he’d be back to spend the day with me. He returned after fifteen minutes, shaking his head with wonder. They want to meet you, he said. Who knew if I called their bluff, they’d crumble like a house of cards. Who knew?
Now it was my turn to feel anxious, guilty. I brushed down my bouffant Marilyn Monroe do. I put on minimal make-up. Unfortunately, I hadn’t packed the one bra I had that I’d not burned in ‘71. All the skirts I had with me were mini. My shorts were short shorts. But I did my best in to dress respectfully to meet the Glickmans. With what I had to work with.
Our first meeting was stiff, formal. Much as I’d tried to tone Ms Slut Shiksa down, I knew I still shocked. Yet they were polite. I could see what it cost them to make the effort and I was ashamed. They told us they were going to the Bahamas for a few days with their crew of friends, returning after we’d leave to go back to Boston, but they wanted to have dinner with us first. I thought this a radical victory of young love over old world prejudice.Then we drove for dinner. Far far away from North Miami Beach. To the most out of the way, nobody-knows-you’re-there delicatessen in all of Florida. It was so out of the way it’s possible we were in Louisiana.
When we got back home, I dyed my hair back to its natural color. Three months later, Hannah and Ralph came to Boston to visit us. Our buzzer was broken, so I ran downstairs to answer the front door when they arrived at our apartment on Beacon Street. Hannah was climbing the steps, her hands busy with shopping bags full of New Jersey delicatessen and bakery goods she was certain were not available in Back Bay. Ralph was at the car, half way in the trunk, unpacking yet more provisions. Hannah took one look at me and without pausing to say hello, she called to her husband: Raaalph! She’s not a blond anymore!
It was an odd weekend. Everyone played nice but I knew there was still a lot of parental resistance. Then on Saturday night after dinner, someone suggested we play Hollywood gin rummy. We pulled a card table out of a closet and played. Hannah and I won big time. She was so excited at one point, she called me by Stephen’s first wife’s name. Good hand, Julie, she said. And we all ignored it because after all, it was a sign of acceptance, wasn’t it?
The next time they visited, she brought me gifts. Two pantsuits. Two polyester pantsuits that were Hannah’s idea of fine dressing and mine of please-God-don’t-let-anyone-I-know-see-me-in-this. We went out to dinner at a high-profile restaurant. I wore one of the pantsuits for that one and only time. On seeing me, Hannah and Ralph sighed. She looks beautiful, Stevela, they said. Their son beamed.
And they loved me ever after.