Sunday, March 2, 2008

Congratulations to mom and dad

Simply Living

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel February 24, 2008)

In 1939, a tall dark-haired man named Harold Levy worked as a haberdashery salesman in New York City. Like many other unmarried 27-year-old men of his era, Levy and his siblings lived in their parents' Brooklyn apartment.

A couple of hundred miles to the north, a petite brown-haired woman named Goldie Boxer, 21, lived with her family too. Boxer's home was a picturesque country farm deep in the Catskill Mountains. After the death of her father, her mother converted the farm into a small family-run hotel that catered primarily to a clientele of Jewish guests from the city.

Life wasn't easy for either the man or the woman. Every day she went into town to work as a secretary and, after work, returned to the hotel to assist her mother and siblings.

For him, there were customers to serve, shelves to stock and a trade to learn in an industry that was rapidly expanding.

Although their lives were decidedly different and they resided miles apart, a connection linked the two together.

The wife of Levy's boss was Boxer's aunt, and in the debonair young salesman, the aunt saw a good match for her niece. She tried continually to arrange a meeting between the two, but Levy always refused.

"Who wants to meet their boss's niece?" he said to himself, rejecting her repeated offers.

But fate intervened.

A minor operation sent the city boy to the country for some needed rest and recuperation. As it turned out, the hotel at which Levy sought his country cure was the inn owned by the young woman's family. The rest, as they say, is history.

"It was love at first sight," Levy recalled. "We were married less than six months later."

Now, that couple are celebrating their 68th anniversary -- a noteworthy occasion by any accounts but especially important to me, because my very existence depended on the fortuitous meeting of these two special people. Harold and Goldie Levy are my parents, and every year on Feb. 25, they celebrate the anniversary of their marriage.

It's rare these days for a marriage to last six years, much less 68 years.

Marrying as they did just before the United States entered World War II, my mother faced the difficulties of raising their first child, my brother, alone while her husband was stationed far away in the Philippines. After the war she took care of her dying mother and, before my birth, endured several miscarriages.

In later years, there were the usual assortment of child-centered medical emergencies -- I was quite the accident-prone kid.

My father had a heart attack in the 1970s. After that, although he gave up smoking and took up walking for exercise, he eventually had two more surgeries for heart-related problems. Later in life, my mother also underwent heart surgery, and health-related situations have been an unfortunate focus of many of their recent years.

Despite these trying times, Harold and Goldie Levy stayed true to the commitment they made before a small assemblage of family and friends on that cold February day in 1940. At ages 95 and 89, their lives are indelibly interwoven. They still live together in the same South Florida condo they bought more than 20 years ago.

Why is it that some marriages last while other unions falter? Is there a magic formula for the perfect match? To find answers, I turned to the experts, my own parents.

"Love your wife and listen to her," my father advised. "If she wants something, you give in, even if you don't really agree."

Not surprisingly, my mother agreed.

"We don't really argue about things that are important," she said. "Of course we disagree about little things, like this morning when I said one building was where we were supposed to go and he said it wasn't, but about big things we don't disagree. We just never argue."

This "no arguing" philosophy might sound simplistic, but if it's one couple's formula for long-term marriage, who knows, it might work for others.

All I know is that I'm lucky to have parents who love each other and who have had the good fortune of sharing so many years of their lives together.

"We get along splendidly all the time," is how my father summed up his 68-year marriage to my mother.

If that's not a cause for celebration, what is?

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.

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