Sunday, May 24, 2009

Love and Seventysomething

All roads lead to Brooklyn, which is another way of saying that the best thing I have ever done, other than marry my husband, give birth to our sons, and go to graduate school in fiction writing after nine years of writing non-fiction, was to introduce my husband's best friend's mother to her new boyfriend.

Can you follow all that?

My husband, 44, and I were set up on a blind date. When we first met in 1991, we had a couple of mutual acquaintances and worked across the street from each other, but we didn't know anything about each other's friends or families. One of the first things 44 did was to take me out to his best friend's summer share in East Hampton. His best friend, also named 44, was out there with his girlfriend, Abby. The bottom line was that if those two liked me, I was good to go.

Fortunately, Best Friend 44 had graduated from Midwood high school in Brooklyn, the same high school my mother had gone to. He grew up a few blocks from the house on East 10th Street and Avenue J, where my grandparents had lived for 60 years. And he reminded me of my father, another Brooklyn boy. Both men were brusque, direct, funny, and occasionally risqué, with a fondness for smoking cigars and grilling steaks. BF 44 seemed like a brother to me; I felt as if I'd known him my whole life.

My husband and BF 44 were roommates in college and share the same name. They are both first-born males with younger brothers, but other than that, they are yin and yang. 44 is reserved and diplomatic; BF 44 is bold and outgoing. We were all married within a few months of each other, so I guess you could say that opposites atract and that in choosing me, my husband married his best friend in drag.

After BF 44 graduated college, his parents sold their Brooklyn house and bought a house with a pool in Greenwich. When I first met them, Abby and BF 44 were living together in a white brick building on the Upper West side; a year after we met, 44 and I moved into an apartment in the same building. Almost every summer weekend, we would pile into a rental car and head up to Greenwich, where we would spend Saturday afternoons sitting by BF 44's parents' pool. We would eat dinner, sleep over and then head back into the city. It was delightful, and not just because the pool was big and the parking was free.

Those weekends were lazy and glorious because of BF 44's mother Candy. Candy would stand in her white kitchen and greet us with platters of fruit and vegetables. "Come in, come in," she would say as we pulled up, as if she had been waiting all week for us to arrive. Candy is petite and pretty. She is one of those incredibly loving and intelligent women who has taken care of people her whole life, and doesn't seem to have resented a minute of it. She grew up in Minnesota, and had her mother come live with her so she could help raise her four sons. For years, my husband, BF 44, Abby and I would sit on our butts by the pool, first by ourselves and eventually with our babies, while Candy and her mother prepared plates of food and brought them out to us. Those two gray-haired Minnesota ladies seemed thrilled to have a patio full of "kids" again (Really, they did!). Sometimes, Candy would make us meatloaf for dinner; occasionally she would bake a cake. It all tasted wonderful. Candy and her mother seemed very happy to hang with Abby and me---I think they were psyched to finally have some girls around.

Candy's husband Don was a gruff obstretrician with a dry sense of humor. By the time I met him, he had retired and seemed perfectly content watering his flowers with a garden hose, pulling leaves out of the pool and occasionally wandering into the kitchen to see his wife. He always seemed mildly happy to see us but didn't dote on us the way Candy did, and occasionally he seemed to regard my husband and me as the freeloaders we were.

Abby and I had our babies nine months apart (She had her first child at the end of October; I got pregnant in early November. Coincidence? I think not.) We echoed each other as our lives moved in tandem. They named their daughter after me; we took BF 44's middle name and made it our oldest son's first.

One afternoon, Abby and I were sitting by the pool, nursing our babies, when Don walked over to us.
"You two girls still look a little post-partum," he said.
I had eaten too much of Don's food over the years to tell him to go f--k off, and the truth was, he was right. At that point, both our babies were under one and we did look exhausted, with a few extra pounds. I restrained myself from telling Don to go back to tending his garden.

The years passed. We bought a house in New Jersey; Best Friend 44 and Abby moved to Westchester. They had a second child, and we did too; we started seeing them just twice a year and stopped going to Greenwich altogether. I didn't even realize it when Candy's mother passed away. We did know that Don was ill, and when he died in 2005, my husband and I went to the funeral. Don's grandchildren delivered the eulogies, and then his children gave theirs. It was a beautiful service, and the first time I had seen children participate. My Dad was dying at the time so I took some mental notes. After the service, I wondered what Candy was going to do with her time, now that everyone was out of her house, but I have to admit that other than exchanging annual holiday cards with her for a couple more years, I didn't communicate with her much except for the occasional email.

Fast forward three years. My husband and I take our kids on a sailing vacation to Virgin Gorda. On our plane are a Mom and Dad roughly our age; they are travelling with their two pre-teen kids and a grandfather. We are all headed to the same resort, so we end up spending a lot of time together, sitting on the docks, reading on the beach and circling the buffet in the restaurant. The grandfather, Olly, is a radiologist (like my Dad). His wife had just died of lymphoma (like my Dad). Olly is looking for company and conversation and we chat almost every day. He wants to know what books I am reading; he watches my kids sail. He is a pleasure to be with, but it is clear that he is at loose ends and still grieving for his wife.

His daughter-in-law confides that Olly doesn't know how to cook, write a check or buy a sweater. He teaches at Columbia, and is a published academic who is brilliant and well-regarded, but his late wife had taken care of everything domestic and he is lost without her. It was clear he needed female company but it had been a while since I had seen Candy, so it didn't occur to me to mention her. Besides, Olly hardly seemed ready to date.

But then last summer, Abby, BF 44 and their two kids drove out to our swim club. We swam, ate, drank, gossiped and watched the kids. Abby mentioned that Candy was busy going to museums and hiking with her girlfriends. She was dating but some of the guys were jerks and she hadn't found "the one." I immediately emailed Olly's daughter-in-law. I think I have someone for Olly, I typed. After several rounds of emails, we made a date to get Olly and Candy together, with us "kids" as chaperones.

A few weeks later, my husband and and I took our boys and went sailing on the Long Island Sound with Candy, Olly and Olly's family. Candy brought two bottles of wine; true to form, I think we came empty-handed. In any case, it was a beautiful August day. The sun was strong, the sky was clear, and there was enough wind that the men and children easily sailed the boat while we three women stared out at the water and chatted. Olly and Candy seemed interested in each other, but not fascinated, and I couldn't tell if they liked each other or not.

At the end of the afternoon, I pulled Candy aside and asked her what she thought. She allowed that she would go for a walk with Olly if he called, take him for a walk around the sculpture garden at Pepsico. Then she shrugged and said, "Maybe."

After we docked, Candy drove herself home and I sat down with Olly on a bench while Olly's son and my husband put the boat away. I asked him if he wanted to see Candy again.
"I'll get her number from my daughter-in-law," he said.
I wasn't going to wait for that to happen.
"I have Candy's email address and phone number right here if you want it," I said.
"Okay, I'll take it," Olly said.
I pulled out a pen and a scrap of paper.

Nine months later, Olly and Candy are an "item." She watches what he eats and makes him go on walks; he takes her sailing almost every day. Together, they go to lectures up at Columbia and then out for dinner. They are 78 and they are so busy that Candy's kids complain she doesn't have time for them anymore.

Yesterday, we went up to Abby and BF 44's house in Westchester. They just built a pool, so we did what we have always done: We sat around the water for hours, huddling in our sweatshirts, drinking wine, grilling steaks, eating shrimp, munching on fruit and vegetables, and watching the kids swim. We talked about our kids' bar mitzvahs, their friendships, their flirtations and their camps; we griped about hockey, baseball and swim teams. We discussed the tradeoffs of work versus parenting, and then we circled back to our parents and our grandparents. I was waiting all day for Olly and Candy to visit. They were supposed to come by for ten minutes and I so wanted to see them together so that I could do a little victory lap and see in person the good deed I had done! But at the end of the day, they decided the timing wasn't good and they were just too busy to stop by.

We should all be so lucky.

Below are two of Candy's recipes. She gave them to me in 1991.

Candy's Meatloaf
Preheat oven at 350 degrees.
2 pounds chopped sirloin (85% lean)
1 Portuguese role
1 onion
1 bottle Heinz chilli sauce
Salt and pepper

Soak roll in water until it's mushy.
Mix the roll with the meat.
Add salt, pepper and a little garlic (fresh or powder).
Press meatloaf into a 8X8 square pan.
Pour half bottle of chili sauce on loaf.
Slice onion and lay slices on top of sauce.
Bake for 35 minutes.

Candy's Cake
Preheat oven at 350 degrees.
1/4 pound butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 can Hershey's syrup
1 cup self-rising flour
1 teaspoon vanilila
Jar of peach preserves

Grease and flour a 3 quart yrex dish.

Cream butter, gradually add sugar.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
Add Hershey's chocolate syrup.
Add self-rising flour.
Add vanilla.
Pour into Pyrex dish and bake for 40 minutes.
Serve with peach preserves.

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