Telling the history of love
July 3, 2020
I don’t know how many times I’ve told my children (or tried to tell them) how their mom and dad met, how we sent each other signals from a distance for months until the opportunity arose for us to introduce ourselves to each other. I was working in the back of the original Border’s Book Store in Ann Arbor and saw her and thought she was really cute, but before I could make my way up to her she was gone, and then all the students left for winter break and I had to wait weeks before another sighting. Late one night as I was walking home I saw her walking with friends into her dormitory, and she tripped on the stairs when she caught sight of me. Later, on a bone chilling night while I waited for a friend in the foyer of a movie theater, she walked past me on a date and watched me through two sets of double glass doors until she disappeared in the dark auditorium. The next time I saw her, I swore to myself, no matter what, I’d meet her.
And I did. As a poor starving writer I often ate a $2 breakfast in the basement of East Quad, the dorm down the street from my apartment, at a student run establishment called The Halfway Inn, or, as we liked to call it, the Half Ass. When I left after having eaten my one egg and slice of toast, I saw her go into a classroom. I’ll wait for an hour, I told myself. I had a book to read and could do that. If the class was two hours long I’d have to leave. But she came out after 55 minutes and we talked and set a time for dinner together and the rest is a lengthy history that has produced three children and many stories.
My parents met in a cafeteria at the University of Chicago. My father was a law student there, my mother a grad student in English literature, and she worked in the cafeteria, serving other students while she worked her way through school. My family must have something going on with connections to cheap college eateries, because they started talking and dating and when my father finally asked her, “What am I going to do with you? Marry you?” she said yes. And the rest, again, became family history — three kids, citrus groves and civil rights and Jewish community and many stories.
And last night I read a fascinating article in The New Yorker about King David and the veracity of the Bible. David, one of the great biblical characters, poet warrior, empire builder, flawed and brilliant and so human, and questions abound about him. Was he a king in a palace or a Bedouin wandering the rugged Judean terrain, wheeling and dealing out of his tents? Was there a City of David, or is it all an amalgamation, a fantasy of storytelling used to justify Jewish and Christian and Muslim myths? And this is only 3,000 or so years ago, a drop in the cosmic bucket, a blink in archaeological history.
What about our family history today? What do my children know about us, their parents? And their grandparents? Next to nothing, I’m sure. I don’t know how my grandparents met, only two generations ago and the story is lost in time. Do my children know that their grandfather actually proposed to someone besides their grandmother and was rebuffed? Do they know that I sat on the floor outside a classroom, fingers crossed, hoping their mother would appear before I had to leave?
In this strange, quirky time of the coronavirus, cloistered as we are, all together but still often separated by cell phones and iPads and social media, we have one of the rare opportunities life occasionally affords us — to share with one another. I doubt we’ll ever have another extended period like we are having with our youngest right now, trapped as he is at home with us, and I wonder how much he knows about who he is and where he came from. Some stories, some pieces of history have been passed down for sure. But others disappear, and like David of old, may never be known for certain again. Time to sit down and do some storytelling.
And that’s the good word in these sequestered times. Feel free to contact me through the Heritage, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m David Bornstein. Love.