With the divorce rate hovering around 50%, it’s always nice to meet a couple as deeply in love today as when they first married.
Hy and Florence were just that couple, only they’d been married longer than just about anyone else I’d ever met. Hy was 92 and Florence was 90. They proudly told me they’d been married for 69 years.
Even though they were both in their 90’s their love for each other was evident in the way they sat, held hands and spoke of one another.
Finally I asked the question that had been percolating in my mind.
“So how do you make a marriage work for so long?”
Florence spoke first, in an earnest tone. “We accepted each other’s faults.”
Hy looked at me and winked, “I went deaf at a young age…”
They were a very funny couple. Unfortunately, shortly after I wrote this story Hy passed away. I am glad I was able to meet him, and them, and hear a little bit about the special life they shared together.
I hope you enjoy.
Keep The Camel
The blue sky stretched tight across the horizon and contrasted sharply with the whitewashed limestone buildings of Jerusalem. Florence and Hy had just left the Wailing Wall and were winding through the labyrinth of narrow paths surrounding the Old Temple when they came upon an Arabic man tending to a flock of camels. The man was wearing a white cotton robe that stretched to the ground and a red and white head scarf that was kept in place by a thick black band. As they passed, the man looked at Florence and uttered something unintelligible.
“What was that?” Hy asked the man.
The man glowered at Florence and repeated himself.
“I’ll be right back.” Hy said as he left Florence standing in the narrow alley and walked over to the Arabic man. “Stay here.”
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and Florence could feel the hot Middle Eastern sun beating down on her brow as she waited for Hy to return. The air was occasionally punctuated by the guttural burps and belches of the camels tied to the fence and the muted conversation between Hy and the Arabic man. Florence chuckled to herself. She was in the middle of Jerusalem waiting in an alley while her husband had a conversation with a camel shepherd. How did they get into these situations? It seemed that ever since she had met Hy, their life had been one great adventure.
They met a short time before Hy was drafted to fight in World War II. They were set up on a blind date but Hy never showed up. They met the following week at a dance in Williamsburg and quickly fell in love. For the next three years they corresponded via letters as Hy served as an army medic in Northern Africa and Italy. Even though Hy had been stationed in Italy for three years, he never really got to see the country because he only traveled under the protective cloak of night. He always promised Florence that once the war was over they’d experience all the wonderful places in Italy together.
After the war they’d gotten married and moved into a government issued Quonset hut in Flatbush, Brooklyn. With their income they could have either chosen to furnish their new house or go on a vacation. They chose to go on vacation. For them experiences were always more important than physical possessions.
And through the years they had stayed true to that mantra. Even when the money was tight they traveled to all the places he’d written about during the War – Florence and Naples and Rome and Sicily. The leaning tower of Pisa and the Domo and the Gondolas of Venice. And after that their adventures continued in Turkey, Paris, Egypt, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, England, Spain and Greece amongst other places.
Florence was distracted from her reverie by a loud laugh from Hy. He walked back across the narrow limestone pathway.
“Well?” Florence asked, hiding behind Hy to escape the piercing glare of the Arabic man.
“What does he want?”
“He wants to trade me something for his camel.” Hy said, with a crooked grin pasted on his face. “But the price is quite steep.”
Florence tilted her head.
Hy turned around and yelled to the Arabic man. “What did you say you wanted for the camel?”
The man stood up straight and pointed at Florence.
“One for one, right?”
The man nodded earnestly.
Florence felt a nervous clutch in her chest but couldn’t help but laugh when she saw Hy’s grin.
Aside from the fact that he treated her like a princess and had an adventurous spirit, Hy was a person that liked to laugh and have a good time. He was a jokester. They both were. The life of the party. The fun couple that danced late into the night. There was the night one of their friends ran up and down the cabins in the Adirondacks wearing nothing but a beret. And another time when they had all stayed at a hotel, filled the elevator with furniture so no one could fit in and hit all the floor buttons.
The Arabic man was not entertained by their laugher. He shrugged his shoulders and raised his hands, as if to ask, “do we have a deal?”
“Ahh why not.” Hy laughed as he started pushing Florence towards the man. “Come to think of it – you can just have her. Keep the camel!”