Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cousin Jeffrey's 60th Birthday

Dateline: Emerald Hills, 5/14/08

He was born the same day as the state of Israel, May 14, 1948. I was born one year and two months later. We spent a lot of our early childhood together. His mother, Roz, and my mother, Jean, are sisters, and we all lived in Passaic, NJ. My mother and I had moved in with her parents after my father left us. Jeffrey lived with his parents and older brother across town.

After my mother married my stepfather and we moved to New York City, Jeffrey and I continued to see each other a lot. My mother, her five siblings and their families often gathered at my grandparents' house on Sunday afternoons. I also spent a lot of my school vacations in Passaic. Jeffrey and I would make what we called a "game bowl". Each of us would write the names of games and other activities on little pieces of paper, which we folded and put into one of my grandmother's antique glass bowls. We would then draw from the bowl to determine what we would do next.

As teenagers, when we were old enough to travel to Manhattan alone, we would occasionally meet there for a day. We would start exchanging letters months in advance, planning our itinerary in every detail. I took the subway, he took the bus, and we met at the Port Authority bus terminal, in a mezzanine area we called the "three-quarters waiting room". We would then carry out our plan, which included libraries, music stores, and lunch at the Automat, a New York institution which sold food via coin-operated windows. Our greatest humiliation was being thrown out of the 42nd Street library reading room one day because we were too young; we had been there before and didn't know there was an age restriction.

When my parents took my brother and me to Europe in the summer of 1965, Jeffrey went with us. At the end of the trip, we wrote our memories in rhyme in a poem called "We'll Remember Europe". This became the model for countless later poems written for birthdays, weddings, and other special occasions.

Our friendship continued when both of us were in college in New York. I tried, unsuccessfully, to set him up with some of my friends. He did set me up with one of his friends, my first real relationship, a man I almost married.

As adults, our lives and interests diverged somewhat. I moved to Michigan, Massachusetts, and then California; he stayed in New Jersey. He married twice and had several other relationships; I've been married to one man for 33 years. I changed jobs many times; he has had the same job, professor of music at a state university, for his entire career. He has two children; I have none. My taste in music runs to rock and folk; his is what he calls "serious" music and I call "classical". He reads more than I do, and is a better cook. He likes tennis and hiking; I have to force myself to do anything the least bit athletic. I'm good with computers; he's a reluctant computer user.

But we still have a lot of common interests: food; cats; movies; cities (we celebrated Jeffrey's 50th birthday in London; next month we will do the same for his 60th); some music; palindromes; coffee; The New York Times; our extended family. Our friendship and shared memories have been a constant in our adult lives, with one notorious exception. After his first wife left him, I wanted to remain friends with her; this made him angry and he didn't speak to me for a few years. Fortunately, we reconciled and resumed our friendship. Now we are in almost daily touch by email, with occasional Instant Message chats. We have helped to support each other through relationship breakups, illnesses, depression, children's problems, and deaths in the family. We get together at least once a year, with one of us crossing the country. We still plan our activities in great detail, but now by email and IM: which restaurants we'll eat at, what and when we'll cook at home, what trips we'll take.

Now we are talking about retiring in the same location so that once again we will be able to see each other as often as we did when we were children. Maybe in our old age, we will revert to game bowls.

1 comment:

alce said...

What a sweet post!