A Matched Pair

by Ira Rubin

My mother can only be described in bold, upper case type. Her friends called her Diamond Lil, a reversal of her first and last names, because she resembled that flamboyant Mae West character. She was what they used to call a “bombshell,” with long legs and the voluptuous figure of a pin-up girl. Her hair was dyed a vivid red and she had a smile so overpowering it obscured the rest of her face, like the Cheshire cat in Alice In Wonderland.

You always knew when my mother was in the room; she would have been offended if you didn’t. Her raucous laugh, too loud voice and gregarious personality demanded immediate attention. “Off stage” she was a different person, less concerned with how she looked and mostly interested in her women friends. As she put it, “girlfriends are forever.”

My father, Sol, had the characteristic gut of a former high school football player, but the first thing you’d probably notice was his warm smile and open face. Charming Sol was your friend the moment you met him, and just being in his company was an instant remedy for most worries or anxieties. I never saw him unhappy for more than a short time, perhaps because he made few demands on life, content as long as he had my mother and friends nearby, good food and a book or crossword puzzle.

Most memories of my father are not about experiences we shared – I wish more were – but about things I saw him do or heard him say. For example, once he picked me up at the airport. We hadn’t seen each other for three months, and as we were walking to the exit, he said, “You haven’t noticed how much weight I lost.” Before I could answer, a stranger behind us who must have overheard, shouted, “Hey, you look like you lost a lot of weight.” Without a second’s pause, my dad turned around and shot back, “Sure, I knew I could depend on you to notice.”

My brother and I agreed my parents were like opposite poles of a magnet, strongly attracted by their differences. My mother was insecure and needed unwavering support, my father needed to be needed. It was unimaginable that anything could break them apart, though that certainty was tested on Valentine’s Day in 1960.

My father, brother Ray and I were hanging out in my parents’ bedroom. My father was lying on the bed writing on a piece of paper as Ray and I watched television, when my mother barged through the door and made a request of my father that led to an argument.

“Sol, I need you to drive me to the beauty parlor.”

My father glanced up from his writing. “I’m sorry, Lil, I have to finish writing this.”

“What can be so important that you can’t take a few minutes to drive me”?

“What’s the big deal; it’s only a ten minute walk?”

“Everything is too much for you, Sol! Why can’t you just do it because I asked you to?”

The phone next to my father rang and he reached over to pick it up. His beaming smile told us the caller was his life-long best friend, Jack. After he hung up my father told us he had to leave immediately to give Jack a ride to New Jersey.

My mother exploded. “I don’t believe this! You can’t take a few minutes to drive me to the beauty parlor, but you’re going to take Jack to Jersey. That’s at least an hour’s trip each way. Why should I be surprised! That’s how it always is. I have to plead with you to do something for me, but let Jack ask and you jump.”

“Enough, Lil. I’m going as soon as I finish writing this”.

“That’s it,” my mom screamed. “I can’t believe I married such a selfish jerk! I’m leaving you. Lots of men will thank their lucky stars for a chance with me.”

I stared in panic as she marched to the closet, pulled out a small suitcase and started packing.

“Dad, do something,” I called out in alarm.

My father watched, a bemused expression on his face, but said nothing, while my mother slammed the suitcase shut and stormed out.

“Dad, why didn’t you try to stop her?” Ray cried.

“Relax Ray. You don’t know your mother like I do.”

My brother and I tried to convince him to go after her, but he ignored us and went back to his writing. No one spoke again for the next few minutes. The silence was oppressive. I could feel the room shrinking and had an irresistible urge to chase after my mother. Before I could get up, my mother came bursting into the room.

“You don’t how lucky you are, Sol. I just missed the bus. A minute sooner I’d be gone.”

My father winked at Ray and me.

“Well, I’m glad of that, Lil; I was really worried.”

They stared at each other in silence. Then as if on cue, they both broke out in laughter.

“Yeah, I guess that did sound a little lame,” my mother said. “What are you writing that’s so important you have no time for me?”

“It’s a Valentine’s Day card for you, Lil. I couldn’t find one that said what I wanted, so I wrote my own. Here, I’ll read it to you.”

….And if I didn’t love you–
…………Would your smile be as sweet
…………Your manner as charming
…………Your arms my retreat
…………And your lips just as warming?
….And if you didn’t love me–
…………Would I treasure each day
…………Without rhyme–without reason
…………Would each month be May
…………And spring every season?
….If we didn’t love each other–
…………It’s drunk I must be
…………Such ridiculous chatter
…………If our love wouldn’t be
…………Then what else would matter?

My mother framed the poem and hung it near the apartment’s front door, where it was the first thing you’d see on entering.

Even death could not break their bond to each other. The gravestone spanning their resting place is inscribed with the words, “If our love wouldn’t be, then what else would matter?” To which I would add, “Sparkle forever, mom; watch over her, Dad.”

Ira Rubin is delighted to be an active member of IRP since 2017. He was trained in and taught social psychology before changing careers to work as an evaluation specialist in NYC government. He developed his writing skills in Toastmasters, a public speaking organization, and in continuing education courses at NYU and The New School.