Marty and I grew up in the Weequahic section of Newark in the 1940s and 1950s. Neighborhoods like ours just do not exist anymore. They were transitional even then. Most of our parents were the children of first-generation Americans, those who had left poverty in Europe to make better lives for their offspring, and often so the men could evade the draft that would sweep them into the armies of Poland or Russia. These moves usually were difficult and challenging, but ultimately quite successful, creating rapid ascension to the middle class for most of our cohort.
Our famous high school bore its eponymous name with great distinction, sending almost all of its students to four-year colleges. A mere one or two generations out from the shtetl, our classmates at Weequahic High School, a bastion of Jewishness, the vast majority of the student body proud Jewish strivers, rarely were religiously observant, but they usually shared the goals of financial security and academic success.
In 1939, when Marty and I were born, war in Europe already had commenced, but our childhoods remained untouched and unscathed. We were a mere three months apart in age, living in a four-family house at 83 Aldine Street that my Zayda built. We both spent our entire childhoods and adolescences living in that house, like family.
In adulthood we were rarely in touch, as careers and distance kept us apart. Nonetheless, we remained on each other’s radar and shared a few major life events. And then, just last week, we had a reunion in Potomac, Maryland.
He came for Shabbat lunch, bearing flowers and wine. His gait was stiff, like mine, but he was immediately recognizable although we hadn’t seen each other for quite some years. I had wondered before his arrival how we would greet each other, and whether we would revert immediately to what had been. We did. It was comfortable and easy, relaxed. The time lost went unnoticed. We were to each other what we had always been — siblings who immediately evoked the many years past as if any gap hadn’t existed.
Like my own, and like all of ours, his life had its triumphs and its more somber events. He arrived for that lunch as a recent mourner, having lost his long-suffering, deeply loved wife shortly before a thankless Thanksgiving four months ago. She had Alzheimer’s and suffered mightily for many, many years. He was managing his grief, and I was glad that he would spend part of his long and lonely Shabbat with us.
We were spending that weekend in Maryland, attempting to help our rabbi grandson with his three very little boys, our great-grandchildren, ages infant through 6, while his wife attended a family wedding in Israel. Meals had to be served, and kids had to be supervised, especially during the many hours that their Abba was in shul. Truly, we earned that final exhaustion as we put our heads down for the night, a short night indeed, realizing that in our 80s we are not as limber, as up to the challenges of young kids, as we had been in our 20s, when our own four were keeping us busy.
As we finalized the plans for our trip, I thought of my friend, my friend from earliest childhood, my partner in a friendship that is and would continue to be lifelong. He too lived in Maryland, conveniently very near to our family’s home. I knew lunch would be hectic but lively. I invited him, and he accepted.
My friend, Martin to his law clients, lived on the first floor of our house with his mother and father, who I knew as Aunt Rose and Uncle Willy. Twenty years growing up together in our formative years meant sharing our days and our very lives. A friendship like that might be tested by time and distance but the unique closeness would always be there. And so it was.
We shared the playpen in the back yard, and seemingly in an instant the years flew by. We threw hardballs at a charcoal rendition of Hitler, without any understanding of who he was. Soon we were shooting baskets at the hoop hanging on the garage and playing endless games of ping pong in the spooky gray cellar. This was no knotty-pine-paneled finished basement with nice shiny tile flooring. This was a dark and damp home for the gigantic belching green furnace, and the ultimate destination for hanging laundry that refused to dry on the upstairs clotheslines on rainy days, and that would mutate towels into boards like sandpaper. Luckily the ping-pong table stood apart, supreme and unobstructed. Over the years Marty and I competed thousands of times, and we both became accomplished masters of the sport. Our game was ongoing, constant, never boring, and always a source of rich entertainment. I confess that he beat me more than I beat him, but not always. I was still stiff competition!
Twenty years after my birth, Alvin and I were married. Marty served as an usher. Shortly thereafter Marty returned the honor, and Alvin was an usher at his wedding. These two events, close to each other chronologically, removed us from our childhood home and, as is typical, separated us. The ping pong games stopped entirely. The career and childbearing years were upon us. Our children and Marty’s do not know each other at all.
Marty’s wife, Susan, was blessed with a magnetic personality, bursting with life, intellect, enthusiasm, and beauty. She sparkled and made friends quickly. She was clever and witty and a seriously committed Jew. Marty will miss her forever.
Their youngest son, Wayne, is a prominent author and magazine editor. His most recent book, a non-fiction story called “The End of Her,” depicts Susan’s life and the pain of her final years, entwined with that of her maternal grandmother, who was murdered as a young woman in Winnipeg. That crime was never solved, and the book is fascinating as Wayne writes of two of his forebears, Susan and her grandmother, both inexplicably lost. It is a fascinating read, and I commend it to you all.
As for Marty, he is picking up the pieces of his life in his typical unassuming fashion. May he once again be blessed with happiness.
Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was!