He was incredibly picky. The photo album he made in the 1940s shows him dashingly handsome, in and out of New York City, in and out of baggy suits, Navy uniforms and bathing shorts, with girlfriends, pre-kiss, post-kiss. One annotation reads something like: “She had thoughts of marriage but he didn’t.” In his 30s, with two degrees and military service behind him, he was still in search of the perfect Jewish wife. This physicist, with a remarkably unique mind, drove his Kaiser to Manhattan from New Jersey on weekends to find her.
And so one night, he stood outside a dance at Temple Rodef Shalom. A child of the depression, he waited for a woman worth the dime entrance fee.
Enter my mother. Movie-star beautiful, radiant, inexplicably intuitive, a natural leader and elegantly dressed. This former elocution teacher with two degrees had been president of every organization she ever joined. She had picked herself up from rural Pennsylvania to Manhattan to find the world and could have married anyone.
He proffered his dime, followed her in and asked her to dance. He was a great dancer and so was she. In his pocket was a crystal he had grown in his lab and she bumped against it as they twirled. She was intrigued. Throughout their courtship, he serenaded her with his inexhaustible repertoire of romantic songs in his lovely tenor voice. She fell for the singing, choosing to ignore his stubbornness and the difficulties this brilliant man had in getting along with people. Perhaps she thought she could change him. Certainly, she was afraid of becoming an old maid (she was 29) like her aunt.
The modest wedding took place at the House of Living Judaism of Temple Emanuel on Fifth Avenue. A stunning bride, a rare look of joy on my father’s face.
A move to suburbia, and a year later I was born. He finished his PhD, worked and built a house while she juggled presidencies and pregnancies, raised four children, became executive director of the JCC. These two balls of energy weren’t soulmates but achieved a state of coexistence that was all they could ask of marriage. She tried to help him get along with people as best she could. He thought she wasn’t intellectual enough. But there was a spark when they danced, and just enough respect and shared values for a long fulfilling life together of travel, adventure, milestones and grandchildren. They didn’t necessarily want to be in the same room at the same time but liked shouting to each other across the house. “Seymour!” “Ruth!”
That’s what he missed when she died nearly eight years ago. Life has gone on but at nearly 99 he still wishes she was in the other room. He’s sure she was worth the dime—and his time.
Nadine Epstein is a writer based in Washington, DC, where she is the editor-in-chief of Moment Magazine. Her parents, Seymour and Ruth Epstein, were married for 57 years, before Ruth’s death in 2012.