A green light to greatness.®

Red Stilettos

by Iris Podolsky


I hated my wedding. It’s fifty years later, and I still can’t help thinking back to my sister Lily’s wedding with envy in my heart. It wasn’t about the venue, the dress or the food. My wedding was far more elaborate than Lily’s.

My jealousy is about my father.

Every young girl needs the protection and support of her father when choosing a life partner. Just as my father shrewdly appraised Philip Bogdonoff when he came to court my sister Lily, he would have loved probing the incisive intelligence of the young medical student who came for me. But it was not to be.

And so on my wedding day my heart ached for the father who was not there to give me away. It was not enough having a loving step-father take his place. I wanted my Daddy.

My father almost didn’t make Lily’s wedding, either. Though Dad was mortally ill, he played just as instrumental a role as Ma did in Lily and Philip’s union. Their romance had an interesting start, seasoned with a dash of old world charm.

***

“Mr. Katz, do you have any brains today?” Ma said into the phone to our butcher, oblivious to the ambiguity of her question. “It’s Sara Bloom from Camden. I’m coming over to Philly today for some veal chops for my husband…you remember Red Bloom? Well, he’s been very sick lately but has a yen for a nice thick veal chop tonight. I need the brains for tomorrow’s lunch, but since Fourth Street Farmer’s Market is such a schlepp, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone.

“Excellent. You know, Mr. Katz, I only come to you for my kosher meat because I know what I’m getting. So save your brains and I’ll see you this afternoon.”

Ma hung up the phone and turned to me. “Iris, get your jacket. We’ll stop by Green Valley for a milkshake on the way.”

 I ignored Ma’s peace offering. “Do we have to spend an hour there like last time with all the yentas at the butcher shop?”

“Listen, Missy, a little respect. You should never know from what those women have suffered through.”

Mr. Katz’s Kosher Butcher Shop was packed wall-to-wall with “battleships,” as my brother-in-law calls the yentas. Just as Ma and I squeezed onto the wooden bench in front of the immaculate meat cases to wait our turn, a buxom woman with a startlingly white pageboy gave my cheek a crippling pinch. I was fascinated by her fleshy upper arm, which quivered beneath her short-sleeved dress. Hadassah arms, Ma calls them. I call them batwings. Glancing down, I saw the ubiquitous tan elastic stockings and American Girl lace-up shoes wildly popular in 1953 that made matrons of a certain age look like they stepped out of the chorus line at Minsky’s Burlesque.

“Kenahora, what a shayna maidel!” the woman crooned, giving my mother a congratulatory nod of her pageboy.

“I’ve got three more beauties, all older than this kleininkha—two already married,” Ma crowed with pride. “I only have my Lily and this 8-year-old at home now. I’m Sara Bloom and you are Mrs…?’

“Oy vey, forgive my rudeness. I’m Mrs. Bogdonoff from South Philadelphia by Snyder Avenue. Are you from the neighborhood? I haven’t seen you before.”

“I come over from Camden to shop. My husband is very sick, a bad heart, but he enjoys a nice piece of veal every now and then. Tomorrow I’m making brains in brown butter for a luncheon, so I needed to see Mr. Katz. Who else can you rely on for fresh brains?”

“You’re so lucky with your daughters, so beautiful, I bet, like this shanekite.” Mrs. Bogdonoff gave my other cheek a terrifying twist. “I, too, have four children, all sons, all married except for the youngest. He’s already 28 years old with not a woman in sight. Vey, my heart aches for him. And so handsome he is, tall with shining red hair, like mine when I was a girl.” She sighed, smoothing her snow-white coif.

“An educated man, a malamed, a high school teacher, my Philip. What is he waiting for?” she complained. “For me to croak so he can throw himself away on some gentile, some shiksa? How could it be there’s no nice Jewish girl for him? You think I exaggerate? Here, look at his picture.” She fumbled in her purse for her wallet.

“Just like my husband, with the wavy red hair,” Ma clucked. “Yes, by God, a beautiful boy with goodness written all over his face, just like my Lily.”

From out of the purse Ma brandished Lily’s high school photo for Mrs. Bogdonoff, who made a little whistling sound through the gap between her two front teeth.

 “A real beauty you got there, Mrs. Bloom. So nu, she has a young man calling?”

“She’s got plenty of admirers but no one steady. She’s only seventeen, my Lily, but bright as a new penny. Already she’s taking up stenography and typing for a job in the secretarial pool in a downtown law firm. And a homemaker, a balabusta like you’ve never seen. When she cleans the kitchen floor, you can eat lunch on it,” Ma announced.

“Well, we need to do something about this, Mrs. Bloom. I’ve got the son, you’ve got the daughter, let’s see if we can make a shidduch. What do you think? You’ll give me your telephone number for my Philip. What do we have to lose?”

The other battleships, who had been listening in, nodded in synchronized approval, and Mr. Katz called Ma’s number. 

 “Mrs. Bogdonoff, it’s been a pleasure.” Ma grinned conspiratorially as if they’d just concluded the Warsaw Pact.

***

Seven months went by with no phone call from Philip Bogdonoff. Lily’s indignation over Ma’s matchmaking had totally dissipated. Then one Sunday afternoon, the phone rang. Ma picked up the receiver. A devilish smile played over her face.

“Lily! Lillian. Come to the phone,” she yelled upstairs to the bathroom, where my sister spent most of her free time.

“Who is it, Ma?”

“It’s Calvin Coolidge. Come down.”

As Lily bounded down the steps, she gave Ma a quizzical look and a lift of her finely chiseled chin. Her dark hair bounced against her freckled face, a red-headed complexion unusual on a brunette. Lily was a younger version of Ma at the time, busty with generous curves but taller. Five-foot-one is statuesque for the women in our family.

“Hello? Yes, this is Lily Bloom. Who’s this again?

“Your mother and my mother did what?” she shouted into the receiver. Then she stopped for a moment to catch her breath and glare at Ma. 

“I am calm. Look, I’m sure you’re a very nice man and probably not used to your mother arranging a blind date for you by Mr. Katz, the butcher, either. This reminds me of the shtetles in Europe where the matchmakers get together over the photos… No, thank you, this is not the way I do things. But thanks for calling.”

She turned to Ma. “If you ever do that again, I’m going to kill you. This is not the old country with marriages arranged by Yenta the Matchmaker. If I were an old girl, say 20, that’s one thing. But Ma, I’m just 17. What were you thinking?”

“Listen, my darling, you start talking with someone at the butcher shop. She shows you her pictures, you show her yours. You figure, what’s the harm? He‘s a good-looking young professional, a school teacher from Philadelphia. Just because he got your number from me instead of one of your friends doesn’t mean he’s a bad person. Forget about it. Anyway, he won’t call back with that razor sharp tongue of yours.”  

But he did. And just a few days later. As Ma listened in on the downstairs extension, I tried to eavesdrop with Lily. This time she broke up laughing. What was he saying? How about a nice veal chop? Do you have any brains today? By the time Lily got off the phone she was in stitches.

Leaning into me, she giggled. “Maybe he’s not so bad, this Philip Bogdonoff.”

“So, did he ask you out?” I quizzed, fascinated with the ins and outs of the dating game.

“Yes, and to some fancy Philadelphia supper club Saturday night. What am I going to tell Ma?”

“She already heard. When you picked up here, she ran for the extension in the kitchen.”

***

Saturday afternoon began with the endless rigmarole of washing, pressing, tweezing, waxing and polishing. Personally, I’d rather have been on my scooter or reading a book. I could never see myself fussing so much for a dinner.

 I hid behind the upstairs banister when the doorbell rang promptly at 7:30. Ma answered with her usual aplomb, silently appraising Philip Bogdonoff as he stepped into our foyer. Lily waited to make her dramatic entrance, of course. As she swept down the stairs in a red sheath dress with a large silk flower at the cinched waist, her dyed-to-match six-inch pumps clicked lightly on the steps. From the second floor, I peered over the rail to gauge the effect of her appearance on the hapless victim. No doubt about it. He was struck by “Lil lightning.” Even I had to admit my otherwise obnoxious sister looked dishy.

And not a goober, this Philip Bogdonoff. But there it was when he smiled, that comic gap between his two front teeth, just like his mother’s. He was tall and slender with red hair like our Dad’s. Tall was a big thing in our family.

“A blind date, arranged by our mothers. Not promising. Philip could barely get his words together coherently. “You sounded nice on the phone but I didn’t expect...” His eyes slid appreciatively over my sister’s fabulous figure in that red dress.

“Neither did I,” Lil answered, returning his stare. “You made me laugh on the phone. That’s why I accepted.” For a minute they stood there like two dummies, in disbelief at their mothers’ canny machinations.

Watching from the dining room, Ma sighed with deep satisfaction, her right hand resting on her generous bosom. “Twelve o’clock, just like Cinderella, Philip. Lily, take a wrap for the night air.”

“Yes, Mrs. Bloom. I’ll have her back on the dot.” He flashed a flushed, lop-sided grin as he held the door open, drinking Lily in from her creamy, freckled shoulders all the way down to the red stilettos.

Ma moved the curtain away from the window to peer out to the street as Philip held the car door open for Lily. “Not bad, not bad at all, Irisel,” she said, half to herself. “Polite, clean-cut, starched shirt, shined shoes. What do you think?”

I was hardly any judge of a suitor’s credentials, but Ma seemed impressed.

Later that night, I heard my sister’s laughter by the front door just as our grandfather clock struck the witching hour. Ma was rustling around the bedroom, unable to wait for the usual Sunday brunch recap. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I couldn’t wait either.

“So nu, Mrs. Lincoln, aside from the shooting, how was the show?” quizzed Ma. Judging from my sister’s face, I reckoned the show was a hit, in spite of the producers.

“He’s smart, Ma, and funny. I’ve not met anyone like him.”

“Considering your vast experience, Lily, that’s not hard to imagine. He’s more mature than the others, so be careful. This is not a teenager but a grown man you’re fooling with. And from South Philly, no less,” she added skeptically.

“Wait. Now you’re leery Ma?” Lily said sharply. “Why did you give him my number in the first place if you thought he was too old for me?”

“I might have gotten swept up in the moment at the butcher shop,” Ma admitted. “It was a long shot that he might call anyway. After all, he’s almost eleven years older. Maybe not such a good idea. Are you seeing him again?”

“Yes, I am. Next Sunday he invited me to a picnic and a swim in Atlantic City. Now don’t tell me I can’t go.” The pleasure of the evening had suddenly vanished from Lily’s face.

The following Sunday, Dad, Ma and I sat like statues in the living room waiting for Philip Bogdonoff. Lily was upstairs as usual when the doorbell rang, this time fussing with baby oil, sunglasses, and a change of clothes. Philip walked in carrying a 5-pound box of Barton’s chocolates for Ma, his hand outstretched in greeting to my father. In striped bathrobe and slippers, Dad rose with difficulty from his favorite wingchair.

“Please, Mr. Bloom. Sit. Don’t trouble yourself. I understand you haven’t been well lately. Is there anything I can do?” Philip added.

“No, but I did want to meet you after my wife’s glowing report. I understand you teach school in Philly?”

“Yes, English. I’m studying for my master’s degree in education. One day I hope to apply for vice principal and maybe even principal of my high school.”

Dad smiled. Because of his bad heart, Dad never had the opportunity for higher education. Nothing pleased him more than an ambitious, well-educated man. 

“You know, our Lily is not yet out of high school herself. I trust you will treat her with the utmost respect. She’s a good girl and I want her to stay that way. Do we understand each other?” Dad was not one for pulling punches.

Just then Lily entered the room in dazzling white short-shorts and a sunflower yellow halter top. “Ah, Phil, I see you’ve met my father.”

Philip sprang up from the ottoman at the sound of her voice, and his eyes met Lily’s.

“Where exactly are we going this afternoon? I put everything but the kitchen sink in my beach bag.” Lil tossed the oversized hamper nonchalantly on the chair as she leaned in to plant a kiss on Dad’s forehead.

Red-faced, Philip noisily cleared his throat. “Actually we’re going to Margate. Our cousin’s club is having a gathering at my Aunt Yetta’s house. You’ll be able to change there after we swim. My mother and aunts cook for days for these family get-togethers. There’s always a huge spread, usually barbecue with some Russian specialties thrown in. Is that okay?”

Now it was Lily’s turn to look red-faced. “I didn’t realize we were going to a family outing. Maybe I should change to a sundress, Ma. What do you think?” Lily turned to Ma, who had turned her attention to Barton’s famous butter creams.

“Thank you so much, Philip. How did you know this is my favorite?” Ma said, sinking her teeth into a luscious confection.

“Ma, what do you think?” Lily repeated, trying to get Ma’s attention. “I didn’t realize we were visiting relatives at the shore, your whole family at that. I…I,” Lily seemed stuck for the moment.

“Mom’s five sisters and all my young cousins will be there. They’re great fun. You’ll see,” he said encouragingly.

“Famous last words,” remarked Lily under her breath.

Dad nodded his approval while Ma squeezed a butter cream to determine whether the filling was chocolate mousse or raspberry cream.

Lily looked dismayed but gathered her things.

***

Later, my sister would tell me how the events that day unfolded.

“Why didn’t you tell me this was your cousin’s club?” she complained to Philip as they pulled up to Aunt Yetta’s. “This is only our second date. I’m not ready to meet your whole family.”

“Come on, everyone will be waiting to meet you,” he said as he took Lily’s hand, leading her off like a lamb to sacrifice. “What’s the difference if you meet them now or later? It just happens that the yearly get-together is this weekend. My cousins are great. They’ll love you,” Philip soothed.

“What about your mother and aunts?”

“Did you forget? It was my mother who engineered our meeting.”

Aunt Yetta’s house was a white, rambling, two-story affair with a wrap-around porch that stood firmly against the sands of the New Jersey shoreline. Children chased each other in the front yard while sounds of adult laughter echoed from the rear. Lily tugged nervously at her shorts as she exited Philip’s 1953 Oldsmobile. Aunt Yetta herself greeted them by the front steps, then stopped dead in her tracks.

“Philipka,” she said in heavily Russian-accented English, never taking her eyes from Lily in her white shorts. “Come, you’re just in time to move the big table outside for lunch.” She turned with a nod in Lily’s direction. “And what do we have here?”

Five aproned women stepped through the screen door with military precision, lining the porch like soldiers on review. The sisters were all tall, generous in girth. All wore snow-white hair in a variety of short styles. One, younger than the rest, walked across the lawn towards the sidewalk.

“My dear Philipka, how nice,” she said. “You’ve brought a young lady to us this afternoon.” In a nimble gesture, Sadie Bogdonoff embraced her son and extended a dimpled hand to Lily.

“Welcome, welcome. And does this young person have a name?”

“Sorry, Mom. This is Lily Bloom. You met her mother at Mr. Katz’s last fall.”

 “Ah, yes. And how is your mother? I haven’t seen her since we got acquainted that time by the butcher. Is your father any better? I remember distinctly he wasn’t well. Am I right?”

“Yes. It’s kind of you to inquire,” Lily answered politely, taking the well-manicured hand. “He has a bad heart and hasn’t been able to work for some time. Ma caters for the synagogue, so she often goes to Fourth Street for kosher meat.”

“Well, come in. We are preparing a snack for the young ones before they take a dip. Join me and my sisters in the kitchen while Philip moves the extra table with the men.”

Sadie steered Lily firmly by the elbow through the lineup of aunts into an aroma-filled kitchen that faced the beach. Philip followed, separated from Lily by the six well-upholstered women.

“Run along, Philip,” Sadie said. “Moishe is by the garage. Lily is safe with us, don’t worry.”

As Aunt Yetta shoed Philip out the back door, Sadie turned to Lily. “These are my sisters. Yetta, you already met. This is Rosa, Gertie, Sylvia and Eva. Like the Gabor sisters we are,” she added.

“Philip told me about his aunts,” Lily said, surrounded by the women in the increasingly cramped kitchen. “I’m glad to meet everyone. In my family, we have four girls.”

“So you’re from Parkside in Camden, I heard,” said Eva. “Is that a Jewish neighborhood? Isn’t some goyishka reform temple near there?” She had hardly given Lily a chance to reply before Sylvia, aunt  No. 3, took up the interrogation.

“What kind of business is your father in? Are you related to the Blooms from dry goods on the White Horse Pike?”

“Your mother works?” asked Sadie, with a censorious shake of her head. “How does she have time for you and your little sister, with the housework and all?”

The sisters concluded their inquest with a resounding “vey.” What more was there to ask? In 1954, a working mother was an anomaly, leaving no doubt as to the financial state of a family.

Peppered with questions, Lily was retreating to the screened porch when she felt a male presence behind her.

“Enough already, Tante,” said a deep bass voice. “You’re making the poor girl faint.” An unseen man with strong hands suddenly spun Lily around. With a gasp she looked up to a 6-foot-6, black-mustachioed giant grinning down at her.

“Hello, I’m Alex, Tante Yetta’s youngest. And you are?”

“I’m Lily Bloom from Camden, Philip’s girlfriend.”

“Well, well. Philip has very good taste. Where did he find such a beauty?”

His black eyes peered mischievously from under a thatch of dark hair. Alex had high cheekbones and a deeply cleft chin. Unlike his cousin, there was no winsome space between his perfectly spaced front teeth sparkling from his tanned face.

“Actually, in a butcher shop. I mean our mothers…” Lily hesitated.

“So it’s a shiddach then. In America, that doesn’t count. Come out with me on Friday night, Lily Bloom. I know how to show a girl a good time, not bring her to a boring cousin’s club meeting. What was Philip thinking with a beauty like you? He knows how partial I am to tiny women.”

Philip magically reappeared. “I see you’ve met my rogue cousin, Alex. Don’t believe a word he says. He lies to women all the time. Go, Alex, get the chairs from the garage. I came to rescue Lily from the battleships.”

“I’ve already done that. You should be more careful, leaving Lily alone when I’m around.” Alex responded with a piercing glance in Lily’s direction.

“So, you got acquainted with my dangerous cousin Alex and the girls.” Philip said, shooting a venomous glance at the departing Alex. “Let’s head for the beach.”

“I couldn’t get in one word between your mother and the aunts. Why didn’t you warn me I’d get the third degree? What am I doing here today? How can you bring a girl to meet your family on the second date? “

“Now is as good a time as any since I plan to marry you after graduation next year.”

“You’re crazy. I’m not marrying anyone next year. In fact, you can take me home right now.”

“Don’t be silly. It’s a glorious Sunday and besides, we just got here. My aunts slaved all morning over the perogi and stuffed cabbage. Eat something, at least. Anyway, I was saving the marriage proposal for the next date. But there it is. I’m marrying you next year.”

“Quit saying that,” protested Lily, pushing with both hands against Philip’s chest. But a barely perceptible smile played at the corners of her mouth.

“Come on, Lily, let’s get some fresh air. We can cool off by the water. Do you feel like going in? You can change into your bathing suit upstairs if you want.”

“Not on your life. Don’t look now, but I can feel your mother and aunts peeping out the kitchen window critiquing my shorts.”

“They’re a hundred years old and just plain jealous of how fine you look in those shorts. When we’re married you can wear them every day. In fact, you can alternate with the red dress from last week.”

Lily burst out laughing. The June sky was cerulean blue overhead. The water lapped at their bare feet as they made their way across the fine white sand holding hands. They were perfect in their youth, happy and certain about the future.

***

 A resonant bass responded when I answered the phone on Monday afternoon. I knew immediately it wasn’t Philip Bogdonoff.

“Who is this? Alex? Yes, I’ll see if she’s home yet,” I lied.

Lily appeared from the kitchen, a quizzical expression on her face. “Who’s Alex?” I whispered as I handed her the receiver. I remained close.

Lily did not mince words. “How did you get my number, Alex?” she demanded. “Easy to find Blooms in Camden, eh? You are a slippery character, especially since Phil is your cousin. No, we’ve only gone out twice. Well, no. I’m not seeing anyone steady but I need to think about this. Call me back after dinner,” Lily stalled. “I…all right then. Friday evening it is. Seven? Fine.”

She put the phone down and gave me a resigned look.

“I just made a date with Philip’s cousin, Alex. What am I doing, Iris? Alex is a handsome hunk but the total opposite of Philip. He’s got that ‘bad boy’ aura, definitely part of his charm.”

“You know how Dad can size up that type in five seconds,” I cautioned. “You may be in for a serious embarrassment.”

Alex was late Friday evening. Lily fidgeted upstairs while Dad and I sat downstairs waiting for the doorbell. Dad had already voiced his concern about Alex. After all, what kind of lowlife moves in on his cousin’s girl?

Just as I brought Dad a cup of tea from the kitchen, the bell rang.

“Get the door, Irisel. How does a man keep a girl waiting forty minutes on a first date?” Dad fumed, sotto voce.

“Hello, cutie pie. You must be the little sister,” Alex said, filling the room with his enormous presence.

“Good evening, sir.” He turned to my father. “I’m Alex Verasov. Is Lily ready?”

Dad inclined his head in my direction while at the same time signaling for Alex to take a seat. Despite Alex’s size and Dad’s frailness, no stranger was getting out the door with his daughter without a few questions. Even I knew the drill.

“So, Lily tells me you are from South Philly. What line of work are you in?” Dad began.

“After the service, I went into our haberdashery store, Kicks and Lids, on Snyder Avenue,” Alex responded smoothly. “Ever hear of it?”

Dad ignored the question. “So, you didn’t take advantage of the G.I. Bill for college?”

“What for? I grew up in the business. That’s all I know.”

“Shame,” Dad countered. “Education is a gift. A grateful nation offered our vets a free ride to school after World War II. It was a great opportunity.”

From upstairs, Lily began her descent for her “wow” entrance as Alex and Dad both rose from their chairs. Watching Alex intently, Dad offered his hand to the younger man. Alex never saw the outstretched hand. He was leering openly at Lily’s carefully waxed legs, then Lily herself in the red silk dress.

Dad’s expression darkened. Suddenly, there was a loud slap.

“You think I was born yesterday? I can’t see what’s on your mind? Get the hell out of here, you mamzer. Not now, not ever will you take out my daughter,” Dad yelled at the top of his lungs, and he sank back into the wingchair, exhausted.

Lily ran and knelt by Dad, not exactly sure what had transpired. Dad’s expression was like death, his breathing labored. Alex had his palm to his cheek, in shock from the blow.

“I’m sorry, Alex. You have to go. Ma’s out and Dad’s not well.”

“Not well? He hauled off on me and he’s not well?” Alex retorted. “I’m leaving. If this is the way you treat a guy, Philip can have you.”

“Out,” Dad sputtered as I ran for his nitro.

And just like that, the path cleared for Philip Bogdonoff.

***

Dad was failing. Doctors, oxygen tanks, EMS people all crowded the house at intervals, trying to wrestle him from death’s grip while he grew paler and paler, sinking into his dying heart. Lily had graduated from high school early in June. Her marriage to Philip, scheduled for the last week of the month, had to be held at the house because Dad could not be moved. It was a bittersweet time.

“Lily, you’ll send Philip by Mr. Katz’s this morning on his way over from Philly,” Ma said in a distracted voice. “I’m making the chopped liver for tomorrow, and I’ll need my meat order.” Can you blame her? Catering a wedding with a dying husband was no mean trick. She had gone into overdrive for Lily and Philip’s reception, up with Dad’s cries for morphine in the night, organizing the house by day, arranging the flowers and cooking. She was a tower of strength.

 “Irisel, peel these potatoes for the kugels and shell the walnuts. Your sister is coming early this morning to help me with the jello molds and pastries. Wait, run upstairs to Dad before you start to make sure he doesn’t need anything.”

“Yes, Ma,” I said, understanding this was no time to tell her I was supposed to go to a friend’s to play that morning. I knew about responsibility. I was “up to the big ages,” like Ma used to say. Ten years old.

The afternoon of Lily’s wedding, Dad sat in his pajamas and robe in the wingchair, too weak to dress for the ceremony. An intimate group of family and friends gathered in the living room awaiting the rabbi’s arrival. Upstairs, I helped Lily zip the delicate, white lace sheath she had chosen for the simple ceremony.

“So, what do you think?” she asked, perching the satin cap with tulle trim in her hair, then fastening Ma’s pearls around her throat.

“You look like a bride should look—gorgeous,” I said, exhaling. “You really do, and the hat is just enough, like Ma said.”

 Hugging my sister, I ran downstairs to join the well-wishers. I stationed myself on the ottoman close to Dad just as the first bars of “Oh Promise Me” sounded from the Victrola.

Lily and Philip, the rabbi, Philip’s parents and Ma gathered under the chupah, the marriage canopy. When the rabbi placed the glass under Philip’s foot at the end of the ceremony to symbolize the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, I looked into my father’s face. All the pain of his illness, all the vulnerability of a lifetime was etched there. For the first time ever, I saw tears streaming down Dad’s cheeks as he whispered in my ear, “Forgive me, my sweetheart. I won’t be there for you on your wedding day. I won’t live to crow over my grandchildren. But remember me, remember the love.” His shoulders shook as he held me tightly against his chest.

***

That moment returned with a rush the day of my wedding. As I sat alone waiting for Ma to help me with my veil, I felt his presence like an unseen breath. His arms encircled me once again, his heartbeat and mine echoing a world of sorrow and love. I wept in silence for the sparkling future he would never see, the babies he would never hold. First on Lily’s wedding day, then on mine, and even half a century later on my golden wedding anniversary, I remember the words of my father. How could I ever forget?

 

 

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by Iris Podolsky
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