For whatever reason, I chose the afternoon of Wednesday, March 31, 1971, to get my allergy shots. I can’t remember whether my every-other-week visits to the university clinic were on Wednesdays or whatever day was convenient. Subsequent events would make me happy to have hay fever, which had flared up again three years earlier and required doctor-administered medication, and chosen that day and time.
The shots were administered using serum and dosages supplied by my allergist in suburban Chicago. One shot in each arm for allergies to ragweed, grasses and pollen. After my last class of the day, I headed to the clinic, gave my name and sat down opposite a most beautiful woman with waist-length red hair. Despite my extreme shyness and overwhelming fear of rejection, I had to say something, especially since I vaguely recognized her as the one who brought a dog into the dining hall where I had worked the previously semester. Since she was chewing gum, I asked her for a piece. She noted we had a mutual friend, a woman in one of my art history courses who lived on her floor.
It didn’t take long to ask for a date for the weekend, back when there were “dates” per se. I was confused about her, for although she was from Brooklyn (Flatbush, at that), her German surname, red hair, pug nose, brother at Boston College and mild accent all indicated gentile. Janet turned out to be Jewish, from a kosher home.
Quite simply, we quickly fell madly in love, fueled perhaps in some part by my impending June graduation. Janet would not graduate for another 18 months, and I planned to move to California. My parents were quite surprised how serious the relationship had become when they arrived for the graduation ceremonies. I then did something very rash: I asked her to go to California with me. She convinced her parents with a few white lies, although her brother put in some good words about me. Taking off from Chicago, we made stops in Grand Island, Nebraska; Evergreen, Colorado; and Winnemucca, Nevada; before reaching our Berkeley destination.
Home was a large room in Toad Hall, a former fraternity house north of the Cal campus, shared with my friend Steve. I’d spent three weeks there the summer before and knew the area. Steve was working and also traveled home to Los Angeles, which provided more privacy than one would expect. Given the state of the current economy, especially in the Bay Area, I never looked for a job and decided to return to Chicago at the end of the summer. Our journey back took us to Los Angeles, Las Vegas (for about 30 minutes – won’t go into why the hasty departure), Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Grand Teton and Yellowstone, the Badlands and Deadwood, South Dakota, during the Harley-Davidson annual ride.
I somehow landed a job at a small publishing company within two weeks of returning home. We kept up our long-distance relationship between Chicago and Boston, and Janet spent the next summer at summer school at Northwestern. I’d drive east from Skokie after work each evening for dinner and recreation before returning home, where I was living to help subsist on my $6,700 annual income. Janet spent the weekends in town, sleeping in the living room. At a summer family gathering, the husband of one of my father’s cousins came right to the point with me. “Are you going to marry the girl?” he asked. After giving my typically short, evasive answer, he quickly followed, “Either ask her to marry you or forget about it and stop wasting her time.” It took me about two seconds to realize that this was excellent advice.
I made one of the most verkocteh marriage proposals ever. As part of a long weekend during her final semester, we attended the Bears-Vikings game on a cold, rainy Monday night, October 23, 1972. The Bears, who would win only one more game while finishing 4-9-1, defeated the Vikings, 13-10, when normally reliable Fred Cox shanked a short field goal try on the last play of the game. We almost got separated on the bus back to the Monroe Street parking lot. Somewhere between there and home I asked her to marry me: no ring (my mother said she’d give me her stone after getting a new ring to celebrate her 25th anniversary), no permission from her father and absolutely no down-on-one knee romance or the like. I figured since Janet was leaving for school the next morning and would graduate in less than two months, I’d better ask now. We didn’t tell my parents before she left – don’t know why either – so she wasn’t actually sure we were engaged.
Wedding arrangements moved quickly, with the date set for January 20, 1973, in New York City. Her family planned everything but the prenuptial dinner at the Warwick Hotel, which the husband of another of my father’s cousins once owned. My father-in-law found a rabbi to officiate, and the ceremony and dinner were held at Temple Israel on E. 75th Street. Rabbi Martin Zion would later officiate at Janet’s cousin’s wedding and his grandson was a classmate of our nephew at Wharton some 35 years later. The dinner, catered by the finest kosher caterer in New York, featured 20 different hors d’oeuvres, as counted by an appreciative guest. The honeymoon was in Acapulco and Mexico City. We may never have made it there, as Janet forgot her ID and her father had to cab it to the hotel at Kennedy Airport the next morning.
New York City 1973
So here we are, forty years later. Janet is still a beautiful redhead (no longer natural) and I’m mostly gray (and happy most of it is still there). I’ll spare all of the clichés about marriage and admit she has always done more than her half of the bargain to make it work. I don’t know what my life would be like if I hadn’t gone for the allergy shots on that Wednesday. Thank goodness for ragweed, grasses and pollen and being at the right place at the right time.