More than anything, I look forward to Friday night Shabbat dinner.
Frequently, Karen and I are invited to friend’s homes where we and other guests talk, eat, and sing sweet Shabbat songs. But when I’m alone with Karen on Friday night, there is a certain magic that happens — and I never know what form that magic is going to take.
This past Friday night, Karen and I discussed the book covers our teachers in Yeshiva Flatbush elementary school insisted we use.
Karen and I are from Brooklyn where we both attended Yeshiva Flatbush grade school. In fact, I fell in love with Karen in 4th grade, when we were 9 years-old. This is a tale of helpless and hopeless love that I chronicle in my e-book memoir “How I Married Karen.”
Because our textbooks belonged to the school and had to be used year after year, the administration figured that book covers would protect the precious volumes from our obsessive doodles and the considerable wear and tear on the bindings.
Karen recalled the rich kids whose parents bought them the laminated book covers emblazoned with Ivy League crests.
“Right, I remember how shiny they were, the way they kicked light.”
“What book covers did your parents get you?” Karen asked.
“I got the brown grocery bags.”
“It was so humiliating.”
“Actually, my mother let me buy one laminate book cover a year,” said Karen.
“ I was so proud to have the Yale book cover because of the Hebrew on their shield.”
“My mother used to cut up the grocery bags, measure with a ruler, and really do a great job making sure the covers fit properly. It was sort of hypnotic, watching her work so intently.”
“I did it myself,” said Karen.
Well, naturally. Karen has always been incredibly self-sufficient.
Karen and I both remarked on how vivid were these memories, both sweet and painful. Sweet, because Karen and I share the same memories; painful because we always felt slightly diminished as kids whose parents could not afford to buy the more expensive book covers. Now, we both understand that having less money might have been an advantage in our moral development. Even now, we never take for granted our home, and the comfortable life we are blessed to live. Said Karen: “Every time I do a laundry, I am grateful that we have a washer and dryer in the house.”
That night, as I was falling asleep, in a Proustian haze, I went over the book cover conversation in my mind and realized just how meaningful it was to share this small but significant memory with my wife.
We are the sum of our memories.
Without those memories, we are emptied of meaning.
To be able to share childhood memories with my wife has deepened our relationship, allowed both of us to better understand the past in order to build our home, raise our children, and move, with some measure of wisdom, into the unknowable future.
I wonder: what happens when a married couple do not share similar backgrounds and memories? What do they talk about?