Monday, October 28, 2002

My parents as I never knew them

Every now and then, I wrote a column that was just about my life or my family. This one was especially sweet. My sister had discovered a cache of love letters of my parents' that none of us had ever seen, and they told a story all by themselves. After it ran, I was contacted by several people who recognized my parents from the old pictures we ran of their young selves. Amazing.


Date: Thursday, November 28, 2002
Edition: Palm Beach Section: LOCAL Page: 1B

My sister Susan found the letters when cleaning out my parents' house last summer. They were tucked back in a little-used cabinet in the basement, a neat bundle of carefully folded stationery that no one had seen or touched for decades.

They were from 1947, the summer before Carol Goodman and Miriam Gutman, both of Chicago, were married.

Finding them was a revelation: a window flung open to that time you cannot know, the time before you were born, when your parents were young and had the dreams and desires each generation thinks are theirs alone -- and which certainly never can exist in the orderly, responsible people who are your parents.

Carol -- the male name was common in his parents' Hungary -- was 24, just out of uniform from World War II. Miriam was 21, working as a legal secretary in the Loop. They met at her family's apartment on the North Side where her older brother was hosting a veterans' meeting.

Carol fell for the pretty dark-haired girl immediately. She took a little longer, inconveniently being engaged to someone else.

But soon she was making other plans. "I realized that your dad would always make me laugh," she'd say.

They became inseparable -- except for nine days when he traveled to Denver to visit his beloved older sister Gene, who'd moved there 14 years earlier. You did that, back when Denver's air was clear, if you had tuberculosis.

It was his first trip West, the first time either of them would fly on an airplane.

In those days, a long-distance phone call was a major event. A stamp was 3 cents, air mail 5 cents.

Miriam and Carol wrote nearly every day, long letters on heavy-bond paper and monogrammed onionskin, filled with chat and jokes and -- most surprising to us kids -- open expressions of love.

I look at these letters, and I can see by the handwriting that it's the same two people I've always known.

But I don't recognize this giddy version of them, this young pair so dreamily in love, intent on putting every thought to paper.

In contemporary slang as perfectly dated as fedoras and padded shoulders, they enthuse about the whole wide world opening before them.