"Falling" in Love
It was a time of innocence for first generation Americans. In the summer of 1946, my then sixteen-year-old mother Eleanor and her eighteen-year-old sister Bernice left all worries behind in the Bronx and escaped to the sunny seashore enclave of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. It wasn’t the ocean that lured them, for neither girl knew how to swim. Rather, it was the exhilaration of independence, and—for my mother especially—freedom from boredom. She missed the stimulation of her painting and design classes at the High School of Music and Art, and moaned that she had nothing to do. My grandmother, who worked all day long in the grocery store, chose to rent a vacant bedroom for her two daughters from her friends Mr. and Mrs. Berg in Brighton Beach. Keeping an ever-watchful eye, my grandmother traveled a two hour subway ride in each direction every evening after work to bring them dinner.
In the afternoons, my mother and Aunt Bernice would walk hurriedly from Brighton 12th Street to the entrance of the beach. In their excitement, they hardly felt the prickly, pebbly pavement beneath their bare feet.
Squinting at the sun-soaked sand, they’d scan the groups of boys. Bare-chested, hairy-legged, bronzed and sunburned specimens of teenaged masculinity circulated around the beach like social calling cards.
There was a particular crowd of fellas that captured the girls’ attention. Displaying their athleticism, they posed as human pyramids. With bodies stacked row upon row, they supported knees, hands, and feet on their buddies’ backs. Then, spurred on by the gleeful claps of female admirers, they’d sport hand stands and other acrobatics.
My mother, a black-haired demure beauty in a two piece halter top skirted bathing suit, smiled alluringly and stood nearby. One of the guys—the tallest, best-looking with the wavy reddish hair—claimed her attention. He tossed a ball in her direction and sprinted towards her to retrieve it. “Excuse me,” he said with a bashful grin. “I’m Erwin.”
The next day, she sat on a bench in view of the boys, who were busy flexing their muscles and playing physical pranks. Erwin approached and sat next to her without a word. He was still a stranger, so she coyly inched away. Cautiously, he moved closer. She inched a little further. The dance continued until there was no escape, and she fell off the bench onto the sand. Gentleman that he was, Erwin helped her to her feet.
“Daddy picked you up on the beach,” I used to tease my mom, as if there were some improper aspect to their encounter.
But this was a time of carefree innocence. Too young to marry, their courtship dance persevered another four years. Erwin graduated from City College of New York with a degree in electrical engineering. My mother earned an associate degree in fine arts from the Fashion Institute of Technology. All the while, Erwin spent incalculable hours on the subway between Brooklyn and the Bronx.
For a time, my mom dated another guy who lived closer to the Bronx. Aunt Bernice’s fiancé, Jack, a World War Two veteran, felt compelled to intervene. “Choose Erwin. He’s always there when you need him.”
My father wasn’t a flowery romantic. In a stack of old letters to my mother that I found in a night table by my parents’ bed, he conveyed his practical, down-to-earth nature. The letters reported his activities, inquired about her’s, and arranged for future dates. Sentiments of affection were clearly not his vocabulary of love.
Instead, my father was the guy always at the bottom of the pyramid—the strong, stable foundation on which others could rely. He was the one at the beach who lay steady on his back propping up his friend’s flashy handstand. He was the boyfriend and husband who picked up my mother whenever she faltered and supported her to the very end in all her emotional, professional, and medical ordeals.
As a young girl, I’d watch movie pictures of their wedding, enchanted by the story book images on the reel. My mother’s dreams of love and marriage came true on May 28, 1950. Just a few years later, I would enter the picture, followed by my brother, and then a house in a post-war development on Long Island. Their lasting romance was founded on the kind of stability and support my father had demonstrated during that summer of innocence in Brighton Beach—when my mother, literally, fell in love with my dad.
Sharon Citrin Goldstein, a resident of Fairfield and Delray Beach, Florida, has expressed her creative passions through multiple careers in the arts, business, education, and as an ordained Cantor. Whether composing sermons, marketing materials, or helping students write personal essays, she has embraced writing as a persuasive tool. Since her recent retirement from Beth El Synagogue in Woodbury, CT and the Anti-Defamation League, Sharon has devoted herself to writing her family memoirs. She also mentors for Literacy Volunteers and Book Buddies of Bridgeport. Her other passions include ballroom dancing, eating organic foods, and walking several miles each day with her husband Paul.
A note from Susan:
I don't know about you, but I miss old-fashioned photo albums, which were assembled with so much love and care.
We used to love to go to a Russian nightclub in Brighton Beach in the 1990s, called The National. They put on a great show, piled the food on the table, and featured divine music to dance to.
According to the Brighton Neighborhood Association:
Today Brighton Beach Avenue, the main commercial strip, is bustling. We have numerous Russian Nightclubs and restaurants, which could rival Manhattan clubs of the 1930s when long-legged statuesque dancers framed in huge colorful feathers ascend onto the stage to enchant. Presently, the shows feature top Russian singers, specialty acts, mimes, and other entertainers. Brooklyn gave birth to some of the World's top performers and today we see a rebirth of new talent right here in Brighton Beach.
I decided to go vintage romantic. thought it kept the spirit of Sharon's beautiful tribute to her parents' courtship and marriage.