I lost someone today I never wanted to say goodbye to. My father married Mary about 14 years before he married my mother Stella, and they had one child together, my sister Barbara. The marriage ended badly, but I have no doubt the fault was entirely my father’s. If Jews believed in sainthood, any woman who married my father would have been automatically qualified.
I loved my mother as much as any child could, but truth be known, she wasn’t much in the maternal department. People often observed that I more raised her than she me. That left a hole in my life which I needed to fill. Fortunately Mary was more than up to the job.
During my childhood years, Mary lived at 539 W. 112th Street in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of the upper west side of Manhattan. Her apartment building was next to the Goddard Space Center. The immense Cathedral of Saint John, perennially under construction, loomed at the end of the street.
This was quite aways away from my home in the Bronx. My cousin Marty lived across the hall from me. One day when I was about 8 years old, my folks were in the midst of an argument. I went across the hall and asked Marty to tell me how to get to Mary’s house. I had visited with Mary enough to know that I would be happier moving in with her and I was bound and determined to try. Marty gave me directions–I can still remember him telling me how to use the shuttle which would get me from the East side of Manhattan to the West.
In those days the measure of whether you could travel for free on New York City mass transit was less your official age than your height. For once, my short stature came in handy. Since I could walk under the subway turnstile, I was free. I walked to the subway station, took the East side IRT to Grand Central. Took the shuttle to Times Square. Took the Broadway local to 110th Street. Walked up Broadway to 112th Street, turned the corner and entered Mary’s building. There was an old elevator I loved there–I took that to the 2nd floor and headed for 2G.
When I rang the doorbell, Mary peered through the peephole, but I was too short for her to see. After some talking across the door she finally realized it was really me.
I wasn’t able to stay very long that first visit. Mary called my father. I don’t recall if they got me a cab or he came to get me, but sooner than I would have liked I was back home. But my friendship with Mary began for real with that visit. Soon enough I was going to visit her just about every weekend. We went to every museum we could think of. Mary loved taking me to bookstores where I took up my life-long addiction to the printed page. Mary took me to films and plays, on Broadway and off. When the World’s Fair opened in 1964, Mary trooped there with me a half dozen times. We went to New York City landmarks, patrolled the parks–especially Central Park and Riverside Park, a stone’s throw from her home.
Mary worked for two physicians with offices on Park Ave. They didn’t know quite to make of me but I suppose I became something of a mascot to them. I can’t forget the time Dr. Hoffman insisted I needed a gamma globulin shot. I saw stars!
Mary loved taking me to restaurants. She wasn’t wild about it, but she knew I loved Tom’s, the classic “Greek Diner” on the corner of 112th and Broadway. Most of you will have seen the facade of Tom’s because it was featured frequently on the Seinfeld TV show. Just the exterior–the inside of Tom’s didn’t look like the set on Seinfeld. Anyway, we did eat there quite often. Mary had names for all the local businesses–“the dirty store” comes to mind.
One useful purpose I served in the early days was someone to accompany Mary to the graves of her parents. She hated going alone, so I made sure I was available whenever it was the time of year for Mary to head over there.
These visits had to end as everything does. I went off to college in 1969. I chose the University of Wisconsin because that’s where my sister was living with her husband and brand-new child–my nephew and Mary’s grandchild. But I don’t think I went back to New York a single time without scheduling a visit with Mary. We corresponded, spoke on the phone, and continued our friendship until age took her memory.
Mary Love passed away today at 2pm at the age of 97. I will miss her every day. But she will always be in my heart.