Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Old Van

So, after twisting my neighbor's locs this afternoon, he was like, "Come take a ride with me..." and since I didn't have anything planned afterward, I was game. All I knew was that we were headed to Williamsburg to holler at some dude named Van (who I presumed would be elderly since there aren't any really young cats by the name of Van these days). We rode through Brooklyn, and I was enjoying the scenery as I do love taking in views of the city while riding shotgun. Well, we turned down McGuinness Avenue and up to some row apartments and my neighbor called Van to come meet us. And out came this ancient looking Jewish man, fairly tall and very slender, sporting Bermuda short atop his skinny legs, white socks, and a nondescript shirt. With black bi-focals taped on the left side sliding to the tip of his nose, he had long thinning hair. He walked up to the passenger side window eating onion-flavored Ritz crackers and greeted Ed. E returned the greeting, then Van turned back to close the door to his apartment, crumbs dusting his mouth. He handed Ed cabinet sketches for his house as he got into the truck. Of course, as he leaned forward, I was overcome by the aroma of onion Ritz and old guy, so despite being chilly, I rolled the window down. After they discussed the sketches for a moment, my neighbor says, "Oh Van, this is my friend, Mai!" I said hello as Van lifted his fist to greet me with what is now being determined by the media as the "Obama Fist Bump", but is really the hood greeting generally known as a "pound", if you know what I mean. This, coming from old Jewish Van, was quite comical. I bumped his fist with a wide grin and turned back to the window (onion Ritz STINK).

As we rode further into Brooklyn, Ed says "Hey Van, how was your vacation with your girl??? Why don't you tell Mai about your new girlfriend!!" And OF COURSE my ears perked ALL THE WAY UP! I mean, if Old Van has some juicy story to dish about a tenderoni, then.... I wanted to hear all about it! OF COURSE I didn't know what to expect. I mean, really I'm thinking: Van is like, what? 72, 73 years old, who knows what his love tale will consist of... so I turned from the window to face Van and eagerly listened as his story began:

When he was about 18 or 19 years old living in Greenwich, CT he had a girlfriend (I'll call her Kate. No Kathy. I don't know why, but I'm gonna call her Kathy. No! Sally! Van and Sally!! I'll call her Sally because I don't remember what he said her name was.) Van was completely in love with Sally and they dated up until she went off to college and he left for the military. They ultimately lost contact, as there was no Facebook, Myspace or Twitter back in the day! Van went off around the world having a good time, came on back to the States, got married (to the wrong girl, as he puts it), had a child, divorced, and has been living the bachelor life in New York City for the past forty years (which is ten years longer than I've been alive)! He loves it here. He's now 80 years old and still works as a carpenter with a shop on N 6th Street in Williamsburg taking care of city contracts and cherished clients like my neighbor making doors, windows, shelves, he says, in a lot of the city buildings and refurbished homes which is quite a legacy!

ANYWAY, he never forgot about Sally (or was it Kate?), NEVER. Would think of her often throughout his life but didn't know what her married name was. He wasn't in touch with any of their childhood friends to inquire about her, he didn't even know if she was still alive. But she pressed against his mind, for years Van said, so in late October 2008, I think it was the 30th, he went to the public library and looked through the marriage records to find out once and for all if there was a way to track Sally down. And he found an announcement published in The Times fifty-six years ago stating that Sally MaidenName had indeed become a married woman. When he got home, it took him "five minutes", he said, to track down a phone number for Sally MarriedName. So he dialed the number. When she answered he said, "Hello, is this Sally MarriedName?" and she replied, "Yes, who may I ask is calling?" and he responded, "This is Van Pearlman" (of course I made up the name "Pearlman" as well, but the other details are accurate, I promise!) and he didn't say anything else. There was the longest pause before the conversation picked up with her audible disbelief that she was speaking to the boy she loved so many years before her life had really begun, and that he had taken such measures to find her now. She had long since built a life with her family in the suburbs of Atlanta, and it was surreal that Van Pearlman was now back in her reality, with a simple phone call, just like that.

Sally MarriedName was even more awed at his timing because five weeks prior to Van's phone call, her own husband of 56 years had finally succombed to a long illness. Impeccable timing on Van's part because she was grieving very much for having lost her life companion and really needed someone to spend her time talking with. So Van talked to her, everyday, for hours on end. For the next few months he was happy to be the support she could lean on. He said they picked up where they left off 60 years ago. She's 80 as well, though two months behind him. (He joked that he's "robbing the cradle!") So now, they reminisce about their lives together as teenagers back in Greenwich, CT and fill one another in of how this crazy life has unfolded. Sally's children couldn't be more pleased that Van has come into the picture as well because they shared with him that she'd been such a devoted wife to their father, especially in his ailing years, and it was pure joy to see the light in her eyes as a result of his medicine for her melancholy. And most recently, Van and Sally took a vacation together in Cape Cod near where they summered. So, right there in the truck today Old Van looked at me and said that he's completely in love, all over again, though he can't really say that he ever STOPPED loving Sally.

Nearly teary-eyed myself (I mean come on! this is the stuff MOVIES are made from), I asked, "Are you gonna marry Sally?" His response was very simple: "I don't know what I'm going to do; but I love her." He explained that though they love one another, the grieving of her husband is still fairly recent, and the fact is she has a life in Atlanta and his life is in NYC. Even though he's 80, he's up and down with a spring in his step; out and about, still making shelves in his shop, carrying wood, doing a lot of physical activity that keeps the body young. And he has a twin brother in Brooklyn, as well; I'm sure they keep one another healthy (they eat sushi every day for dinner). So, Van has a good life here. But he was sure that he intends to see her again. That he is not going to let her go this time. And I don't blame him; how good is a "good life" without someone to share it with?

The cynical may quibble that of course he's in love with her, no one else would want either one of them because they're old (or something just as insensitive). I've already heard someone say it, and I asked him to think of it a little bit more reasonably... I mean, come one: These two individuals who KNEW that they meant soooo much to one another back in the 1940's are here almost a decade into the new millineum where they've come full circle to find one another on a real love playing field. I hope they live to be 110, that way they can spend the next 30 years enjoying one another's company (and then pass away in each other's arms like in The Notebook!) because I am the anticynic when it comes to matters of the heart. I won't be bitter that things have yet to work out for me. No sir. Not when random people are brought into my life with miracle love stories. Everything is TIMING, right? Their love withstood the test of time. Van contacted Sally at the time she needed him, and I crossed paths with Van at a time when I was feeling like.... you know, what does it all mean when your love for a person refuses to die. So, I'll just KNOW that whoever I'm intended to be with WILL come back around at some point, and that we'll be happy together BEING with one another at THAT point, you know.... Hopefully, though, it's before I turn 80!


aisha said...

you always meet the most interesting people!

Anonymous said...

nice anecdote...very telling about the nature of the human heart. KGJ

mrfargas said...

This story is the shizzle, I would love to stay married for 50 years. You do meet the most interesting people.

Chris Harrison said...

That's a pretty cool story. I think his never-ending love for her is what ultimately brought them back together. I wonder did she ever think about him the same way he thought about her....Hmmmm. Good for them though. Guess you're never too old for real love.