“Why Didn’t You Call Me?”

My Grandma Betty was married four times. At her fourth wedding, which I attended at the age of eight, I was instructed not to speak of her middle two marriages to her soon-to-be stepson. He was under the impression that his father, Herb, was marrying a widow (which he was) but in truth, she was a widow and a two-time divorcée. I was far more preoccupied with the giant peach bow on my poufy polka-dot dress, and kept this confidence.

Betty and Herb were married until Betty died. Herb cared for her after she had a debilitating stroke, which struck as she was refinishing a chair while they were getting ready to go to the opera. Before the stroke, they were active seniors. They went to the opera, the symphony, the art museum. They took Elder Hostel trips to Mexico and China.

At my grandmother’s shivah, Herb told the story of how they had met. I already knew that Betty and Herb had met through the Jewish personals. They went on one date and Betty was like, “Let’s do this.” But Herb was a widower in his early sixties–actually a few years younger than Betty. A widower still in the active phase of his senior years is a hot commodity. Herb had received something like one hundred responses to his ad in the Jewish personals. He politely told Betty that he was going to play the field for a while before he made any committments. Betty told him to go fuck himself (this was an exact quote). If he needed to date other women after one date with Betty née Gershowitz Weinstein Cohn Loeb then he could date them, and not her, thank you very much.

The story I knew was that Herb had pretty quickly hopped to. He found that whomever else he dated from his pool of dozens of available female Jewish active seniors was no match for Betty neé Gershowitz Weinstein Cohn Loeb, as the world has only known one of those–all four feet eleven inches of her. Herb returned to Betty and apologized for his mistake, and she acquired her fifth and final surname, becoming Betty Sacher. The bride wore red.

At a family singalong a few years later, their contribution was to sing “Bei Mir Bistu Schein,” a Yiddish song that translates to, “To Me You Are Beautiful,” looking into one another’s eyes. I was a twelve or thirteen. I remember thinking, “Old people can fall in love, too!”

But there was one thing I didn’t know about that story until after Betty died. I assumed that Betty had sat pretty, perhaps on her own personal Jewish personal journey, while Herb, however briefly, played the field. But, Herb told us at her shivah, while they were apart, before he made up his mind, he received a package from Betty. Inside were half a dozen pairs of men’s jockey shorts, on which my grandmother had embroidered the words: “Why didn’t you call me?” (The question mark got its own individual pair of undies.)

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“Why didn’t you call me?”

“I still wear them,” Herb said, at the shivah. “They’re a little uncomfortable on the tush, but they remind me of her.”

(It just wouldn’t be a story from my family without poignant emotion topped with a soupçon of TMI.)

I have pondered and marveled at that underwear story for over a decade, since I heard it. What a crazy thing to do! It breaks just about every rule. And it worked! He called her.

I have struggled for so long to find the right words in relationships. I have found it so hard to simply say what I think, what I feel, what I want, or what I need, but I am learning, or trying to learn. In a time in which people send photographs of their actual genitalia to people they haven’t yet met, embroidering some underwear seems tame, even quaint. It’s the absurdity of the act that endears me the most, followed by the prescience of somehow forseeing, in the late eighties, what would become a trend of sweatpants that say stuff on the butt.

I try and try to speak my mind, to wear my heart on my sleeve. But there’s also the option, my ancestors remind me, of sewing your emotions across someone else’s tush.

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