Bibs and Tuckers

            My parents were both Ashkenazi Jews who grew up in not-particularly-religious homes, but that’s pretty much where the similarities ended. My father was the son of a wealthy industrialist who grew up in a world of big houses, fancy cars, and vacations at fashionable resorts. Although he had a limited education, attending business school rather than university, he was worldly and well-traveled. Now, in America, he found himself a lonely refugee approaching middle age. His parents were both dead, his only sibling, his older brother Ernst, lived an ocean away in France, and his closest relative in the United States, his cousin Erich Kupfer, lived hours away in a small town in Upstate New York. 

Now, in America, he found himself a lonely refugee approaching middle age.

My mother, on the other hand, grew up in a tight-knit middle-class family. Although Max and Nan both went to college, by the time Mom graduated from high school, in 1933, the Depression had taken a toll on her father’s blouse business and the family didn’t have enough money for her to follow in her elder siblings’ footsteps. She attended secretarial school instead and worked in a series of clerical positions.

She was 31, eight years younger than Dad, and had lived with her parents in the same house for virtually her entire life. With the exception of a road trip to Ohio to visit relatives, she had never traveled beyond the Northeast.

            They were married on September 24, 1946, at Aunt Nan and Uncle Ab’s colonial-style house on Hawley Road in Hamden, a northern suburb of New Haven. My parents were not society people by any means, but an article about the wedding appeared in the New Haven Register, most likely because the society editor, Ruth Quint, was a family friend.

Wedding reception, Hamden, CT. 1946

Wedding reception, Hamden, CT. 1946

  The ceremony was performed “in a white floral setting” by Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz and “a program of violin, piano, and cello nuptial music was presented,” the Register reported. Mom wore a champagne satin gown with a matching tulle halo trimmed with ostrich tips, and she carried matching orchids and stephanotis. Before departing on their honeymoon, she changed into a grey gabardine suit with a brown blouse, brown hat, and matching accessories. Nan, the matron of honor, was dressed in a royal blue crepe dress with a matching plumed hat and carried a spray of yellow orchids, and Nana wore a peacock blue crepe dress with a black ostrich feathered hat and an orchid corsage. Sam Roberts was best man.

Shortly before the afternoon ceremony was to begin, the skies turned ominously dark and unleashed a torrential rain. A half-century later, in a memory book I put together for Mom’s 80th birthday, the downpour still lingered in the minds of the guests. Uncle Max recalled it this way: “A large tent had been set up, tables and chairs put in place, and goodies of all kinds were on the tables. Unhappily, rains descended and it was virtually impossible for the guests in the tent to avoid getting a bit wet. The adage that rain brings luck on such an occasion was certainly overworked that day.”

The rain also made a lasting impression on Max’s wife, Roz: “As the evening hour of the ceremony neared, the skies began to lower. Clouds for miles around emptied oceans of water. I, personally, have never seen so much rain.” The downpour posed a challenge to the arriving guests, she noted, “who, without exception, were garbed in their newest and best bibs and tuckers (whatever those are) … I see in my mind’s eye waves made by the rain.” 

            But the show went on despite the deluge. “The ceremony was flawless, followed by dinner that mostly survived the heavily moistured air,” Roz recalled. “Aided by many rounds of liquid used to toast the couple, a cheerful atmosphere developed.” 

Roz’s appraisal of her new brother-in-law was a favorable one: “Robert was a sweet man who obviously would be an admirable companion through life.” As the newlyweds set off on their honeymoon, she remembered, “Robert smiled when the couple left for their wedding trip and Gert masked what she was feeling, but as I play the film of their years together, I see quiet pleasure and contentment with each other. Robert’s pleasure in his boys was always evident.” 

They intended to drive down to Miami Beach by way of Savannah, Georgia, and then travel to Havana, most likely by cruise ship. ... But my parents never got to experience Havana’s allures.

            The newlyweds planned a monthlong honeymoon. They intended to drive down to Miami Beach by way of Savannah, Georgia, and then travel to Havana, most likely by cruise ship. In the wake of World War II, Cuba was an increasingly popular destination for American tourists because of its tropical beauty and lively — some might say licentious — nightlife. (A few months later, an infamous meeting of Mafia dons organized by the Jewish mobster Meyer Lanky at the Hotel Nacional laid the groundwork for transforming the Cuban capital into a seaside gambling resort.) 

But my parents never got to experience Havana’s allures. On October 6 a hurricane ripped across the island with winds of up to 130 miles per hour, flattening sugar cane fields, downing power lines, and leaving five people dead. The storm disrupted ship traffic in the Florida Straits and forced Pan American Airways to cancel its flights between Miami and Havana.

Photos: Sept. 24, 1946, Hamden, CT.