This coming Sunday, I’ll mark two very special birthdays on the same day.
The first: Number 60 for the man who’s been my daughter’s best friend since they were toddlers. She’s a few months older, having reached 60 on Ground Hog Day. The two met in a sandbox in early autumn 1963, when our little family moved from Chicago to Park Forest, the suburb that inspired “The Organization Man.” My children’s father was a social worker, called by Illinois to organize therapy groups for patients in Manteno State Hospital, one of the huge public mental institutions of the day.
Devra was 3. Big brother Sol was 7. Both, as expected when youngsters have to move from the only home they’ve ever known, were more than a bit anxious. But we had promised them that they’d make many new friends in our new place. We’d been anxious ourselves to get out of the city anyway; our son had gone through kindergarten and first grade in its public schools, and they were so rigid that we were concerned. Here, we knew, there were many young families, and a modern approach to childhood education. But there were no pre-schools yet. We were counting on the place we’d chosen to work for our kids.
And jt did! We were settled in before the start of school, and Sol was happy from his first day in Grade 2. And on that first school day, Devra toddled out the kitchen door and went directly to the large, grassy play area centered among our circle of townhomes, and saw a little boy playing in the sand. Obviously remembering and believing our promises, she went directly up to him and asked: “Are you my new friend?” And Mike was. And still is!
After we were comfortably secure, I took a job with the area’s twice-weekly newspaper, working from an outlet office within easy walking distance of our home. When the kids were young, I had a flexible schedule, allowing me to attend whatever important school events they were involved in. But before that, Devra and I both benefited from a culture of communal child-watching; all of us mothers were like moms to all the little ones. Mike had three big brothers at home, so he would often enjoy quiet suppers with us, a semi-regular member of our family.
And this never changed. They went to kindergarten and first grade together; they got through that period when little boys are supposed to have nothing to do with little girls except annoy them, and never seemed to notice. Devra had a best girlfriend, Lesly, and Mike had a best buddy, Ken, but the two were still and always a team. This became extremely important when they were 11 and my husband and I separated. Sol had developed an early love for radios and was a Ham “extra class” operator, so the men of the local club took over many fatherly duties for him as a teenager, and life went along very smoothly.
Many moons later, Fred — a longtime friend of mine from years before — and I reconnected. He was a widower with a son of his own, and we decided to get married. Sol and Devra escorted me to the chuppah; afterward, I went with my new famiy to Dallas. Sol was already engaged and got married the following year; the next year, Devra married Ken, and Mike married Lesly! These two couples moved further south in Illinois, one to Joliet, the other to Champaign — towns not too close, but not too far for jointly celebrating birthdays that end in zero…
Just before I moved, I had learned that Mike’s May 3rd birthday is the same date as that of the late great Golda Meir! So I wrote my last column for him, which he reminds me about every year. But he doesn’t have to: This coming Sunday, I’ll say my two usual May 3 birthday prayers: one for Mike’s continuing good life, the other, Kaddish for Israel’s late great leader. I love them both!