Poor Dive. His well-meaning relations and friends keep trying to set him up with ugly, American-fat women with “lovely personalities,” and he wishes that they would just stop. His tale of woe reminded me of the first time someone tried to marry me off. It happened when I was barely fifteen.
My mother had a friend named Katherine. Katherine was from the Old Country, and she loved me. She would go on and on about my hair and how beautiful it was. Once for a school project I interviewed her and her husband on tape about how they escaped the Nazis and then the Soviets in Poland before they came to America. In the middle of the interview, she cried, “You haf beauuuuutiful hair. You washen?” When I had to play the tape for the class, pandemonium ensued. Everyone asked me if I washed my hair on a daily basis for the rest of the year.
Well, since I was so beautiful, Katherine was absolutely horrified when she learned that my mother had not yet arranged a marriage for me. Not wanting me to become a spinster (good thing she’s passed on—she’d be horrified to know that I’m still single), she had decided to take matters into her own hands. First, she invited me over to give me cooking lessons. Under her gruff tutelage, I learned to make tea cakes and other niceties for the table. I liked to bake, so these lessons were fun for me. “You haf tu cook to pleaze a man!” she’d say. I giggled, thinking to myself that I had tu cook to pleaze my belly.
Satisfied that I had the proper skills, she decided to start making inquiries (without telling my mother—or me—of course). When she had found an eligible man, she called my mother and asked her to send me to her house for coffee. I tromped on up the hill to her house, and when I got there, I noticed that she’d gotten out the good china and had set a table for two. “Oh! Are we having fancy coffee, Katherine?” I asked. Katherine smiled.
There was a knock on the door, and in walked a man in his late fifties, dressed in a suit and tie. He was also Polish, and he smiled at me approvingly. “Sit! Sit!” Katherine barked at me. I sat. So did the man. Katherine poured the coffee and set out the cakes. “She isth very good cook!” Katherine told the man.
“I didn’t make these,” I explained to the man. After Katherine had set us up, she left for the kitchen. This is weird, I thought, but didn’t make much of it. Apparently she wanted me to have coffee with the guy. Maybe he wanted to talk about college. We had a little chat, drank our coffee, and ate the cakes. The man kept smiling at me in a very strange way, but I just chatted away.
The snack done, I told Katherine that I had to go. “I have dancing lessons in an hour,” I explained. “See!” She said to the man, “She danz. She talented!” The man smiled again, and I said goodbye and tromped back down the hill to my house.
No sooner had I arrived home when the phone rang. My mother answered. It was Katherine. My mother listened to what she had to say, shot me a very quizzical look, and sternly explained to Katherine that she didn’t think it was a good idea. I could hear Katherine saying, “But they talken! They laughen! It ist a good match!” My mom’s face started to wrinkle and she was starting to laugh, but she kept her voice firm. “No, Katherine. I don’t think that she’s ready for that” and hung up the phone. Then she collapsed into peals of laughter.
“Katherine tried to set you up with a geezer!” She gasped. “That man! That man you met wants to marry you! You’re fifteen!” She barely got the words out.
“What????” I said. “Eeeew. She wanted me to marry him? He’s older than Daddy!” I felt funny.
My mom continued to laugh, “Oh my!” she’d say, wiping her eyes. “Oh dear! Oh hee hee hee!”
Katherine, on the other hand, thought my mother was insane and didn’t recover quickly from the slight. My mother decided that I wasn’t to go to Katherine’s without supervision. Eventually, however, Katherine tried again. This time she called my mother.
“I haf another man for yur daughter. He tall. He smart, he handsome, he young. He going to be doktor.”
“No, Katherine,” my mother said gently. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. I know you mean well, but we don’t do things like that here.” And with that, Katherine gave up.
Katherine died when I was in college, and I couldn’t make it home for the funeral. My mother called me afterwards, very apologetic. “Oh, Honey. I think I blew it. You know that last guy Katherine wanted to set you up with? Well, I met him. He was young, tall, and handsome. He is in medical school. He’s really nice. He also has a girlfriend. I’m so sorry. Perhaps I should have listened to her.”
Oh well. I guess I shouldn’t complain about being single.