Sunday, March 17, 2019

A Tribute to Gilda on Her 70th Birthday

Half a century. Fifty years ago Gilda and I started our relationship. Actually, she started it by asking me to escort her to a Christmas get-together at the home of one of her political science teachers. That was the one and only time I ever was in a Brooklyn Heights brownstone. 

Gilda is 11 days my junior. She turned 70 Sunday. 

I thought I would tell you how accomplished she is. But I did that a few weeks ago, as far as her professional career, when we celebrated our 46th wedding anniversary (

Today, I’ll concentrate on her non professional side. 

Those fortunate to have eaten a meal prepared by Gilda know how good a cook she is. She didn’t start out that way. The first meal she made for me, a lunch before she embarked with friends on a college winter break trip to Montreal, was spaghetti and a chicken pot pie. She served the latter still partially frozen, the spaghetti overcooked and clumped together so firmly it could be picked up in its entirety with one plunge of a fork. 

I love reminding her of her cooking pedigree. She takes it with grace. She is not shy of elaborating to friends how in her first apartment she decided to make beef stroganoff. The recipe called for heavy cream. She had no idea what that meant and, as her apartment lacked a phone because of a telephone worker strike, she was unable to call anyone for advice. So off she trundled to the local grocer where she lifted up containers of different creams. She decided 8 ounces of sour cream weighed more than 8 ounces of any other cream. She apparently had not seen a container marked “heavy cream.” 

The recipe also called for a clove of garlic. She assumed a clove was synonymous with a full head of garlic.  

Gilda remembers the stroganoff didn’t really taste that bad. I couldn’t say. I was up in Syracuse at graduate school.  

Gilda took time off from work as a nurse to spend seven years raising Dan and Ellie. She enjoyed almost all of that time (okay, not when Dan had severe colic) but drew the line at sitting through kiddie films. Thus, I should not have been surprised when as a family we went to see Disney’s animated Oliver and Company and she disappeared midway through the film. I couldn’t leave the kids in a dark movie theater to search for her. She showed up in the lobby later, having ducked into a screening of Working Woman. 

She wouldn’t be normal if she didn’t complain once in a while. Kindness from and to others is her most fervent desire. When it is not proffered or appreciated she is not happy.

Gilda exults in her time outdoors, be it in her garden, in private or public gardens we have walked, or during almost daily constitutionals around our neighborhood. With the aid of fluorescent lights during the winter she turns our basement into a hothouse of geraniums lifted up from her garden before fall’s first frost.

She reads several books at a time, a history or biography along with a novel. She reads three newspapers a day, the online versions of The New York Times, the Boston Globe and the Omaha World Herald, the last two as a way of keeping up with developments where Dan’s and Ellie’s families live. She also reads Internet news sites, especially the US, a site that she admits has some pretty weird stories but she notes oftentimes has more information on breaking news and current events sooner and in more detail than The Times. 

Family and friends are exceedingly important to her, part of the reason we expanded our home after our children went off to college. A modernized kitchen with a larger dining room and living room meant we could accommodate more guests. For Rosh Hashanah, Passover and Thanksgiving Gilda spends weeks cooking for large groups of friends and family. Many Friday nights she welcomes the Sabbath with friends who get to savor her cooking and her newfound skill, baking challah.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Gilda’s accomplishments is that she is a self-taught success. It is not blasphemy to report that her parents did not provide effective role models. Her father Irving travelled frequently and was not a dominant presence in the family. He died suddenly when she was nine. Her mother Rose offered little by way of comfort or example. She could not cook, so Gilda never learned. She did not welcome any of Gilda’s friends into their household. Rose was a simple woman with little curiosity, gumption or industriousness. She convinced Gilda’s sister to work in an office rather than attend college. She would have liked Gilda to do the same, but Gilda chose her own path. 

Naturally, she would not pay for Gilda’s college education. So Gilda enrolled in Brooklyn College, a commuter school that at the time cost about $100 per semester for tuition and books. Gilda worked to pay her own school costs as well as buying her own clothing and other living expenses. One could say I am indebted to Rose’s penny-pinching ways for enabling Gilda and me to find one another. Fifty years ago.