Monthly Archives: February 2016

Engaged in Engagements


Charlie and Judy, 1971

Valentine’s Day! On this most romantic holiday, there will be many marriage proposals. Some will be simple and old-fashioned: After getting the father’s blessing, a nervous man will bring his girlfriend to a quiet intimate spot, go on bent knee, and pop the question. For others it will be a huge production that involves elaborate planning, intrigue, and at times a huge cast of characters to carry it off.  Thanks to social media, this intimate moment has recently evolved into a very public “how many hits can my proposal get on You Tube?” event. No matter how couples get engaged, each story is unique, memorable, and forever part of their love story.

Larry intended to ask me to marry him on a grassy knoll at the Saratoga National Battlefield. Unfortunately, seconds before he was about to pop the question, he was stung by a bee. His lip began to swell, and we left hastily to find an ice pack. Two weeks later, we were walking home from Rosh Hashanah services in Saratoga Springs. Larry started talking about where we would live and how many children he would like us to have. When I asked him if this was a proposal, he quickly said, “No!” A few minutes later, as we were putting our coats away in a bedroom at his parents’ home, he asked, “So you want to get married?” I said yes, we started to kiss, and Corky, the Shapiros’ dog, jumped up and licked my face. Very romantic. We didn’t even share the news with the family until Yom Kippur Break-the-Fast.

Thirty-five years earlier, my parents’ engagement came after a whirlwind romance. After they had been maintaining a long-distant relationship for less than six months, my father came down to New York City from Alburgh, Vermont, to see my mother for the weekend. They had just seen Gone with the Wind, and my father proposed while they were having dessert in a coffee shop. “We were blinded by the movie,” my mother recalled sixty-five years later. “He thought I was Scarlett O’Hara and I thought he was Rhett Butler. Of course I said yes.”

My brother needed more time and certainly more of a push. Jay had been dating Leslie for over a year when they stayed at my parents’ cottage on Willsboro Point on Labor Day weekend. On Sunday night, Jay suggested to Leslie that they take a walk to the rocky promontory overlooking Lake Champlain. The sun was setting, the crickets were chirping, and Burlington lights twinkled in the distance—Leslie was sure this was “The Moment.” Nope. Jay just walked her back to the cottage. The next day, on the car ride back to Ithaca College, Leslie pressed for a commitment. “Give me one good reason why we should not get engaged,” Leslie recalled. When Jay failed to come up with any, Leslie announced, “Fine! We’re engaged!” It certainly wasn’t the romantic proposal that Leslie was dreaming of, but forty-five years later their commitment and marriage are going strong.

Leslie wasn’t the only one to reverse the roles in the proposal process. After graduating from Oberlin, Judy and Charlie were living together, unusual and not universally acceptable in 1971. Judy got tired of lying to everyone at work about her “roommates” and dealing with her parents’ unhappiness with the situation. “I asked Charlie, ‘Do you want to get married?’” Judy recalled. “He said ‘Sure. Why not?’” They tied the knot six weeks later. Debbie and Jim, both who had previously been married, had been dating for about a year, Debbie finally said to Jim, “So are we getting married or what?” They said their ‘I do’s’ in Jamaica that summer. And Diane’s proposal came in the form of a promise that she would keep the kosher home Mark insisted on from any woman he would marry.

Another couple’s engagement came after the evening from hell. On a freezing cold December night in Baltimore, Becky and Mark had made plans to go to a concert followed by dinner at the Playboy Club. While trying to find the concert venue, they got hopelessly lost in a questionable section of town. The situation deteriorated dramatically when Mark’s old car, “The Purple Monster,” sputtered and stopped dead. They both got out of the car, Mark lifted the hood, and the engine burst into flames. Mark yelled to Becky, “Quick! Give me your coat!” Becky quickly ripped it off, handed it to him, and watched as Mark used it to smother the fire.

Mark walked to a pay phone to contact AAA, leaving Becky alone, nervous, and shivering in the car with her smoke-smelling coat. They never made it to the concert or out to dinner. When they finally got back to their apartment, they were tired, cold and hungry.

“Any girl that is willing to go through all of that with me and still come home cheerful is the girl I want to spend my life with,” Mark said.”Will you marry me?” By that time, Becky had warmed up enough to say a resounding “Yes!”

For Becca, it was a rainy November night in Buenos Aires when she knew she would spend the rest of her life with Rolando. Becca tells it best:

“Ever so gently he kissed me-as softly as the rain falling into the dark night. ‘We will be married,’ he said, his dark eyes looking deeply into mine,” recalled Becca. “It was not a question. It was not a proposal. It was simply and forever understood that we belonged together—no matter the distance. No matter the obstacles. And, to this day the sound of raindrops softly falling reminds me of the promise of our eternal love.”

Wow, Becca! Sure beats everything I have seen on You Tube. Happy Valentine’s Day to you, Rolando, and all the couples celebrating their love.

Marilyn Shapiro

January 27, 2016

Many Marilyns

Since I was old enough to remember, people have always associated my name with Marilyn Monroe. I am frequently asked if I was named after the former blonde icon. To this day, when new acquaintances or telephone business contacts ask me to repeat my first name, I often say, “I’m Marilyn, like Marilyn Monroe.” In truth, the former Norma Jean did not come onto the scene until after I was born. I was named after my Aunt Mary, and my mother chose my specific name because she loved Marilyn Miller, a stunning blonde who was one of the most popular Broadway musical stars of the 1920s and early 1930s.

Although not a popular name choice today, I have shared my name and life with several other Marilyns. When I was around five years old, our town held a beauty contest. A tall, blonde beauty named Marilyn was declared the winner. I remember feeling the sense of pride that I shared a name with Miss Keeseville 1956.

While going through Keeseville Central School, the only other Marilyn I knew was a classmate two years ahead of me. I always looked up to her as she was one of the sweetest, kindest, and most intelligent people I knew. In her senior year, Marilyn was named Yearbook Queen, the honor given to the most well-liked, respected senior girl. Again, I felt lucky to have the same name as the most popular girl in our small school.

While enrolled in University at Albany, I ran into a few more Marilyns. Two days after moving into our suite, Freshman Marilyn couldn’t get into the program she wanted at University at Albany due to some computer glitch. She called her parents and insisted that they bring her home. Less than a week later, the situation was rectified, and she returned to campus in another dorm. She later became a close friend of my cousin Marsha, and our paths crossed forty-two years later at Marsha’s sixtieth birthday party

Where the “Marilyn” coincidences began to really pile up was in my early twenties. Larry and I met at a Purim party. While sharing hamantashen, we also shared family history. Larry had a sister named Marilyn Shapiro, who, like me, was the third child of four children and the second girl. To add to the confusion, my sister-in-law kept her maiden name when she married. The family has had to distinguish between us by use of our middle names: Marilyn Pearl and Marilyn Renee. My preferred is my tongue-in-cheek version: “The Original” and “The New and Improved.”

From then on, Marilyns were more frequently part of our lives. At Congregation Beth Shalom in Clifton Park, Morah Marilyn took leadership roles in the Hebrew school, moving from teacher to education director. It didn’t even help to use last initials, as her surname also began with “S.” I finally got used to the fact that when people referred to a Marilyn at the synagogue, it was usually in reference to the Hebrew school Morah Marilyn and not Congregant Marilyn.

When Julie got married in 2007, another Marilyn came into the fold. Sam’s parents are Bill Massman and, you guessed it, Marilyn Martynuk. Despite the geographic distance between me and the Fort Collins Marilyn, we have become dear friends, and the four in-laws even rented a condo near Julie and Sam in Frisco, Colorado, the summer our granddaughter was born. We got used to answering to our name based on which husband was calling out to us. As this is Marilyn’s second grandchild, she already had dibs on the moniker of Nana Marilyn.  I am not sure what Sylvie Rose will be calling me when she starts talking, but for now, I will be Grandma Marilyn. It is my understanding from several of my friends who have duplicate machatunim names (Bernie and Bernie; Carole and Carol; Bill and Bill), grandchildren rarely have issues distinguishing between them.

During our move to Florida, Larry and I picked up another Marilyn. When we wanted to learn more about the Jewish club at Solivita, we got in touch with Shalom Club Marilyn She, like Morah Marilyn, is immersed in the Jewish community both through the community’s social club and through our new synagogue, Congregation Shalom Aleichem. When we met each other, we found out that we have another connection. For several years, Marilyn, now a retired nurse, volunteered at the Maccabean Games in Israel. In 1997, she and our daughter Julie were part of the United States delegation, Julie as a track and field athlete and Marilyn as a member of the medical team. While packing up our house for our move, Larry and I came across the 1997 Maccabean Games yearbook. There was Nurse Marilyn front and center in one of the pictures.

When I moved to our community in Florida, I joined a women’s writing group in our community, and I met my most recent Marilyn, a published children’s book author. We refer to each other as British Marilyn and Yankee Marilyn, and everyone in the group understands.

While in Colorado during Julie’s pregnancy, I would browse through the stack of baby books she and Sam had accumulated. One of my favorites was a well-thumbed baby name book. Since we were not to learn our granddaughter’s name until she was born, I spent quite a bit of time looking through the paperback, trying to guess which ones sounded like potential winners. Of course, I had to check out the authors’ take on my name. It was not exactly flattering. Despite the Miller and Monroe who had made the name popular in previous generations, the authors stated that this choice had lost its former “stardust.” “Marilyn,” they stated, “has none of the freshness or sparkle that would inspire a parent to use it for a millennial child.”

It was Marilyn Monroe herself who said, “We are all of us stars, and we deserve to twinkle.” Fortunately, I have known many stars named Marilyn, and they all have brought light and sparkle to my life.