This cup and saucer is one of a set of six that used to belong to a woman named Pelda. Pelda was my friend Richard’s mother, and when she passed away I helped him with the sad task of cleaning out her apartment; to thank me, he saved this tea set for me, along with a small sugar bowl and creamer.
Richard and I actually were a couple 20 years ago. We met through a personals ad – the pre-Internet version of online dating – and had a whirlwind first date that lasted about eighteen hours. Our second date was even more dramatic – I was struck with a freak medical problem out of nowhere, and Richard rushed me to the emergency room, stayed with me the whole nine hours it took the doctors to ascertain I’d need surgery, took on the duty of calling my parents to let them know, and took me in for a week when I was released from the hospital two days later so I could have a few extra days’ recovery. (I overheard him on the phone to a friend during that week, who asked him how his second date with me had gone; Richard laughed and said “It hasn’t ended yet!”) Everyone I tell this story to is surprised that we didn’t end up marrying; but while it did break my heart the day Richard did end our relationship, I always knew it would end at some point; Richard is pretty married to his work.
But the end of a romance didn’t mean the end of a relationship. We broke up, but never stopped talking – he met all my subsequent boyfriends, I met all of his subsequent girlfriends. He was my “date” to my brother’s wedding. And I was occasionally his “date” to Seders at his mother’s.
I actually met Pelda while we were dating; we figured that since he’d already met my parents, I should probably meet his mother sooner rather than later. Pelda was a stylish, thin woman with a ready smile and a witty tongue, an almost stereotypical Upper East Side matron. Richard’s parents were separated, and for most of his childhood it was just the two of them; and I could tell right away the two doted on each other. Richard is nearly incapable of resisting the impulse to crack a joke, and around Pelda all of his jokes were obviously meant to get a rise out of her; but instead of getting angry, she would just laugh, shake her head, and sigh, “Oh, Richard, you rotten kid….”
I was a little too shy to say much during our first meeting, and didn’t start getting to really know her until after Richard and I broke up. One year, Richard spontaneously invited me to his mother’s Seder, which usually included the two of them, and a couple Pelda knew. But this meant that Richard was usually tasked with asking the traditional Four Questions the youngest person at the table asks at the start of the feast. Usually this falls to a child, but between Richard, Pelda, and the Grosses, there were no children. “And frankly,” Richard admitted when inviting me, “I’m really sick of asking those four fucking questions.” So that year the Four Questions at Pelda’s Seder were going to be asked by an Irish-Catholic woman. But Pelda welcomed me, presenting me with a little copy of the Haggadah I could keep, so I’d understand what was going on; and adding a little gold necklace with “Love” spelled out in Hebrew letters. She also cheered me on when I insisted on actually trying to ask the Four Questions in faltering phonetic Hebrew. I only went to a couple of other Seders after that, but the years I didn’t, Pelda would send me a card wishing me a good Pesach. Most years I remembered to send one as well.
I wore that necklace to Pelda’s memorial a couple years ago, and when Richard asked if anyone wanted to get up and tell a story, I did, speaking of her warmth and welcome. Richard thanked me afterward, telling me that his mother had always been very fond of me; he said that again when I was helping him to clean out her apartment, and he encouraged me to take other things of hers.
….I admit that I was a little uneasy when I saw this prompt. I am single; and I would very much like not to be. Richard may be comfortable as a lifelong bachelor, and some of the loves I’ve had since him have blessed me beyond measure, but I’d still like one of those boyfriends to stay at some point rather than going away.
But being single does not mean that I don’t have love. It also doesn’t mean that love hasn’t touched my life and doesn’t continue to touch it. Love is the reason I have that tea set – I have it because Richard loved Pelda, Pelda loved Richard, I loved them both, and they both loved me.