From the time I was a kid, I was completely enamored by my parents’ courtship. I thought that the story of how they met was just about the greatest thing in the entire world – and it set the bar pretty high for my finding my own ‘how did you meet and fall in love?’ story.
Now that I’m married and settling into the rhythms of partner-hood, I spend less time thinking about my parents’ falling in love, and more time looking to them as a guide for creating a lifelong relationship. I’m one of those lucky kids who got to watch their parents live out this incredible marriage – and got to watch them work really hard at making it and keeping it great. They didn’t make it look effortless. But they certainly made it look fantastic.
But since Valentine’s Day is fast upon us – the day that we recall all the famous love stories throughout history – I thought I’d take the opportunity to remember my parents’ own story, to put them in line with the Antony and Cleopatra’s, the Liz and Richard’s, the Bogie and Bacall’s, the Sarandon and Robbins’. To teach these other fated lovers what a real love story looks like, if nothing else.
My parents grew up a few blocks from each other, in northwest Philadelphia. They went to the same synagogue, and the same middle school. My dad went to Central (the Philadelphia all-boys public high school), and my mom went to Girls High (the neighboring all-girls school). But my dad was two years older than my mom, and sadly, they never met.
When my dad graduated from high school, he moved to Ohio for college and spent the next five years pretending he was Jack Kerouak, hitchhiking across the country. My mom, by contrast, got married directly out of high school, after my grandfather told her she wasn’t allowed to leave the house until she had a husband. She enrolled in the psychology program at Temple University and spent the next few years juggling a volatile relationship and a budding career as a feminist and a clinician, moonlighting as a researcher on a local version of the Kinsey sexology studies.
My mom and her first husband divorced in October of 1975, and she moved into a group house (read: commune) with a handful of friends in the hippy neighborhood of Germantown. The same month, my dad, newly single after a several-week stint hiking and horseback riding with his then-girlfriend through the Andes Mountains, moved into a separate collective house just a few blocks away.
On February 13, 1976, the pair first locked eyes at McGillan’s Tavern, a out-of-the-way downtown bar. They were there for Susan Thompson’s 30th birthday party, and when the gang migrated from happy hour to the chinese restaurant a few blocks away, they made sure that they were sitting next to each other. They talked all night.
The following evening, Valentine’s Day, my parents had their first date; they watched the movie Morgan at my dad’s apartment.
Within weeks, the two had moved in together, and when my mom graduated from college the following May (three months later), they gave up their apartment and set off on a cross-country trip in their trusty Plymouth Valiant. During an evening with friends at the Pretzel Bell in Ann Arbor, Michigan, they decided to get married. They called their parents and told them the good news. When will we have the wedding, my grandmother asked. We’ll be back at the end of August, they told her. Let’s do it then.
They continued on with their adventures, traveling from dive bar to dive bar, national park to national park, southwest rodeo to southwest rodeo, basking in their pre-honeymoon glow.
Then, in the middle of July, they, quite literally, saw the light. The duo had been trekking through the desert, when Sin City lit up the night sky. They looked at each other, and they both knew. The big Jewish wedding that was being planned back home was for their parents. They wanted to do something for themselves. No one would have to know.
The only sober people in line at the all-night justice of the peace (they couldn’t afford the all-night wedding chapel), Steve Perkiss (age 24) and Cindy Charney (22) made it official at 1:00 in the morning on July 10, 1976.
The following day they continued on their way, expecting to spend the next five weeks in secretly-wedded bliss, before heading home for the faux-big day. And then, during a few-day stay in San Francisco, that trusty Plymouth Valiant of theirs gave out on them. My dad called his parents and asked them to wire them money so that they could get home. When my parents arrived back in Philadelphia, my grandmother took one look at them and said, “Well, you can both stay here, but you can’t sleep in the same bedroom until you’re married. You have an eleven-year-old brother, Steve. It just wouldn’t be proper.”
As it happens, my dad said, we are married.
My grandparents didn’t believe him until he pulled the marriage certificate out of his back pocket. Once the shock wore off, they relented. Two weeks later, they renewed their vows rabbi-style, and to this day, my parents celebrate on July 10th and my grandparents send cards on August 28th.
Over the past 33 years, my parents have continued to support each other and challenge each other. Best friends and madly in love, they still tease each other and touch each other. They excel separately, but thrive together. They fight, of course, as any couple does, but you’d be hard-pressed to find two people who’ve made it work as well as these two have.
And so, with Valentine’s Day (and the 33rd anniversary of their first date) looming and my own relationship just getting to the three-year mark, I want to take a moment to pause and celebrate this dynamic duo. Here’s to 33 more years of wedded bliss for them. If I make it as far as they have with even half of the love and commitment they’ve shared for each other, I’ll consider myself to be one lucky gal.