My grandfather was born a storyteller. He was the type of storyteller who would enthrall you, keep you on the edge of your seat begging to hear more. It didn’t matter if you already knew the ending to the story. Over the years, I was lucky enough to hear many of my grandfather’s stories, not the least of which was the one about how he met and fell in love with my grandmother.
It was the 1940s. My grandmother, in her mid-twenties, had already been living in New York with two of her older brothers, an older sister and her mother and father for some time. Now, it’s important to remember that although my grandmother was a dish and could appear to be stupid, she had two secret weapons in her arsenal: she had balls and she had a brain. These weapons were secret in the sense that she only revealed them to select individuals and only under very certain circumstances. That was what made her such a good businesswoman and, later, a revered card shark.
Primarily, my grandmother was in the business of getting what she wanted, be it in love or money. And in both realms, she had excelled from day one. To give you an example of what I’m talking about, she worked for her older brother for a few years and knew her stuff through and through. However, when she asked him for her well-deserved raise, he refused. She didn’t take no for an answer though. Instead, she made an appointment with the man who owned the competition and, that evening, when she came home she calmly announced over dinner that she was quitting to work for Joe’s competitors at one and a half times her current salary. Naturally, Joe was aghast and quickly promised to pay her the same salary if she stayed. Knowing that she had him on his knees sinece he couldn’t function without her, she held out for a 100% raise. It didn’t take long for him to acquiesce.
Although my grandmother was an immigrant who had spent two years of her young life living off and on various boats, she behaved no less ruthlessly in love – she always aimed for the best with a ton of success. As a result, she had a trail of rich and powerful men after her who constantly sent limousines to fetch her on her off-hours, and invited her to New York Society’s finest galas.
Eventually, she narrowed her circle of admirers to a few, one of which was Ira Gershwin. By all accounts, he was nuts about her. He composed songs for and about her, took her to the finest restaurants, and brought her to the theatre with his seasonal tickets. He wanted to marry her, and was willing to court her until the stars came home if that’s what it was going to take. And she was weakening. A little…
But here’s where things get interesting. That summer, my grandmother and her older sister went to one of those family vacation resorts that existed in the ‘40s. It was located in the Northern part of the state of New York and was, as I imagine it, akin to the one in which the movie Dirty Dancing takes place. For those of you who have seen the movie, you should have no trouble envisioning the setting. But, enough of the editorial comments and back to the story.