Berger’s Burg: Looking back at my big fat, Jewish wedding

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On Sept. l, Gloria and I will celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary. We almost never made it.

By Alex Berger

“Will you love me when I am old and bald?” “It is tough enough now when you're young and hairy!”

On Sept. l, Gloria and I will celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary. We almost never made it.

As the seventh of eight children, I numerically watched my siblings, one by one, marry and leave home. With six of them out of the household, my father died. Then my younger brother, Milton, married, leaving just Mom and me.

She was aging and, as a devoted son, I vowed never to leave her alone. However, she would continually lecture me on the importance of marriage.

“But Mom, I want to make you happy,” I would answer, but she remained firm. “Get married to make me happy,” she said. And, every day, Mom kept making that same point.

“Find a nice girl and get married.”

Well, my four married sisters took over. They began to find eligible girls for me. There were tall ones. There were short ones, pretty and not so pretty ones, extroverted and shy ones. I even dated a chemistry Ph.D. candidate . She would reek with the odor of chemicals on her fingers which were dyed in a beautiful pastel color. But I rejected every last one of them. I refused to leave Mom.

Finally, sister Anna invited me to her home where she was entertaining two friends, a married couple, Sam and Fran. During the conversation, Fran told me that she had a friend, a Gloria Cream, who lived in the Bronx.

What kind of name was that, I asked. Since I lived in lower Manhattan, I jokingly remarked that I never dated girls from the Bronx. It was too far a distance to travel from lower Manhattan. And, with her name, Cream (dairy), and my name, Berger (meat), it would make an unkosher mix.

Then Fran showed me her picture. The girl was nice looking. With much prodding from everyone, I said I would call her. I did, and on Washington’s Birthday in February 1963, I had my first date with Gloria.

Gloria told me that she was born in the Bronx, moved to Brooklyn, then moved to Los Angeles when she was 13, returned to New York five years later when her father died suddenly at the age of 46. She was employed as a payroll supervisor and attended City College at night. I found Gloria to be unlike any of the other girls I dated. She was natural, not concerned about her hair-do, nor did she want to eat in expensive restaurants.

In addition, she was low-key, never overly dressed up, and thoroughly enjoyed her hair blowing in the wind while driving. So, I began to date her every week. On several occasions, I would meet her at her job in Manhattan after work. I once mentioned that I liked Lime-Rickeys, and every time I visited, she would have a cold Lime- Rickey waiting for me. Very considerate, that Gloria.

There were several major drawbacks however. She was a night owl. I was an early riser. She liked Pepsi while I preferred Coke. The toilet paper roll in her house was dispensed top-wise, while I was used to its being rolled underneath. And, she never ate breakfast, my favorite meal.

One time on an early date, we stopped for breakfast and she ordered a hamburger with everything on it for breakfast. Ugh! That turned my stomach and almost terminated our relationship right then and there.

But the greatest drawback was driving to and from her house on the West Side Highway. The tires on my car became quite worn-out traveling to the Bronx and inevitably would go flat. I changed flats so often I could have gotten a job as an AAA road serviceman. But I continued on with Gloria.

The songs of that period were delightful and we liked two: “I Love You Because” by Al Martino and “The

Twelfth of Never” by Johnny Mathis. We treasured the lyrics of both, and particularly, loved the line, “'Til

Poets Run Out Of Rhyme” from “The Twelfth of Never.”

Gloria’s birthday is Nov. 12 and that title still helps me remember that important date.

Well, I finally proposed, she accepted, and we began looking for an engagement and a wedding ring. She picked out both and “Til Poets Run Out Of Rhyme” was inscribed under the band of the wedding ring.

Everything was set. The date was Sept. l on Labor Day weekend.

The wedding was to be held at the now defunct Temple Zion on the Grand Concourse. Gloria had a small family — her mother, a brother, and a few aunts and uncles. I, on the other hand, had a very large family and the number of invited guests began to increase. We hoped many of them would decline to protect our meager budget, but that was not the case. It turned out to be an extremely large wedding.

I was very nervous on the day of the wedding, especially when the rabbi informed me that the ceremony must begin before 12 noon, in accordance with Jewish law, or else he could not perform the ceremony.

Fine and well.

Everything and everyone was in place much before the 12-noon deadline, except for Gloria’s mother’s twin sister, Hannah. We waited for Hannah, and waited and waited. No Hannah. I was tense, Gloria was tense, and the rabbi became very fidgety. I tried to get the ceremony started without Aunt Hannah, but Gloria's mother adamantly refused. “No wedding without Aunt Hannah.” The minutes began ticking by.

I pleaded with the rabbi to speak to Gloria’s mother. He did and was also rebuffed. As noon was approaching, the rabbi prepared to leave. Perspiration dripped from my forehead. I demanded that the wedding proceed immediately or there wouldn’t be a wedding. I then motioned the rabbi to commence. At that moment, Gloria’s mother screamed and began weeping.

Gloria’s brother, Barry, got into the act as did my brother, Milt, and both almost came to blows. It was complete pandemonium. Visions of my continued bachelorhood danced through my head.

Five minutes before the cancellation, Aunt Hannah finally pranced in. Gloria and I recited our vows to each other under masks of angerand frustration. Many people in the wedding party predicted that the marriage would never last.

Well, Gloria and I lasted for 39 years. We produced two wonderful sons, gained four grandchildren and

have a trunkful of marvelous memories. Just think. If Aunt Hannah had not arrived just in the nick of time, I wonder if I would be writing this column today.

So, Gloria, thank you for a happy 39th! I’m ready for 39 years more.

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at or call (718) 229-0300, ext. 140.

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