$5 wedding gets long marriage off to amusing, wonderful start

The recent loss of my wife, Esther, after 69 years together — five courting and 64 married — stirred up many memories. My fondest is of our $5 wedding on Aug. 31, 1934.

It happened one hot afternoon in the Depression when Hitler was on the rise.

In that dreadful time, my wife-to-be and I lived with our respective families helping to meet mortgage payments, food and household expenses. Even a modest wedding ceremony was out of the question, so we decided to elope and inform our families later.

We sought guidance from a co-worker who qualified as an expert on several counts. He had shopped around and compared the costs of rabbinical services for his marriage. Most important, he had a car.

It was not much of a car, a second-hand Model-T Ford two-seater, but it could take the three of us to Alexandria, Va.

In Alexandria, our friend had found a low-fee rabbi we could afford. We left work early, and, with three corned beef sandwiches, squeezed into the tin lizzie and rattled off along Route 1 on the long trip.

In a picnic mood, I began serenading the bride-to-be with the old song from the Gay Nineties, "Daisy Bell," a favorite of singers and tap dancers. We stopped for gas, then wormed our way through the dense Washington traffic.

We bounced down a cobbled back street of Alexandria and stopped in front of a weather-beaten brown shingle cottage. The parlor had been converted with benches, a bimah and an ark, into a small synagogue.

The rabbi, a small, bearded man already wearing his prayer shawl and yarmulke, called to his wife in the kitchen. "Sara," he said in Yiddish, "they're here. Get the boys."

From the strong smell of fish cooking, we knew the wife was preparing Sabbath dinner. She called to the boys who had been playing in the back yard. Barefoot, they came running into the synagogue and immediately set to a task they had done before.

They unrolled the chuppah. Each took one pole. The wife, emerging from the kitchen, wiping her sweaty face and hands with her apron, took the third pole and handed the fourth to our friend. She was so pregnant that when the rabbi crowded the bride and groom under the canopy, her belly was pushing me.

She became aware of it and backed off.

It was over quickly. The rabbi bid us to kiss, handed me a marriage certificate and had me crush the small glass reminding us of the destruction of the Temple. Everyone yelled "Mazel Tov!" I paid the $5 and we headed home.

A month later, when I had obtained a slightly better paying job and found a tiny furnished apartment, we informed our parents of our marriage. They were happy but they wished they had attended.

At our low-budget wedding, there were no printed invitations or fancy clothes. There was no caterer, no orchestra, no champagne. There were no ice sculptures, no shoes and rice. There was no bill in six figures, but it was a fine wedding.

Today, more than half of all first marriages end in divorce and 60 percent of all second marriages fail. We found that airing complaints and arguing did not weaken, but actually strengthened, our marriage. Usually, we worked out problems to our satisfaction. We confronted differences. Our standards were respect for each other, civility, communication and compromise.

Our marriage worked for 64 years, while today, many with fancier weddings do not last 64 weeks.