1982: A Year of Change

 

 

Changes were afoot in 1982. It was a big year for the Brody family. Joshua, the first grandchild, born to my brother and sister-in-law, Mark and Pam, arrived February 1st. In April Uncle Terry and Aunt Barbara moved from the upstairs apartment in Canarsie to a large suburban house in Morganville, New Jersey. My parents had their first non-family tenants take their place. I began my job search, as I was in the last semester of my master’s program at Columbia. Gary was waiting to hear about medical school admissions, he was wait-listed at Pittsburgh and Downstate (in Brooklyn).  It was a time of excitement and anxiety.

In the midst of this, and maybe because of it, my parents started looking for a second home. I think my father thought that, since they would truly be empty nesters for the first time, my mom needed a distraction. Financially things were more comfortable than ever before. All three of us kids would be out of the house (two were married), they would have a market-rent-paying tenant, and their own salaries had crept up over the many years of teaching. They could afford to consider getting a country home. Their close friends, Cliff and Muriel, were in a similar position and together they went on weekend jaunts exploring places where they could consider buying.

Cliff was my Dad’s closest friend. He was principal of an elementary school in Brooklyn. Muriel was a home economics teacher.  As couples and individuals they shared many interests: travel, food, wine, books, and, for the men, tennis. Cliff and Muriel shared a unique quality: each had a very distinctive voice. Cliff’s was a gravelly bass rumble. Muriel spoke loud Brooklynese with a shrillness that could be hard on the ears. Fortunately, she was funny and interesting, her voice grew on you as you got to know her.

The two couples took weekend trips to the Catskills and the Poconos. They were looking for modest lakefront homes where they could escape from the stresses and strains of Brooklyn living and working. After checking out a number of areas, they came upon Edgewood Lakes Inn, a rustic hotel outside of Livingston Manor in the Catskills. Private homes were being developed on property adjacent to the hotel. Owners would have access to hotel amenities and to a lake. The two couples took the plunge and put down a deposit. Arrangements were made with a local builder.

Given that my parents were life-long Brooklynites, they entered this project with some trepidation. They had no history of being outdoorsy. I don’t recall them ever hiking or fishing or skiing. They had an appreciation for nature – but at a distance. When we drove through a national park, like Yellowstone, we pulled over at scenic overlooks. There were no hiking boots or backpacks involved. If we came across a mouse in our house, we all freaked out. My mother was afraid of all animals. Buying property in the woods, and building a house there, was a bold choice.

Those plans were proceeding while I moved toward graduation. I found a job with the Mayor’s Office of Operations in New York City. Gary continued working at a lab at Columbia Presbyterian, still waiting to hear about medical school.

At the end of June, I started my new job. I was assigned a cubicle in a row of interior cubicles. I was given a standard issue desk, chair and telephone. I called home and gave Mom my number so they could reach me if necessary (this was long before cell phones). I went through some orientation activities in the morning.  I was setting up my desk in the afternoon when the phone on my desk rang. I was quite surprised. I thought, who could possibly be calling? I was even more surprised when I heard Gary’s voice. I hadn’t even given him the number yet. He shared great news; he was accepted at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine! He was very excited and I was, too. But, it was also complicated.

Through my final semester in graduate school we wanted to coordinate our plans. We hoped the timing would work out, that I would know where he was going to be for medical school and I could search for a job there. But it didn’t play out that way.  Time was passing, I had to make a choice, so I took the job in the city. On my very first day of work, on June 21, 1982, we learned that Gary would be moving to Pittsburgh at the end of August.

That night Gary picked me up after work and we went to a bar in Sheepshead Bay for a celebratory drink. We sat at a table and raised a glass to toast his good fortune. Then, Gary asked me to marry him. Though Gary and I were planning our future together, we had not formalized it. There had been no proposal. For reasons I couldn’t really understand, Gary needed to know he was accepted to medical school before he would propose. It didn’t matter to me. I knew I wanted to be with him if he was a science teacher, lab tech or doctor. But, he didn’t see it that way. Now that he had the certainty of admission to Pitt, he popped the question. I said yes. He didn’t have a ring yet, he wanted me to shop with him so he would know what I liked.

We had decisions to make – and not just about the ring. I couldn’t see leaving the job I just started. We agreed that it was probably good for Gary to start medical school on his own so he could concentrate fully on his classes and get adjusted to the workload without worrying about me. Our preliminary plan was for me to stay at my job for a year, get married and then join him in Pittsburgh.

We shared all of this with our parents. Years later I learned from my father that they considered backing out of purchasing the house at Livingston Manor because of the looming cost of the wedding. They had not anticipated that we would be getting married that soon. After considering their options, they decided not to change course. Though it would be tight, they thought they could manage it.

The summer of ’82 passed. We planned the wedding. At the end of August, I accompanied Gary on the drive to Pittsburgh. His father rented a small van and we nervously drove it the length of the curvy, foggy Pennsylvania Turnpike. I helped get him settled, then I flew back home.

I came home to an empty house. In New York City the school year, my parent’s work year, didn’t start until after Labor Day which fell on September 6 that year. They were squeezing the last bit of pleasure out of the summer by spending the days leading up to Labor Day at Edgewood Lakes Inn.

My parents called me from there late one afternoon. That day, September 1, Cliff had a massive heart attack and died. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it happened while he was on the tennis court with my father. It was shocking. Cliff was 52, my Dad was 49. I was devastated for my father, actually for everyone. It was hard to take it all in.

Again, my parents faced a decision about going forward with the house. It was starting to feel like it wasn’t meant to be. While I wasn’t privy to all the details, they decided to move forward and Muriel did, too.

When I look back at 1982, it was such a roller coaster for my family. The birth of Josh. The traumatic death of Cliff.  Dad went for a thorough physical afterwards and found out that he had a bundle branch blockage, meaning that two of the three electrical pathways that regulated his heartbeat were blocked. He was told that eventually he might need a pacemaker. He also found out that his cholesterol was very high. Dad made a number of lifestyle changes as a result. It took him some time to get back on the tennis court, but he did.

Gary finished his first semester of medical school very successfully. We decided six months at my new job was enough, rather than a full year, and I moved to Pittsburgh in January of 1983, we got married in July. The house at Livingston Manor was built and was a happy home for my parents for over 20 years. They hiked, they went cross-country skiing, they hosted family and friends, they picked blueberries from the bushes in the woods nearby, they dealt with an invasion of bats. They mourned Cliff’s loss. Life went on in all its bittersweet glory.

10 thoughts on “1982: A Year of Change

  1. How do you remember that year so clearly? I don’t remember you keeping a diary. Reliving that time for me has been incredible, mostly good but not all. Who knew I would miss my brother and his family so much? I niavely thought we would always live together. It turned out to be the best thing for both of us. The death of Cliff was devastating, planning your wedding, traumatic for me, but you handled all the decisions without batting an eye. Your writing remains impeccable. So thanks for the memory.

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    1. I’m sure bringing up these memories is a mixed bag – bittersweet. There was actually a lot more I could’ve written about – and maybe I will return to it. Planning the wedding may deserve its own post. Also, right after Cliff’s death, Dad and I went to the US Open with tickets Gary had gotten. Dad had never been at that point, but the timing couldn’t have been worse. Also a story for another time, maybe.

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  2. 1982 was a significant year for all of us. We moved to NJ. Your mother felt like we abandoned her. She was depressed knowing her children have started their lives and we would also be gone. Building a vacation house was a great idea by your father to give your mother something exciting and a new project. It really worked perfectly.

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  3. Wow, what a sequence of events. Our getting engaged, …………..wait, was there anything else? I remember so well the thought process behind my decision. I wanted to know that I had a path forward, a path that would allow me to earn a decent living such that we weren’t worried about putting food on the table or keeping a roof over our head. I felt like that was a guy thing back then but I am not sure what you would call it now. Maybe an anachronism.
    And where were we as young adults back then? I think still quite young and self centered, but starting to grapple with adult issues. I remember going to see Hershele, Harry the jeweler, and how scary it was buying that ring. And I remember how your dad lowered his cholesterol from 254 to 153 by changing his diet. Little snippets. Part of a larger story.
    Quite a year. It got a lot better when you moved to Pittsburgh.

    Thank you for the wonderful blog post and for saying yes.

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  4. Beautiful writing! Love the way you recapture the mix of emotions going on for you and your family at key transition points of life. The home at Livingston Manor was a happy home indeed, and a place of so many wonderful memories of my childhood.

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  5. Not sure where to begin as your blog raised so many powerful memories. In no particular order:

    1. Your painting of Livingston manor done by Mom. I have an almost identical painting but yours is springtime and mine is winter. Mom always liked you best. Just one more example.

    2. I did not know (nor should I have) that Gary’s dad rented a van and took him to med school. Query for Leah: any chance at all that your grandfather tol might have been just a bit proud of your dad becoming a doctor. And what a blessing to our family (and countless others no doubt) that he did.

    3. Purchasing Livingston manor… I represented both Muriel and our parents in a very complex closing. I was working on the real property bureau at the time and got lots of good guidance. (The elements I insisted on put Mom in great position 20 years later as I had anticipated the potential for the hotel closing. My fee for that Work led pam, me and josh (at age of 7 months) to be able to afford closing costs for the house we still live or work in today.

    4. Terry taking his family to New Jersey…. how terrible…. we now had to go to nj to visit ray and Sarah. Then Steve followed suit. … and now we have a perfect places to visit on our way to visit dad’s namesake in virginia. So I guess terry did all right by us….

    5. The memories at Livingston manor… so RICH… josh picking blueberries. I remember someone- you? Perhaps telling josh what a disciplinarian that his grandfather was and josh looking at you and saying not his grandfather. Dad “defended” himself by telling josh that he did set rules for the grandkids. Josh said, “grandpa, if sam and I wanted to play frisbee with the good China it would have been ok with you.” Dad who could not tell a lie, said, but we do not have good China.

    5. Tragic indeed it was that cliff passed away. But t I did get to see how resilient Muriel and dad was. Important lessons.

    Great blog.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts. 1. You always told me Mom liked you best! I happen to love the winter painting. 🙂 2. Gary’s Dad was indeed very proud, but he didn’t accompany us on the trip. I will write about Gary’s graduation at some point because it was quite meaningful for everyone, but David, in particular. 5. The grandchildren had Dad wrapped around their fingers – you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?

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