Thoughts Prompted by the Fact That Today is December 22



Thoughts Prompted by the Fact That Today is December 22


Jacob Schlitt


"There is a spiritual which begins, 'Woke up this morning with my mind on freedom.' Well, I woke up this morning with my mind on the fact that this would have been our 56th wedding anniversary if Sylvia and I were still married."















There is a spiritual which begins, "Woke up this morning with my mind on freedom." Well, I woke up this morning with my mind on the fact that this would have been our 56th wedding anniversary if Sylvia and I were still married. I wonder if the same thought occurred to Sylvia I guess I had been the romantic in that relationship. Romantic and unrealistic. For some time I have been struggling with what is real and what I would like it to be. What was the relationship Sylvia and I had? Was it love? What is the relationship Fran and I have? Again, is it love? And what is love? This is the sort of question an adolescent asks, and I am asking it at 80.

I have already written about what I called the courtship and marriage episodes. In retrospect, neither was particularly romantic. The first time around, I pestered Sylvia through the summer and fall of 1951 until she finally said she would marry me. And then we planned a quickly thrown-together wedding, December 22, 1951, with a ceremony in a rabbi's study, and a party with our friends in the apartment that I had shared with my mother, which was to be our home. What should have been a night of love-making, wasn't. And though for me, there was a physical attraction, I don’t know if there was for Sylvia. We had a pleasant enough honeymoon in a cottage in Mt. Tremper in the Catskills, but then we returned to our hectic schedules.

How different was my life after Dec. 22, as opposed to my life immediately before Dec. 22? I didn’t come home to an empty apartment. I had someone to talk to, face to face. We were caught up in refurnishing the apartment, which meant getting rid of as much of my mother’s furniture as possible, and getting our own. Out went the mahogany and my mother’s antiques and art, of which we had no idea of their value, and in came Herman Miller and Russell Wright. We were also caught up in working, and going to school and going out, and planning our life together which included planning a driving trip across the country with Sid and Barbara the summer of 1952, which turned into our hitchhiking by ourselves. Young and in love? Or just two friends having an adventure?

The next few years were hectic and exciting. I suspect I was too self-involved: Local 38, NYU. As I look back, I can’t remember in any detail the jobs Sylvia had: JFS? Teaching at a Jewish day school? Did she take classes after graduating?

And then the army, basic training at Fort Dix, then Ft. Jackson, Camp Rucker where Sylvia joined me, and reassignment to Camp Gordon where we spent the next 18 months, and where Carol was born. What did we feel for each other? Love? Was there passion? Or again, two sensible people arranging a sensible life together. I was caught up in outsmarting the army. I had a good deal as a statistician in the Signal Corps, and then figured out how to get out three months early by going back to school: an early discharge, February 29, 1956. We returned to the Bronx with our 4 1/2 month old baby. I returned to NYU and the ILGWU, and it turned out that I would stay with neither. I found a job with the Jewish Labor Committee, and the next year we found a new apartment in Brooklyn.

I loved my job with the JLC. I am not sure whether Sylvia loved her new role as housewife and mother. Lewis was born in 1958, and Martha in 1962. And we were the perfect family. We saw a lot of Sylvia's folks and sister, and our friends, and we made new friends in Crown Heights, and Sylvia joined an amateur theatrical group, and we were aware that there were "problems" but we weren't sure how to deal with them. I changed jobs, becoming Education Director of the laundry workers union, but still close to the JLC and the NY AFL-CIO. And to our friends.

Toward the end of 1964, I was offered the job of Education Director of AFSCME in Washington DC. Wow. Sylvia and I talked it over, and we decided that I should take it. We would be starting a new life. Perhaps the "problems" would diminish. We would be caught up in making a new home, new friends. My friends, the Stacks and the Slaimans insisted that we live in the Neighbors Inc. area. We found a wonderful house for rent, and a year later, a wonderful house to buy. By January 1965, we were Washingtonians, and Carol and Lewis were going to the Shepherd School ("Now I know what an integrated school is.") Sylvia became involved with Neighbors Inc. and became friends with Ruth Stack. Soon, her marriage to Mel Stack ended, and we introduced her to Dan Jordan whose marriage to Betsy had also ended. It is now the late '60s. My job at AFSCME ended toward the end of 1965, but thanks to Ruth, I connected with Sam Simmons and got a job in the Field Services Division of the US Commission on Civil Rights.

Turns out that whatever "problems" Sylvia and I had didn’t go away. Therapy didn’t seem to help, and by 1971, there was a lot of tension. We managed to finish the basement and put together a lovely Bar Mitzvah for Lewis, but our 20th Anniversary was clearly going to be our last. I kept saying that I didn’t see our "relationship" much different from any of our friends. Their marriages are continuing. Why shouldn’t ours? But Sylvia wanted out. There had been too much bickering. Our "principle" that whoever felt more strongly about something should prevail, wasn't working. By February 1972, our marriage was over. I took Dan's advice to find a pleasant place to live, and came up with a beautiful one bedroom apartment at 2121 P Street, off Dupont Circle, within walking distance of my office. It had a swimming pool, and the kids loved it. And I began to make a new life for myself.

But when December 22nd turned up this year, I couldn’t help but thinking "This would have been our 56th Wedding Anniversary."

Original Format



Jacob Schlitt, “Thoughts Prompted by the Fact That Today is December 22,” Autobiographical stories & other writing by Jacob Schlitt, accessed July 14, 2024,