My parents celebrated their 49th anniversary under slightly painful conditions, my father sitting at the festive table with swollen cheeks and the guilty look of someone who’s hidden nuts in his mouth. “Ever since the operation to put in the implants and raise his sinus, he looks like a scheming squirrel,” my mother said with more than a little malice. “But the doctor promised that it’ll pass in a week.” “She allows herself to talk like that,” my father said in rebuke, “because she knows I can’t bite her now. But don’t worry, Mamele. We squirrels have long memories.” And to prove that claim, my father went back 50 years to tell my wife and me how he and my mother first met.
My father was 29 then and worked installing electrical infrastructures in buildings. Every time he finished a project, he’d go out and spend his wages carousing for two weeks, after which he’d stay in bed for two days to recuperate, and then go to work on a new project. On one of his sprees, he went to a Romanian restaurant on the Tel Aviv beach with a few friends. The food wasn’t great, but the liquor was okay and the gypsy troupe that played was fantastic. My father stayed to listen to the musicians and their plaintive melodies long after his friends had collapsed and were taken home. Even after the last of the diners had gone and the elderly owner insisted on closing, my father refused to part from the troupe and with the help of a few compliments and some money, he managed to convince the gypsies to become his personal orchestra for the night. They walked down the beach promenade with him, playing magnificently. At one point, my drunk father had the uncontrollable urge to urinate, so he asked his private group to play a snappy tune suitable for such osmotic events. He then proceeded to do what people do after excessive drinking against a nearby wall. “Everything was just perfect,” he said, smiling between his squirrel cheeks, “the music, the scenery, the light sea breeze.”
A few minutes later, the euphoria was interrupted by a police car that had been called to arrest my father for disturbing the peace and demonstrating without a permit. It turned out that the wall he’d chosen to urinate on was the western wall of the French Embassy, and the security guards thought that the man urinating to the accompaniment of a cheery band of gypsy musicians was staging a creative political protest. They lost no time in calling the police. The policemen pushed my father, who was cooperating happily, into the back seat of the car. The seat was soft and comfortable, and after a long night my father was glad for a chance to take a little snooze. Unlike my father, the gypsies were sober and resisted arrest, protesting vehemently that they hadn’t done anything illegal. The police tried to shove them into the car, and in the struggle one musician’s pet monkey bit the officer in charge. He responded with a loud yell that woke my father who, like any curious person, got right out of the car to find out what was going on. Outside the car he saw policemen and gypsies fighting in a slightly comic battle, and behind them a few curious passersby who had stopped to watch the unusual show. Among them stood a beautiful redhead. Even through the alcohol haze, my father could tell that she was the most gorgeous woman he’d ever seen. He took his electrician’s pad out of his pocket, grabbed the pencil he kept behind his right ear, always ready for action, went over to my mother, introduced himself as Inspector Ephraim, and asked if she had been a witness to the incident. Frightened, my mother said she’d only just gotten there, but Dad insisted that he had to take her details so he could question her later. She gave him her address, and before Inspector Ephraim could say anything else, two furious policemen jumped him, cuffed him, and dragged him to the car. “We’ll be in touch,” he yelled to Mom from the moving car with characteristic optimism. Mom went home quaking in fear and told her flatmate that a serial killer had cunningly managed to wheedle her address out of her. The next day, Dad arrived at my mother’s doorstep, sober and carrying a bouquet of flowers. She refused to open the door. A week later, they went to a movie, and a year after that they were married.
Fifty years have passed. Inspector Ephraim isn’t in the electricity business anymore and my mother hasn’t had a flatmate for a long time. But on special occasions like anniversaries, my father still pulls a special bottle of whiskey out of the cabinet, the same whiskey they served in the long-defunct Romanian restaurant, and pours everyone a shot. “When the doctor said only liquids for the first week, she meant soup, not that,” Mom whispers to me as we all clink glasses. “I hear everything,” Dad says, filling the space between his swollen cheeks with a sip of whiskey. “Watch out, Mamele. In another ten days, I’ll be allowed to bite again.”