The above photo from my parents’ wedding has always reminded me of “I Love Lucy.” My parents are Lucy and Ricky Ricardo and in the back my grandparents are dead ringers for Fred and Ethel Mertz. The photo was taken 52 years ago today, on August 2, 1953. My parents had met only that April when my mother was on spring break from her freshman year at the University of Colorado. She never went back to school and in June announced to her flabbergasted family that she was getting married. She had just turned 19 and my father was 20. As a kid I always thought this story was very romantic. Now I just think that they were INSANE!! Besides being too young to get married, who the hell gets engaged after knowing someone for six weeks? (Er…in the interest of total disclosure I guess I have to admit that I met my first wife in April, got engaged in August, and was married in December—but at least I was 34 at the time!) I always heard the stories about how my horrified grandparents tried to buy my father off, conducted background checks, and tried to scare my mom with stories of my father’s institutionalized mother (as if there weren’t also plenty of mental illness genes coursing through my mother’s side of the family!). To my grandparents’ credit, once they realized that my mother was going to marry my dad no matter what, they accepted it completely and somehow organized a wedding in two months time that made Grace Kelly's wedding to Prince Rainier look like a Tupperware party.
With her blazing red hair my mom looked very much like Lucille Ball in the early 1950s (even though Lucy owed her famous orange locks to a steady regime of henna rinses) and she had the same kind of zany personality. My father’s swarthy complexion put him in the Desi Arnaz camp even though his Jewish Russian heritage was as far from Cuban as you could get. On the other hand, my father had always had a fascination for the Spanish language. This turned into an obsession in later years when my dad became completely fluent in Spanish and would only leave Spanish messages on our answering machines—something he still does to this day. When I used to work in an office with cubicles and co-workers would hear me talking to my dad on the phone (“Si….si….mas o menos…okay, papa, hasta mas tarde…”) they’d say with surprise, “I didn’t know your father was Hispanic!” “He’s not, “ I’d sigh. The weird thing is, none of my father's children speak Spanish, but we all learned to understand him. The immersion method, I guess—you have to learn Spanish when you're living with Ricky Ricardo! My dad even sang “Babalu” and his voice was every bit as good as Desi’s.
As my parents gorged on their wedding cake, “I Love Lucy” was at its peak, about to begin its third season on CBS. Earlier that year, on January 19, “Lucy Goes to the Hospital” became the most watched television program in history. More people tuned in to see Lucy give birth to Little Ricky than watched Queen Elizabeth’s coronation or President Eisenhower’s inauguration. A few weeks after my parents’ wedding, Lucille Ball would find herself in the middle of her own Red Scare when Walter Winchell branded her a communist. It wasn’t true but that hadn't stopped Hollywood from stomping all over the careers of other well known actors during this crazy time. But Lucy was so incredibly popular that she was able to prove that the charges were false within a matter of days.
My brother Bruce was born the April following my parents’ nuptials. (Hey, stop with the math calculations—it was almost nine months and if my mom was knocked up at her wedding, it had only been for a week or two!) My mother was still 19 when my brother was born, my father was 21. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? (Okay, remember that total disclosure thing? Leah was born within a year of my first wedding but again, at least I wasn’t a teenager! At 21 I was barely ready to go the bathroom by myself, much less have a child.) Two more children would come within the next five years and my parents' model Eisenhower-era family was complete!
Lucy and Desi’s hold on the American public would last until I was six months old. On the day after they filmed the last episode of their TV show, Lucille Ball filed for divorce. Their marriage had lasted 19 years but it ended bitterly. My parents’ marriage would last 18 years and also end in a firestorm of ugliness and recriminations. But even in divorce the two couples lived parallel lives. On a television special a few years ago, Lucie Arnaz showed home movies of her parents swimming in the pool with their grandchildren. It was odd to see them together again when they were so much older but the chemistry was still there. They were very sweet with each other and you’d never know that so much acrimony had passed between them. My parents survived their own private hell to emerge as great friends towards the end of my mother’s life. Maybe in both cases it’s just impossible to hate each other that much unless you really love each other. And if you give yourselves enough time, some of that love is bound to seep through the cracks and heal those painful episodes from the past.
I talked to my dad this afternoon about his wedding. It was held at the classy Morrison Hotel at the southeast corner of Madison and Clark in downtown Chicago. The building was razed in 1965 but my father remembers it all like it was yesterday. The same man who can barely recall anything I say from one day to the next was giving me detailed descriptions of the 52-year-old guest list, the delicious dinner menu, and the lavish gifts he and my mother received including a silver egg cup from Marshall Field’s that they returned for $125 (a fortune in 1953!). Some of my dad’s memories were too vivid for comfort. “We left the party early that evening and didn’t come out of our room until 3:00 pm the next day.” I know I should be mature enough at this point to handle the fact that my parents had a healthy sex life but…ewww, gross! I don’t want to think about what they were doing as the “I Love Lucy” theme blared from the wedding suite.
I Love Lucy and she loves me,
We're as happy as two can be,
Sometimes we quarrel but then
How we love making up again.
Lucy kisses like no one can,
She's my missus and I'm her man;
And life is heaven you see
Cause I Love Lucy
Yes I Love Lucy
And Lucy loves me!