Jerry Jerome was recently telling me of his re-entry into the sport of competitive rowing and how the equipment and techniques have changed since around 1958 when both he and Paul Grexa were active rowers on the Schuylkill.
Because of his rowing back then I met my wife, Missy.I had graduated from Penn State and was working at my first real job just outside of Princeton, close enough that I came home every weekend. Jerry was in town, too, having finished his service in the Air Force, and was often rowing with Paul at the Penn AC on Boathouse Row. His friends included Dick Benham whose younger sister Debbie was attending the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania’s nursing school. Through Debbie, Jerry had fallen onto a limitless supply of available, attractive nursing students, and he was more than happy to share his good fortune with the rest of us.One evening he suggested we meet up with some of them on Boathouse Row where he knew they would be looking over a women’s rowing club. Missy was with the group, and we all ended up playing Frisbee across East River Drive on Fairmount Park’s Lemon Hill.
She was really bad at Frisbee. I spent a lot of time chasing it down the hill, but the effort was well spent because I can still defuse an argument by reminding her of it.
Very soon after, Jerry set up my first date with her, since we were at least acquainted, and explained to me the rules and procedures of the nurse’s dormitory at 36th and Sansom. The rest is history. Jerry’s wife, Faith, and Leon West’s wife, Nan, are also from the same nursing class.
Life in retrospect often seems to have been so determined by trivial, random actions that it must be scripted and we are simply playing our role. My entire life since then (including my sons’ and grandchildren’s very lives) has been determined by Jerry’s friendship with Dick Benham, Debbie Benham’s career decision, Jerry’s rowing interest, Jerry’s friendship with me, his arranging that first date, and Missy’s decision to go along with the other girls that evening. (She really had no interest in rowing.) If any of these were missing, things today would be very different.
Jewish tradition calls it “bashert,” a preordained destiny as recorded by God, especially in romantic matters.
Could I be only a minor player in my own life? Perhaps. Perhaps this is why I am so sanguine about the end of my life being closer than the beginning. The great eternal play will go on just fine without me.