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L.A. Affairs: My grandma found a boyfriend before I did

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When my 88-year-old grandmother Hilda found a boyfriend before I did, I was caught between feeling happy for her good fortune and feeling sorry for myself that I had not had such luck in romance. She wrote me an email to share the news of her match and included at the end: “My aunt always said to me every pot finds its covering, and it’s true! I am sure it will happen for you.”

But as the months rolled by, I continued to be single and swiping while Omama was falling lucky in love.

Hilda — affectionately known to our family as Omama (Grandma in German) — had not dated since my grandfather Hershy died 20 years earlier. Omama and Hershy had met at a New Year’s party at UCLA. Omama was finishing her bachelor’s degree and Hershy was working on his PhD in psychology with the help of the GI Bill. She tells a famed story that she knew he was “The One” right away, even though it took six weeks before he finally called to ask her out. She still wears her wedding ring as a tribute to their marriage, which spanned four decades.

He was the love of her life and a testament to their children and grandchildren that a long, happy marriage was possible. They enjoyed running together. Omama’s shelves were decorated with pictures of her and Hershy at the finish line of various Los Angeles races spanning the decades, with wide grins spread across their faces. Omama and Hershy were #lifegoals.

Since Hershy’s death, Omama had spent most of her evenings of late at Torah study or watching “Jeopardy” alone. She grew up in Berlin and managed to escape Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport, an organized rescue effort that brought nearly 10,000 Jewish children to Great Britain in the late 1930s. From there, Omama immigrated to the United States, and her family started a chicken farm in Van Nuys.

She was often called upon to speak at public events about what she’d witnessed in Nazi Germany. In April 2015, the Burbank City Council invited Omama to be honored at City Hall for speaking to middle- and high-school students about her experiences during the Holocaust. They informed her that another honoree would pick her up and drive her to the event.

Omama was surprised when they sent a 92-year-old Austrian Holocaust survivor sharply dressed in leather oxfords and a felt hat. His name was Herb.

When the City Hall event came to a close, Herb drove Omama back to her home in Studio City. As he pulled up to the house she had raised three boys in, he paused to ask, “Would you consider going out to dinner with me one night?”

Omama said she didn’t give Herb an answer, but the next day he sent her an email reiterating his request for a date. Omama called my father (her youngest son) for advice. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t really know him,” she said. My dad told her that he was sure the man was OK, being 92. And so, with my father’s blessing, Omama agreed to accompany Herb to dinner.

Omama and Herb quickly bonded over their trauma of escaping the Nazis and the experience of rebuilding their lives in Los Angeles. Their once-a-week meetings expanded to frequent companionship. Herb drove Omama to the theater and to Trader Joe’s, and Omama made Herb dinner. Soon enough, she was no longer watching “Jeopardy” alone. She began to fondly refer to Herb as “Herbie.”

Omama was especially impressed that Herb could drive at his age. He was willing to drive her wherever she wanted to go, including to Lake Hollywood for her daily stroll with her walking group.

And still, I was single and swiping.

Omama emailed me again, this time with a photo of Herb and her at Lake Hollywood. Herb had since joined the walking group, keeping up with the mile pace. I replied with my congratulations and my wish to also find a Herb. Omama quickly wrote back: “Love is in the air, so you will have one soon. Love, Omama.”

She also included a forwarded email from Herbie himself, with advice on dating that he wanted her to share with me. It cautioned against consuming alcohol — “Stay away from bars; what you meet there is not likely to be quality.” He advised to meet people from dating websites only in public until deemed trustworthy — “Handle dating websites with extreme caution.” And above all: “Be yourself. Be what you are. Be genuine.”

It turned out that Omama was a fortune teller. Within the year, Christian (6 feet 3 with a bio proclaiming, “Let’s do art things”) appeared on my Tinder screen. I swiped right and asked if he’d like to meet up on Sunday. “I have plans Sunday. Thursday?” Ah, a man with plans. A man who schedules plans. A millennial unicorn.

I met Christian, a man from the internet at a bar, breaking two of Herb’s rules in one go. We did meet in public, so I got that one right. I’d made my way to the agreed upon meeting spot, bracing for another bad first date. Fearing I’d be early, I paced around the block, yet when I approached the front door, I saw he was early as well. We talked for hours and drew on a piece of paper together. Art things. We drew intersecting lines over each other’s, lost in good conversation and smoky mezcal.

I called my parents to tell them my good fortune: I had met someone I like who also likes me. “But you won’t like his name,” I said. His German last name elicited the question of what his grandparents were doing during World War II (fighting for the Allies, as it turned out). But once my parents met Christian, they approved of his gentleness, his enthusiasm to converse in German with my father and play tennis with my mother. He also brought a hefty jar of home-grown catnip for the family cat. I had found my Herbie.

Christian and I have been together for almost six years now. We had intended to be married in front of our family and friends this past October, but the pandemic thwarted our plans. Deciding not to postpone our nuptials, we were legally married by our rabbi in a private ceremony on Oct. 9, 2020. Our large wedding with family and friends has been postponed to summer 2022.

Herbie and Omama, now 98 and 95, respectively, are still going strong. At Omama’s recent birthday party in my parent’s Redondo Beach backyard, I looked over at Christian and Herb greeting each other, two wonderful men, and smiled at the good luck my grandmother and I ultimately shared.

I am looking forward to seeing my grandmother pull into our wedding venue’s parking lot next year with Herbie at the wheel.

The author is a psychotherapist and writer. She and Christian have a rescue dog, Clover.

Omama and Herbie, on one of their daily walks.

Omama and Herbie, on one of their daily walks.

(Julia Simone Fogelson )

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here.



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