The Golden Willow: The Story of a Lifetime of Love
Harry Bernstein started chronicling his life at the age of ninety-four, after the death of his beloved wife, Ruby. In his first book, The Invisible Wall, he told a haunting story of forbidden love in World War I-era England. Then Bernstein wrote The Dream, the touching tale of his family’s immigrant experience in Depression-era Chicago and New York. Now Bernstein completes the saga with The Golden Willow, a heart-lifting memoir of his life with Ruby, a romance that lasted nearly seventy years.
They met at a dance at New York’s legendary Webster Hall, fell instantly and madly in love, and embarked on a rich and rewarding life together. From their first tiny rented room on the Upper West Side to their years in Greenwich Village, immersed in the art scene, surrounded by dancers, musicians, and writers, to their life in the newly burgeoning suburbs, Harry and Ruby pursued the American dream with gusto, much as Harry’s late mother would have wanted.
Together, through a depression, a world war, and the McCarthy era, through job losses and race riots and the joyous births of their two children, Harry and Ruby weathered much and shared an incredible love. But then the inevitable happened. One of them had to go first. When Ruby was ninety-one, she contracted leukemia and died. Alone for the first time in his life, Harry felt the loss acutely and terribly, and for a long while, despite continued good health, he was uncertain about whether he could go on without Ruby. It was then that he turned to the past for solace–and ended up fulfilling a lifelong dream of becoming a published author.
Delightful and hopeful, tender and moving, The Golden Willow is Harry’s tribute to his beloved Ruby, to their long, happy life together, to the impact her parting had on his heart and his soul, and to the surprises and unexpected pleasures that continue to await him.
I listened carefully to what she had to say. Grief, she said, was a perfectly normal reaction to the death of a loved one. In some cases it was more devastating and lasted longer than in others. But in all cases, it was an agonizing ordeal. Time was the best healer. Eventually time would dim the memories and lessen the pain. In the meantime, there were some practical steps that could be taken for the grief-stricken to find relief. Being with others helped. So did sharing your feelings with
loosen them, and to walk around a bit to get the blood flowing in my legs. That was being ninety. But it did not stop me from writing The Invisible Wall. I had given it that title from the very beginning, and I saw my story then as a microcosm of all the walls that exist in the world today—some of them not as invisible as I portrayed ours, but actual brick or concrete walls that separated one country from another, or one race or religion from another. Regardless of how disturbed and angry all
laughter. I joined her, and we both had a good laugh out of the episode. But the results of some other literary endeavors weren't so funny. One in particular ended tragically. I'd tried not to think of this one because it was so painful, but it had clung to me all through the years, and now especially it came back in full force. His name was Jerry something or other. I have forgotten the last name, but that doesn't matter. He was about my age then, in his early twenties, and we had gone to high
days, and when people knocked on the door there was no answer. The police were called, and when they broke into the house they found Nate lying on the floor, dead. He had been dead for three days. There was one of his Victor Red Seal records in the player and it was still twirling, though silent, having reached the end, with the automatic stop apparently having failed to work. The record was of Caruso singing Verdi's “Fontainebleau, foresta immense” from Don Carlos. How much of it Nate heard I'll
garter straps was hanging down and almost touching the nun on my left. Other passengers seated on either side of the nuns were noticing too, and I heard some laughter. With my cheeks blazing, I turned away from where I had been standing and stumbled out of the car altogether. I found a spot in another, half-empty car where I could be alone until I reached my station. Ruby was waiting for me inside the apartment anxiously, and she gave a sigh of relief when she opened the door and saw the girdle