Gracie Freundlich, and Gertie Goodfriend, Gracie’s red-haired cousin on her mother’s side, along with two of their girlfriends in Mr. Krell’s 10th grade English clasped hands, bowed their heads, and solemnly created a, girls-only secret society. They called themselves the SSENIPPAH girls.They were in all of the same classes, wore the same style dresses from the same Alexander’s department store, ate their sandwiches from the same kind of lunch boxes, and liked all the same boys. They did their homework each night and got A’s in math and English, B’s in science, and A+’s in Home Ec.
They met once a month in a different one of their houses, ate chocolate cakes with coconut frosting or Jello molds with pieces of canned fruit inside. They listened to 78’s in their musty basements.
Their collective high school Science Fair project was a critical analysis of the question, ‘Is the grass always greener on the other side?’ They used trigonometric functions to compare the sun’s angle of incidence on two adjoining backyards as well as the spectral wavelength of prismatic color dispersion through equivalent blades of grass. Their well-considered conclusion was that, in the light of their data, “It is all in the way you look at.”
Most important to them though, and upon which they all agreed, was that they had no doubts about what their lives would be like when they grew up.
They all wanted to get married in big white dresses with their hair up like Mary Astor or Rosalind Russell and to cook steaming hot dinners for their husbands who all would look like William Powell and have important jobs, buy them silvery new toasters and Reader’s Digest Condensed Novels, and take them to Grossinger’s on summer weekends in the Catskills.
They would all have two children who wouldn’t cry too much and who they would wheel around in carriages down Yonkers Avenue. And they would always be friends and always would be happy.
That was their secret. The SSENIPPAH GIRL’s secret. The secret that bound them together like crackerjacks and peanuts, like Burns and Allen. The secret the SSENIPPAH GIRLS swore never to reveal, not even to their mothers or their husbands, the secret they would take to their graves and beyond was that SSENIPPAH was “happiness” spelled backwards.
Gertie was the first to marry. Dorothy, the second. Lillian next.
Gracie was the last. Dave was a good-enough looking guy with sleepy brown eyes, thick wavy, almost-black hair he wore wet-combed, so you could see the lines the comb made.
Dave was a man her father knew, a traveling hardware supplier. Gracie was eighteen and he was a few years older, six, actually, and he was happy to spend money on her: dinners and shows, and basement clubs in the city where men in black suits knew him and laughed at his jokes and showed them to good tables in the back in return for neatly folded twenties he’d slip into their soft palms.
Gracie knew few people with that kind of money then, what with the depression, and people out of work all over. It was good to escape the feeling of just making ends meet for a night. It was good to feel special. Dave liked her and she was crazy about him.
On their third date, coming out of a movie theater on Houston Street, he turned to her and told her that he was a bachelor. A ‘confirmed bachelor,’ he said. “Too bad,” was all she said.
After the wedding, at the Beth Shalom, they lived in her parent’s house, saving for their own place.
That never happened. Not until her parents moved to Boca and left the house and hardware business to Gracie. Not until the Thruway was built and the mall put in its own hardware store, and the kids were born and grew up and left the house.
Dave never seemed to mind the traffic or the crying kids, or the rattling furnace. He either had the TV on or, after he turned it off and came to bed, he slept next to her like an indifferent sack of snoring yams. He sold nails and washing machines. He smoked Lucky Strikes. He drank Seagram’s Seven out of a shot glass he kept in the cabinet under the telephone table when he came home from work.
Gertie’s husband was the first to die and when her son was killed by a hit-and-run driver in upstate New York one year later, Gracie cried with her, consoled her as no one else could.
And then when Dave died alone at a matinee in a theater on Allerton Avenue in the Bronx of an intracranial aneurism, with a large coke and a carton of buttered popcorn spilled in his lap, they moved in together, into a two-bedroom rent-controlled sublet on the Upper West Side with hardwood floors, a skylight in each bedroom, a view of the Sheep Meadow, and a only short walk to Zabar’s.
So now when they drive north together on the Saw Mill Parkway up through Yonkers to place stones on the graves and they think back on it all and the one little teaspoon of happiness that they now have left to share, Gertie says, “In the end, you know, it’s all in how you look at it.”