A Valentine from Grandparents Who Rock

This great story comes from this week's Montclair Times:

The food of love
by Jill Berke - February 12, 2009

This is a Montclair/Manhattan/ music love story.

I had lived in Manhattan for many years as a divorced woman. My daughter Danielle lived in Montclair with her husband Jack, and my grandchildren Noah and Hannah. At a time when most people my age move out of the suburbs and head for the city, I did the opposite. I moved here in 2003. I fell in love with Montclair, and then with a man I met here.

I was fixed up with Jim in November 2007 by our yoga teacher, Deborah Dunn. I only wanted a coffee date, I told her, a lesson I learned after innumerable blind dates in Manhattan that went nowhere. Jim insisted on a lunch, however, and since I worked in the daytime, I devised a plan: "Let’s have dinner," I suggested when he called, "but I insist on paying for myself. This is just a meeting, and I don’t think it’s fair to have you pay for this meal."

What I really meant is that sight unseen I didn’t want any obligation to him. No, he said, he heard I was worth having dinner with and certainly worth paying for.

I had heard Jim loved to sing. He was a member of New York City’s Big Apple Chorus, a men’s a cappella group, and a long-time barbershop quartet tenor.

Our first date went well. What would have happily been 20 minutes at Starbucks for me turned into two talk-filled, laughter-laced hours at Jim’s favorite restaurant, CulinAriane. It was an auspiciously delicious beginning.

Jim and I discovered that we share many interests – baseball (although he is a Red Sox fan and I am a Yankee), art, children and grandchildren, good food – but music has always underscored our romance.

Love soared when Jim competed in Sing New Jersey, a contest that pits adult singers, 25 and up, against one another. He crooned and danced through a velvet-toned rendition of "As Time Goes By." I sat in the audience, spellbound. A man behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I knew the singer. "I do," I told him. "Thought so," he said, "He’s been singing every word to you. "

I saw it, and I felt it. I like to think that there was new love in that old love song’s lyrics. The judges certainly thought so. Jim won. One judge, Horace Ott of Montclair, said later that he could feel the words course through him. Jim sold that song on authenticity. Love is something you can’t fake, I believe, and neither is good singing.

I had Jim in mind, then, when I recently asked the founder of Parents Who Rock, Alma Schneider, about forming Grandparents Who Rock. I knew her and her charitable organization through my daughter. She smiled her Alma smile, which meant we can, if you help me do it.

It’s done.

Jim keeps on singing. He still dedicates our song, "The Nearness of You," to me when he performs it, and I still get chills. We now have six grandchildren between us, my four and his two. We also have an amazing living arrangement. I call it Upstairs, Downstairs. We own separate condos facing Manhattan above and below each other, allowing us to visit and live privately as we wish. And music has become a gift that benefits others, something we happily share.

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