Rose and Sam, Inseparable Opposites
By Malerie Yolen-Cohen
She was a teetotaler. He loved to drink. Her idea of touring was spending
time in museums. His was checking out the bars. She invested every cent, he
spent. She was demure. He was the center of attention. She was chubby, he
was thin. She was sweet, he was cantankerous.
Rose and Sam were as different as two souls could be, but they both loved
their grandchildren - and one of them was me.
You’ve heard the saying “opposites attract.” There was never a couple that
represented this more then my Grandma Rose and Captain Sam who ruled their
family like an empire. Had they been alive today, there would be no drifting away of cousins, brothers and sisters.
Captain Sam would have smacked down his gnarled hands, hands that could tether
boats to docks in the blink of an eye, and say, “WHAT”S THIS COCKAMAMIE
BUSINESS ABOUT YOU ALL NOT GETTING ALONG. WE YOLENS STAY TOGETHER THICK AND
Grandma would have dispensed with the tirades, drawing us in with chopped
chicken liver and matzo ball soup - home made from scratch, of course. If that
didn’t work, she’d entice her grandchildren - all seven of them - into
playing a cutthroat game of Spite and Malice, preferably on the Thunder Bay or
ROAM - the Sport-Fishing cabin cruisers that would whisk us away from
land-based squabbles, isolating the family from worldly distractions long enough to
work out our problems.
Captain Sam was emotion and bluster. Grandma held it in - her savage side
emerging only at the card table where she’d sandbag the winning move till her
opponents were taken by jaw-dropping surprise. A true Shark. She taught me
that power born of intelligence, wit and stealth could easily trump that
bolstered by bravado.
Rose Pinkus was born and raised in New Haven, CT. She met my Grandfather
when she was 19. He was an immigrant from Nyippipatrovsk, Russia (then known
as Ekaterinoslav) - a young finagler of the highest order who had managed to
get his hands on both a car and a motorcycle to court the beautiful Rose from
his miles-away home in Port Chester, NY. “Sam makes $25 a week and spends
$35,” said Rose’s mother in protest of her daughter’s new beau. Rose was on
the fence. She had plenty of suitors, but there was something about Sam - his
self-confidence, his optimism - that set him apart from the others.
For their 50th anniversary, the Grandchildren Theater Company - that would
be my cousins and me - set the story of Rose and Sam’s courtship to music.
Sue and I had twelve hours in the air to come up with a play that we could all
present as a gift to our Grandparents both in celebration of their lifetime
together and as a thank-you for taking all three of their children and their
families - twelve of us in total - to Israel for 10 days.
Like the story of the Exodus from Egypt, every family has a tale passed down
from generation to generation; a tale that defines and glorifies that family’s essence. In my case, this revered essence is the blow-the-doors down
chutzpah Grandpa Sam displayed to win my Grandmother’s hand. It went like this:
While visiting relatives in New Haven, CT, Sam Yolen was smitten by a local
beauty, the nineteen-year-old Rose Pinkus. The youngest of three girls (a
younger brother would die in WWII), Rose was practical with a quiet inner
strength. Sam asked her out the following weekend, and then never showed up.
Unbeknownst to Rose, Sam’s car had broken down on the long road from Port Chester
to New Haven and he was as frustrated as she was angry. The next day, Sam
called to explain and to arrange another date. Rose coquettishly agreed.
On the appointed day, Sam borrowed a motorcycle to replace the car that had
broken down and rode thirty-five miles to escort the fair Rose to a dance.
He looked a fright – with newspapers scrunched in his jacket, scarecrow-like,
to ward off the freezing whipping winds of winter. When he arrived at her
house, Mrs. Pinkus seemed confused. “Yes, Rose is home, but….was she
Just then, another gentleman caller - Max Stein or some such name now lost
in history – walked up to the front door and stood beside Sam. “So, what are
you doing here?” Max asked.
“I’m here to take Rose to the dance,” Sam said.
“There must be some mistake,” said Max. “Rose is coming to the dance with
Just then, Rose came to the door. “What’s going on here,” Sam asked her.
“Well I thought since you stood me up last time, you’d do it again,” she
answered. “So when Max asked me out, of course I said yes.”
Sam was intrigued. A woman with a backbone. She’d need one with him, he
figured, and suddenly his future was as clear as Caribbean water.
“I’m here now, so I’ll just tag along,” Sam said as he scooted alongside
Rose in Max’s car.
Max danced with Rose while Sam came up with a plan. He took Max aside.
Rose watched as these two rivals engaged in heated discussion. Suddenly, Max
turned to look at her in horror, then immediately left the room (and her life)
Sam took Rose for a twirl around the room. “What did you say to that man?”
Rose asked him, with admiring bewilderment.
“I just told him – how dare he dance with my fiance?”
Rose and Sam were married within the year.
My grandmother retained that much-needed backbone, and my grandfather was
forever intrigued throughout their sixty-two year marriage. A marriage of
interesting and loving opposites.
from the January 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine