Meet Grandpa Don and Gramma Tama. They are my grandparents. Like many other Jews of a certain age, they quietly reside in Boynton Beach, Florida, where their backyard is the 8th hole of a golf course. They share one car — a red Saturn. Together, they go to the ballet and the opera often. On most Friday nights, you can catch them at their synagogue in Boca, where they are both members of the temple choir. They are obsessed with the cantor.
Technically speaking, Gramma Tama is not my real grandma. What I mean by this is that she’s not my “birth” grandma. She met and married my grandpa in the early 2000s. My real grandma, Grammy Phyllis, died when I was 2. I don’t remember her at all, but everyone says I look just like her. I feel like that is often how dead grandparents, particularly those whom you’ve never met, work. They reincarnate themselves within you.
Nevertheless, Gramma Tama is, for all intents and purposes, my very real grandma. She insists upon cooking for me when I visit. We chat about boys and gossip about family matters. She takes me to get my nails done, to the supermarket to pick out “whatever you want for dinner, Sweetie! Really, whatever you want!,” to high tea in a nearby strip mall, to the pool, and to the beach. Before I arrive, she stocks her fridge with Dannon Light N’ Fits. “We used to get Greek yogurt,” she tells me, “But this has so much fewer calories!”
My grandpa literally describes himself as a “19th century man stuck in the 21st century.” It should be no surprise then that he, along with many other people of… a certain age do not believe in online dating. They dispute the magic of apps (if you can even call it that). They chastise teens for sitting at the dinner table with their headphones in. Their aversion to technology is as standard as one’s aversion to cats.
Yet, Grandpa Don and Gramma Tama met online.
I’ve been in a relationship for a year and a half, but before then, I had my fair share of dating experiences — some of which began on apps. I was curious if my experience with online dating looked anything like theirs. So, I decided to interview them. “If you don’t take a chance, you never get anywhere,” Gramma Tama told me. “In other words, when you meet somebody new, you know right away whether it’s right or wrong. And if you don’t take the chance, then you never meet the right one.”
When I first called Grandpa and Gramma Tama for the interview, they were in the middle of doing a puzzle.
Hannah: Oh, you’re doing a puzzle? What’s it of?
Grandpa: It’s called a ball-buster.
Hannah: How many pieces?
Tama: This one’s a little one — it’s only a thousand.
Hannah: Oh my god.
Grandpa: But it is so hard. It is causing us anxiety.
Hannah: Well don’t get anxious over it.
Grandpa: I’ll try not to. What’s cooking, sweetheart? What would you like to know my dear?
Hannah: I would like you to tell me the story of how you met.
Grandpa: How we met?
Grandpa: I guess it started with Tama in that her daughter, Ellen, put a profile on the Internet — on Yahoo Couples, or Yahoo Dating.
Tama: But she didn’t ask my permission.
Hannah: You didn’t know about it at all?
Grandpa: She didn’t know that Ellen was doing this, but Ellen did it nonetheless.
Tama: My husband died in the year 2000.
Grandpa: This was late in 2002. She put this profile on Yahoo Dating. And normally, I would not look at Yahoo Dating because the few women that I had dated, I found on JDate. However, I use Yahoo as my internet provider on my email. As I was sitting at the computer one night, for some reason, I clicked on that, and all of a sudden her profile came up. And I knew she was Jewish because it said, “Looking for a mensch to spend good times with.” Some shiksa would not say that. So, I had to assume that she was Jewish, so she met my first requirement, and then they had put a picture of her in it as well, and it was a picture that had been taken of her when she went to her 100th high school reunion, or something like that.
Hannah: Her 100th?
Grandpa: Well, whatever. And she looked very pretty, and they posted that picture as well. And they gave a little information about her. She had a nursery school and this and that. I wrote her a letter. An email. And I described myself to her. I told her who I was, something about myself…
Hannah: Grandpa, I can’t hear you.
Grandpa: I don’t know why. I’m speaking loudly. In any event, I decided to respond to this profile that I had seen. It gave me an email address to respond to, and I wrote a rather long email in which I told her about myself.
Hannah: What did you say? What did you say in it? Do you remember?
Grandpa: I described myself physically, and I told her that I had four children, and I had 12 grandchildren. I was, at that time, I was active in my business, and I was living in Somerset, and she was in Edison, which is only, you know, 15 minutes away. That was one of my requirements. I had met some lovely women, but they were G.U. — geographically undesirable.
I met a lovely woman who lived in Westchester County, New York, and it was just impossible. We would meet in the city, and she was in another world. So I wanted to find someone who was nearby. So, anyway, I wrote this rather extended letter really, in which I told her all about myself. And then I sent it off and nothing happened, so I forgot about it. That was like, in October or November of 2002. So in December of 2002, I received a telephone call.
Tama: And you said “Hello” so loud I almost hung up. I got scared.
Hannah: Gramma Tama, how did you find out about the profile? Because you didn’t know that you had it.
Grandpa: Well, she received the email from me.
Hannah: So how did you think that he found your email address?
Grandpa: Well, she went back to her daughters and said she got this email from a guy.
Tama: From a man! I said, you know, I haven’t had a date in 47 years. No, more — I was married 47 years. I was 19 when I got married, so this was all new to me. My daughter had interviewed me and said, tell me all about yourself. But she didn’t tell me she was gonna put it on Yahoo, or whatever it was. He called me, and I was scared to death. I hadn’t had a date in all those years. And we made arrangements to meet.
Grandpa: No, she called me.
Tama: Oh, I called you, that’s right.
Grandpa: We were on the phone quite a long time. We chatted with one another. I suggested that we meet for dinner. And I said, you pick out the restaurant, and let me know when and where is convenient for you. So she got back to me and said she made a reservation at LouCas, which is an Italian restaurant in Edison. Very nice one, by the way. And we agreed to meet there on a freezing cold December night. I mean, it was single digit temperatures.
Tama: And I was scared to death.
Grandpa: It was absolutely freezing out, and we agreed to meet there at 6 o’clock.
Tama: I got there at 5 and it was too early, so I went home.
Grandpa: Meanwhile, I got there at 6 o’clock, and she wasn’t there. So I waited around a few minutes, and then she walked through the door, and I immediately recognized her from the picture that I had seen. And she walked up to me and she handed me—
Tama: I said, “Here’s wine!”
Grandpa: —a bottle of wine, because it’s a restaurant where you bring your own bottle.
Tama: But I didn’t tell him that.
Grandpa: She didn’t let me know that. So I had no idea.
Tama: I didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t bought wine. My kids said, “Relax! Don’t get nervous. Go into the wine store, and spend at least $20. Get a bottle of Merlot.” So I went in and I got it, and I met him at the restaurant. He was wearing this big, heavy coat. He had just come back from where?
Grandpa: From Alaska!
Tama: From Alaska. And I was wearing a mink coat. I walked in, and I saw him there, and I said, “Here’s wine!” I didn’t know what else to say.
Hannah: Grandpa, were you nervous?
Grandpa: No, not at all. There was no reason for me to be nervous. We had, you know, had a rather long conversation. I knew quite a bit about her already. And I was very comfortable with meeting her and getting to know her. So she handed me the bottle and the maitre d gave us a lovely table that was kind of out of the way, so it was very private. And we sat down and we had a lovely dinner, although Tama didn’t eat her dinner. She was too nervous. But I ate mine! It was good.
Tama: I pushed it around the plate.
Grandpa: They had dover sole on the menu. I love dover sole.
Tama: I was so impressed that he knew all about dover sole.
Grandpa: Because I had spent so much time in England [ed. note: in the navy!], that was my favorite dish in England. So anyway, we had a lovely dinner, and we decided that we should meet again, and that this time, we should bring pictures of all of our families. Now, there was another restaurant in that little shopping center called Meemah’s, which was—
Tama: It was Asian.
Grandpa: It was Asian, but it was Malaysian, maybe. Mama was from Malaysia [ed. note: Mama, you will soon realize, is what they call the restaurant owner], and we decided that we would meet there for dinner the following week. So anyway, we went out into the parking lot, and I gave her a big hug and a kiss, and sent her on her way.
The next week, we met at Meemah’s, and again, Mama put us in the back of the restaurant where we could have a lot of privacy. We took out all of the pictures of our kids and our grandkids and we discussed them all and we had a lovely evening together. So that was our second date. And then she announced that she was going to Florida to spend the month of February with her friend in Boynton Beach. So off she went!
Tama: I had made these plans, you know.
Hannah: Did you talk while she was in Florida?
Grandpa: Constantly. I called her every day.
Tama: And not only called me, but he left me all kinds of poems and stuff. We could come in, and the machine would go off, and my girlfriend said, “Well, there’s no sense in my answering it, it’s for you I’m sure. It must be him again.”
Grandpa: I sent her emails, and I wrote poetry. We still have the poems here that I wrote. And we carried on kind of a love affair via emails and telephone calls. That lasted the entire month of February, because we had actually met in January. So finally, March 1st came, and she came back to New Jersey. And I arranged to pick her up at the airport.
Tama: I was so nervous.
Grandpa: So I made this sign up — you know how these guys stand there with these signs at the airport — so I made up a sign that said, “Tama’s fan club.” And I stood there with my sign and she came off the plane, and we got in my car.
Tama: We got in the car, and I looked in the back seat, and there’s bacon, eggs, this, that, all that stuff!
Grandpa: It was for breakfast.
Tama: He thinks he’s gonna sleep over! Oh my god — what am I gonna do?
Grandpa: So anyway, I took her home.
Tama: I went and sat on the couch. I didn’t know what to do.
Grandpa: And we made love and went to bed.
Hannah: Oh god. I didn’t need to know that!
Grandpa: Well, it’s true. That’s what happened. So from that point on, we just spent all our time together.
Tama: We fell in love.
Grandpa: Yeah, we fell in love. I’m totally crazy about her.
Tama: And we have had fun ever since.
Grandpa: That was in March, and the first of May, I moved into the house in Edison. And gave up my apartment in Somerset. And that’s where we stayed until we were married, I guess. We got married on June 6, 2004.
Tama: Did you tell her where we got married?
Grandpa: We had our luncheon — our wedding luncheon — at Meemah’s! And we continued to frequent Meemah’s, and we got to know the owner really well.
Tama: We’d walk in, she’s like, “Hi, Mama!”
Grandpa: Yeah, Mama really misses us because we don’t get there anymore. I hope she’s well. So we got married June 6th, and we went on our honeymoon.
Tama: Three C’s.
Grandpa: We went to three C’s. The first stop was Chicago, because Andy [ed. note: my uncle] had never met Tama. We spent a good deal of time there, and we had a great time, and, of course, I wanted to show Tama Chicago, which I love and which she had never been to. From there, we flew to Colorado, and we spent time with Leslie [ed. note: Tama’s daughter]. And then after a wonderful time there, we flew on to California, and we stayed with my cousins Bubbles and Lou out in the desert. We got to see my other cousins, who were alive at the time, and that was how I introduced her to my family. And that was 2004.
Tama: And Bubbles introduced us to Mexican train dominoes, and we’ve been playing it ever since!
Grandpa. She’s the one that taught us Mexican train dominoes, and we’ve just celebrated our 14th anniversary.
Hannah: What do you think about young adults, my age, who meet on dating apps? What do you think about the Internet as a way to meet your significant other?
Tama: I think it’s great! If you don’t take a chance, you never get anywhere. In other words, when you meet somebody new, my feeling is you know right away whether it’s right or wrong. And if you don’t take the chance, then you never meet the right one. So I think it’s important to do.
Hannah: Grandpa —I know you’re a very old fashioned guy. Were you hesitant to do online dating?
Grandpa: No. Certainly not. I had dated quite a number of women that I met online, and I was uniformly disappointed when I met them. I never gave them a second chance. I took them out once, and that was it for me.
Hannah: I’m surprised you weren’t more skeptical though, that you can meet someone that you’d end up marrying online.
Grandpa: Well, I wasn’t looking to get married, I was just looking to find female companionship.
Tama: And we both found out that we both sang, and we love music.
Grandpa: Well, you know, as we got to know one another, we found that we had all these things in common.
Tama: So much in common. And we do lots of puzzles. And we give them to the hospitals. 1,500 piece puzzles. And we frame them and give them to the hospitals!
Grandpa: And we’re very lucky that at our age, we’re in relatively good health, and that we can enjoy one another’s company, and we don’t need any assistance from anybody in terms of physical assistance. We don’t walk with a cane or a walker.
Tama: Which is rare around here.
Grandpa: So we’re lucky. I would say that right now, we have been lucky. And a lot of the problems that we’ve had in growing older are the losses that we’ve sustained. So many of our good friends are gone, and we have fewer and fewer of them. It is a little depressing to know that the friends that you really enjoyed and looked forward to being with are no longer here. One of the reasons that I’m not as excited about visiting New Jersey, besides my family being there, is that my friends are all gone. And that’s sad. But it’s part of the life cycle and I accept it. But I can’t be happy about it, because I’m not. But it is what it is. And of course, living here in Florida, we met a lot of wonderful people, a lot of good friends, and unfortunately, a lot of them aren’t here anymore. So that’s the downside of it.
Tama: But we wake up every morning and we say thank you, God, for another day.
Grandpa: For sure.
Tama: You have to take nothing for granted.
Grandpa: I get up and I see her next to me, and everything in the world is good.