The Halpern family were sitting around the dinner table, eating Chinese takeout from Chopstix as they did every Thursday night.
“Did I ever tell you about your father’s and my first date?” Celia asked as she devoured a chicken egg roll doused in duck sauce. (to be read with a heavy Five Towns Long Island accent).
“Ye-“ Dina started before she was interrupted, her own mouth filled with a Szechuan wonton in spicy sauce (the Halperns were still on the appetizers).
“”Why no, Mom, why don’t you tell us?” Charlie interjected, giving his sister a dirty look. The story got better every time his mother told it, and she had told it over a thousand times. He returned to his egg drop soup without even a moment’s look of irony crossing his face.
“Brrgramumph,” Larry Halpern, the patriarch of the family said, his mouth overstuffed with two, maybe three steamed dumplings. He did love his dumplings.
“Well,” Celia said, with a look of glee on her face, “we were still in high school, and Dad had just gotten his drivers license a few weeks before. It was the first night that Grandpa actually let him use his fancy shmancy car, and your father was soooooo excited!” Celia grabbed a feisty hot wing and nibbled at it lightly. “What kind of car was it, Honey?”
“Grsmbl nrgtlt.” Larry said, still deep into his dumplings.”
“A what?” Celia asked.
“I believe it was a 1976 maroon red Oldsmobile Ninety-eight, with a brown vinyl roof,” Charlie said.
His father nodded and gave him a thumbs up.
“Why yes, it was!” Celia exclaimed. “But how did you know that?”
“I’ve seen pictures,” Charlie said, looking down at his soup.
Dina rolled her eyes.
“Anyways,” Celia continued, “We had just seen one of the Superman movies with Christopher Reeves as Superman at the Stanley Warner Theatre. Gosh, I loved those movies. Which one was it, Honey?”
“I believe he said Superman II,” Dina offered.
Larry offered another thumbs up.
“Yes, I believe it was,” Celia agreed. “So we were going to go to the Kosher Inn to get some pizza on the way home, when wouldn’t you know it, we got a flat tire.”
“Awwwww,” Dina and Charlie chimed in. They knew their part only too well.
“Yes, I know. And here we were, two lovers, soon to be together forever, parked on the side of Route 4 with no escape.”
“Oy vey,” Dina muttered under her breath.
“What’s that?” Celia asked.
“I said ‘No way!’”
“Yes way!” Celia said. “Actually, we were probably parked only about 300 feet from the old Frisch School campus, where we were both students at the time, but we were not leaving that car, not for nothing!”
“So what happened?” Dina asked. They had moved on to their main courses, and Dina had dipped into the Kung Pao Delight with great zest.
“Fllrgrblg,” Larry said. He too had moved onto the mains and was deeply invested in General Tso’s Chicken. Very deeply invested. The man could eat.
“That’s right, Honey. We just sat and talked, for a really long time.”
“O.K., so maybe it was only half an hour, but it was a very special half hour. And that was when I fell in love.”
“So then what happened?”
“Well, then your father got out of the car and tried to change the tire.”
“How’d he do?”
“Not so well,” Celia said, picking at her sweet and sour chicken. ”He’s never been famously well coordinated.”
Larry smiled and shrugged.
“Then he got back in the car, and that was when the Paramus policeman pulled up.”
“Really?” Charlie said. “What did he do?”
“Well, first he shined a flood light into the car, to check on us and make sure there was no funny business going on. Know what I mean?"
"Sure," Dina said.
"Then, and this is the funny part, your father started to get out of the car to walk over to the cop, and the policeman got on the PA system of his police car and said—“
“Stay in the car, Larry!” they all said together.
“Oh, so then you all know this story,” Celia said, a bit miffed.
“Yes, we may have heard it once or twice before,” Charlie offered charitably.
“But how did the policeman know Dad’s name?” Dina asked, trying to set her mother back on track. “Did he get it off the computer in his car?”
“No, silly,” Celia said. “It was the 1980’s. There were no computers in police cars. In fact, there were no computers at all.”
“He read it off the back of the yarmulke your mother had knitted me,” Larry said, his mouth finally empty. “The letters were so big you could have read them from Skylab.”
“Yes, that was the 1980’s version of the International Space station.”
“Yes, I know,” Larry agreed. “That’s always been my favorite part of the story.”
“So then what happened with the tire?” Charlie asked.
“Well, this is MY favorite part of the story,” Celia said. “Your father was so overwhelmed with love that he developed superhuman strength and lifted the car to put the spare tire on, just like Yakov Avinu when he met Rachel at the well. Yakov lifted off the stone that usually took many men to move, because he was overcome with his love for her. And that’s what happened to your dad, too.”
“Is that true, Dad?” Dina asked. “You lifted your father’s Oldsmobile Ninety–Eight off the ground and put the spare on? Because of your love for Mom?”
“How much did that sucker weigh?” Charlie asked
“About two tons,”** Larry offered.
“Is that what happened?”
“If your mother says that’s what happened, then that’s what happened.” Larry broke open a fortune cookie and stuck it in his mouth, avoiding eye contact with everyone in the room.
Celia got up and tossed her paper plate in the garbage. She walked out of the kitchen for the den and her copy of People magazine.
Larry leaned in close to Charlie, his fortune cookie still between his teeth. “I may have figured out how to use the car jack. Or I may have lifted the car. It was so long ago, who can remember?”
“I understand, Dad.”
“But whatever it was, whether a sudden feat of superhuman strength, or a sudden burst of otherwise unanticipated manual dexterity, you can be sure that it was done out of love for your mother.”
“Because that was the night we fell in love.”
“I get it,” Charlie said, shoving his own fortune cookie in his mouth.
Celia stuck her head in the door. “And believe me, Charlie, either one of those would have been a miracle.”
Larry smiled and put another cookie in his mouth.
**3990 pounds, to be exact