During my stint in college I lived in a fifth floor walk up, with a bunch of equally yoked roomies, barely within the boundaries of the East Village. Our landlords were a dear older couple, Mr. and Mrs. Sirotkin.
By the time we came on the scene the building was inhabited mostly by college and career types. Mrs. Sirotkin called us “her kids”. Except for older families who had lived there forever, all of us came by referral. There was an almost sacred trust to your word in that. You didn’t want to give the Sirotkins a bum deal with lousy tenants. She wouldn’t interview you exactly, but checked you out by having you over for tea.
There Mrs. Sirotkin told her story. How as a girl of sixteen she worked at the dry cleaners on the first floor and how her older employer (he was in his twenties) started to court her. She was shy at first, but he was a kind and good man, so won her heart, and they married. When they got wind the building was about to be sold out from under them, he entered the purchasing process. He had never intended to own a building. But as a family man, he had a wife to care for. It was scary at first with an additional 23 families, and a mortgage to cover. But he learned. They worked together. She handled the books, he made repairs. It became painfully obvious they couldn’t do it all, so he sold the dry cleaning business, and jumped feet first into the challenge.
While their children were still young he had a massive stroke. She said, “I cried for fifteen minutes, pulled myself together and said ‘they all need me now, I can’t let myself go’.” She arrived at the hospital to bleak news. She nursed him at home while her mother cared for the children. To everyone’s amazement, he survived, though with a good deal of paralysis. When we knew him, he walked with a decided limp and had difficulty speaking.
We offered to paint the apartment for them when we first moved in, and after Mr. Sirotkin literally dragged himself up the five sets of stairs to replace a light switch, I asked if I could watch. I would do it next time. He obliged. That short interaction boosted my confidence to later replace light switches, sockets, ceiling lights, and even rewire lamps. But their example of teamwork, mutual respect, love, and perseverance in the face of obstacles, taught me even more. What a good marriage looked like.