How My 88-Year-Old Grandma and I Found Love

My 88-year-old grandmother found a boyfriend before I did.
December 15, 2020
Photo by westend61/Getty Images

In the spring of 2015, I sat on the 33 bus swiping through Tinder dispiritedly and let out a huge sigh. The San Francisco online dating hustle was wearing on me, and analog dating hadn’t gotten me very far, either. But beyond the confines of my Tinder matches, my singledom looked even bleaker when I compared it to Los Angeles, where my 88-year-old grandmother Hilda had found herself a boyfriend. My 88-year-old grandmother found a boyfriend before I did.

Hilda — affectionately known to her family as Omama (Grandma in German) — had not dated since my grandfather died 20 years earlier. She wore her wedding ring as a tribute to their marriage, which had spanned four decades. Up until recently, she had spent her evenings at Torah Study or watching Jeopardy alone.

My 88-year-old grandmother found a boyfriend before I did.

Omama grew up in Berlin and escaped Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport, an organized rescue effort that brought nearly 10,000 Jewish children to Great Britain from Nazi Germany between 1938 and 1939.

In April 2015, Burbank City Council invited Omama to be honored at City Hall for speaking to middle and high school students about her experience during the Holocaust. They informed her they were sending someone to pick her up and drive her to the event.

Omama was surprised when they sent a 92-year old Austrian Holocaust survivor sharply dressed in leather oxfords and a felt hat. His name was Herb.

When the City Hall event came to a close, Herb drove Omama back to her home in Studio City. As he pulled up to the home she had raised three boys in, he paused to ask, “Would you consider going out to dinner with me one night?”

Omama didn’t give Herb an answer, but the next day, he sent her an email, reiterating his request for a date. Omama called my father (her youngest son) for advice. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t really know him,” she said. My dad told her that he was sure the man was okay, being a 92-year-old. And so, with my father’s blessing, Omama agreed to accompany Herb to dinner.

Omama and Herb quickly bonded over their trauma of escaping the Nazis and the experience of rebuilding their lives in Los Angeles. Their once-a-week meetings expanded to frequent companionship. Herb drove Omama to the theatre and to Trader Joe’s, and Omama made Herb dinner. Soon enough, she was no longer watching Jeopardy alone. She began to fondly refer to Herb as “Herbie.”

Omama was especially impressed that Herb could drive at his age. He was willing to drive her wherever she wanted to go, including to Lake Hollywood for her daily stroll with her walking group.

On May 27, 2015, I received an email from Omama containing a photo of Herb and her at Lake Hollywood. I replied, “Herb is so cute!!!!  Maybe soon I will have a boyfriend too!” Omama quickly wrote me back: “Love is in the air so you will have one soon.  Love, Omama.”

Omama and Herb at Lake Hollywood

It turned out that Omama was a fortune teller. Within the year, Christian (6’3” with a bio proclaiming “Let’s do art things”) appeared on my Tinder screen. I swiped right and asked if he’d like to meet up on Sunday. “I have plans Sunday. Thursday?” Ah, a man with plans. A man who schedules plans! A millennial unicorn!

I met Christian at a hip bar in the Mission district. I walked slowly from work to the bar, fearing that I’d be early, yet when I approached the front door, I saw that he was early as well. We talked for hours and drew on a piece of paper together. Art things. We drew intersecting lines over each other’s, lost in good conversation and smoky mezcal.

I called my parents to tell them my good fortune: I had met someone who I like who also likes me. “But you won’t like his name,” I said. Jesus? No. Christian? Yes. His German last name elicited the question of what his grandparents were doing during World War II. But once my parents met Christian, they approved of him too, of his gentleness, his enthusiasm to converse in German with my father or play tennis with my mother and the gifts he’d bring for their cat.

After three months of dating Christian, I moved to the East Coast to finish my Masters of Social Work. He wrote me letters and sent flowers after I presented my thesis. One weekend, he visited me at school, and we spent our time together in a Boston walk-up brownstone, strolling around in the warm summer night, drinking wine and laughing. As Christian boarded his flight back to San Francisco, I called my dad and said, “I think I’ve found my Herbie.”

Christian and I have been together for almost five years now. We had intended to be married in front of our family and friends this past October, but the coronavirus thwarted our plans. Deciding not to postpone our nuptials, we were legally married by our Rabbi in a private ceremony on October 9, 2020. Our large wedding with family and friends has been postponed to summer 2021. Herbie and Omama, now 94 and 97 years old, are still going strong. God willing, they will be there to say Mazel Tov! I am looking forward to seeing my grandmother pull into the venue’s parking lot with Herbie at the wheel.

JULIA SIMONE FOGELSON is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist. She lives in Oakland, CA, with her husband Christian and their dog Clover.

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