At 94, Morty Weiner is slowing down. He’s hard of hearing, suffers from congestive heart failure and walks gingerly with the use of a walker that Esther, his wife of 71 years, gently but insistently reminds him to use.
But his memory is as sharp as it was the day he met Esther, a day he recalls like it was yesterday.
A Baltimore native, Morty was drafted in March 1943 and assigned to the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was stationed in the small town of St. Joseph, Mo., where 16-year-old Esther Printz’s father served as the rabbi for the B’nai Yaakov Synagogue. Morty’s buddy, Joe Wieselman, had met Esther’s younger sister, Martha, and as Morty recalls, “He kept bugging me to meet Esther.”
“It was the first night of Rosh Hashanah, 1943,” Morty continues. “I go with my friend, Joe, to the shul. He points Esther out. She is up front, I’m in the back. I said, ‘I want to meet her.’ I was invited for dinner that night after services at Esther’s house by her father. Well, I had a date with a redhead that same night. I called her house, canceled.”
Morty and Esther saw a lot of each other during the next year, primarily at the Printzes’ family home. A year later, when Morty was reassigned to India, Esther dropped him off at the railroad station. Back and forth letter-writing ensued.
Eventually, the war ended. Morty boarded a transport ship back to the U.S. For 43 days, the 22-year-old soldier maintained his spirits by thinking of what he would do when he reached land.
“The first thing I said when I got off the boat was, ‘I want to call Esther.’ But the telephone company was on strike,” Morty recalls.
The strike lifted, and Morty planned his visit to Brownsville, Pa., where Esther’s father had transferred to lead Temple Ohave Israel. Returning to Baltimore, Morty borrowed his father’s car and drove to see Esther and ask her father’s permission to marry her.
“I knew when Morty came back from the service what would be on his mind, and that I had to make a decision,” says Esther.
To make an informed choice, Esther decided she should meet his family. So she and her sister, Hilda, took the train to Baltimore to see the Weiners.
“His mother was sweet as sugar, his father was funny and his sister was lovely,” remembers Esther, 90. “His aunts, uncles and cousins were a swarm of people. There were so many Weiners.”
Today, thanks to Esther and Morty, there are many more Weiners, of which the couple are visibly proud. Esther pulls family pictures down from the shelves of their apartment in Clarksville. Morty pulls up family pictures on his cellphone — images of their three children and respective spouses, of their eight grandchildren, and of their six great-grandchildren.
In one of the pictures, at the wedding of their grandchild Laura Sass, Esther and Morty stand front and center, surrounded by their extended family — a living testament to their love.