THERE were no wedding pictures. Her father was dying and the occasion-this wedding in Brooklyn-was not as festive as it might have been. Still, some friends were in attendance and there was dinner after. There might even have been a little drinking, although this was during Prohibition, in the fall of 1920.

Now, half a century later, the couple is still together. This, tradition tells us, is a fact worthy of celebration. Fifty years of marriage-a phenomenon. What does one make of that? How can we begin to understand? . . .

A celebration there was. Three weeks ago, a golden anniversary party. This time, plenty of pictures, a lot of friends (70 or so), and, to be sure, plenty of drinking. The husband and wife, Nathaniel and Lillian Aaronson, are grayer now, slightly heavier now, retired now. They have different friends-retirement friends who are their neighbors on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. And they have children and grandchildren.

The party was in the Imperial House, one of those refrigerator-like edifices Norman Mailer talked about in his report on the '68 Republican convention. The Aaronsons' two daughters and sons-in-law had rented a couple of large rooms off of the building's glittery lobby: one room for drinking and, as they say in Miami Beach, noshing; the other for a big sit-down dinner of roast beef and string beans and potatoes and cake. . . .

But all this was to come with the evening. During the day, one of those coolish Miami November afternoons this resort's residents never advertise, the party's guests of honor were cooped up in their Seacoast Towers apartment, trying to rest up for the night ahead, waiting for the planes to arrive with all their relatives from up north.


The Aaronsons' two children, my mother and my aunt, had arrived a day earlier, to help make the "arrangements." Now came the others. Around lunchtime of the big day, I arrived, one of the two grandchildren (out of five) who were able to come. After checking into my hotel room down the Avenue, I went right to my grandparents' apartment with my mother, knowing that my grandparents needed time to take a nap but also knowing that my grandparents, like the family they have created, are not all that good at containing themselves. I was not to be disappointed.

When we got there, my grandmother Lil was sitting at her desk, wading through the many cards from friends and well-wishers, explaining that she had heard from people "all over the world." ("Look," she added for evidence, "Here's one from Philadelphial") She has big, bright eyes and a screamingly raucous laugh. She seems to bounce in her chair.

Nat, my grandfather, sat on the couch across from the desk, by the window overlooking the shuffleboard courts, the swimming pool, the beach-his haunts on normal days. He seems to be a tall man (although he really isn't), perhaps because he is still so fit and dapper. Bright blue shirt, ruddy tan face, white hair combed back. He is much quieter than my grandmother, a little hard of hearing now, and is very good with a cigar. You might say he plays George Burns to his wife's Gracie Allen.

My mother wandered around the apartment looking at the various oil-paintings-all the work of my grandmother, who has been taking an art class for the past three years. I sat on the other end of the couch from my grandfather. As soon as preliminaries had been taken care of, he offered "to get me a girl." He took a puff on the cigar. "We got a lot of widows here, Take your pick-we got all ages, anywhere from 60 to 92. . . ."

"Shush," said Lil from the desk.

"They've got plenty of money, too," said Nat. "Just tell me the one you want and I'll have her checked with Dun and Bradstreet."

I laughed. My mother cracked up.

"Listen," my grandfather went on, grinning, moving in for the kill. "It's been done."

Perhaps to change the subject, my grandmother pointed at the wall next to the desk, on which she had taped up dozens of certificates bearing the legend: "A contribution in your name has been made to . . ." "Would you look at all that," she said to me.

I looked, but I was much more curious about the fifty years of past. How did my grandparents meet?