Great Island Couples: The Plotzes celebrate 70 years

Love, they say, means never going to bed angry.

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Michael Cummo

Charles and Lucille Plotz of Menemsha and Brooklyn, N.Y., celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on August 8 with 17 family members — including their three sons and their partners, plus seven grandchildren and their partners, and one great-grandchild — all ranging in age from 2½ to 66. When I drove up to their Flanders Lane home, I spied their New York license plate “Menemsha” on their VW Bug.

From the moment they set their eyes on their home in 1968, they knew that’s where they wanted to be. The house has not changed much since they first moved in: It was built in 1960, and is a classic beach house with a flat roof, a wall of windows overlooking Menemsha Pond, and an entrance breezeway between guest quarters and the main house. The day I was there, there was a tent pitched under the stairs for a grandchild and his partner who had bicycled across the country, camping along the way. The bookcases are full and adorned with all the Ag Fair ribbons Lucille has garnered since she first entered her squash and cucumbers in 1970 and every year since; this year was no exception. The walls display art from friends and their world travels.

I have to admit, Charles and Lucille are still a really cute couple. They met in Brooklyn when she was 11 years old. Charles lovingly said of his thoughts then: “And she was gorgeous, wait ’til she grows up!” He was 16 at the time, and already two years into his Columbia University education. Lucille started at Barnard when she was 16. She told me she needed a date for the freshman prom. The war was on, and her boyfriends from high school were all in the Army and the Navy, so she called her cousin Bernie and said, “You can take my roommate to the freshman prom if you get me a date.” Bernie’s family lived with Lucille’s grandmother in Brooklyn, so she already knew Charles from visiting there when he’d be hanging out doing homework — by that point he was in his second year of medical school.

The prom date worked out well, and to make a long story short, they married after Lucille’s second year at Barnard, when she was 18 and Charles was 23. They were lucky, she said, that the Army gave him a job in New York and he did not have to go on Army duty until he finished his graduate work after medical school. Lucille continued, “We got married the day before the bomb fell on Nagasaki and wiped us off the front page of the New York Times.” (We all laugh.) “The following year they sent him to San Antonio, Texas. By that time I had finished my third year at Barnard, but I went with him to Texas. I kept house there for two years, and then we came back to New York, and by that time I was pregnant.” Charles and Lucille went on to have three boys. “When the youngest boy was 6 years old and in school full time, I went back to Barnard and finished up my fourth year,” she said. “By that time, I was no longer interested in being premed, so I went back as a botany major, because I was a volunteer at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.” Lucille has made her career volunteering there ever since, and has overseen their volunteer program.

Charles went on to be a founder of the fields of rheumatology and immunology, and has worked all over the world, including as the chief of medicine at the American-run hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1965–66; when the chief of medicine at the Czech-run hospital there went on vacation, he asked Charles to take over, so he ran both.

Lucille always drove when they lived there. Friends would visit, and she would chauffeur everyone to school or the market. One day she was driving down the street and people threw rocks at her, so she hightailed it home. “That evening,” Lucille continued, “I had Charlie ask his Afghan friends what that was all about. And they said women aren’t supposed to drive.” They loved living there, and noted that women were well educated. Charles said, “Among my patients was a tribal chief, and he invited our family to come out to his compound in the middle of the desert. And there we were. He brought out one of the only women there, and said she had a medical problem.” He guided the woman to a private area where she could undress so he could examine her. He continued: “She had this long-sleeved, long everything, showing absolutely no flesh except her fingers. As soon as we got into this compound she lifted up her covering and had a modern frock on, really attractive, beautiful, but could not expose it to men.”

Charles has loved his life. Being invited to so many places, he said, “I told them, I don’t want to get paid, but my wife has to accompany me.” Lucille added, “Most of our friends travel too, but they went on tours, and the only tours we ever went on were when he was lecturing — like the QE II ’round the world cruise, they’d put him on board for two weeks.” Charles went on, “At one point they flew us to Tahiti where we spent a few days, and then got on the ship when it came in. And we got off in Bali.” Lucille picked up, “And Bali we already knew because he had worked there for a few months.” Charles said proudly, “I’m probably the only person you know who has been to Bali five times.” And that’s true. “We knew people personally and stayed with them, got invited to parties and people’s homes. It was a great life,” Lucille beamed when saying this. “That’s why were still at it, it was so invigorating.”

So I still needed to know how they got here. Charles said, “It started with our friends named Ganz. We lived in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., where her parents had a summer house, and we summered there. One of our neighbors was Paul Ganz. When Lucille’s parents sold their house, we didn’t have anyplace to go in the summer. So I said to Paul, ‘Will you sell us a few acres of your 100 acres? He said, ‘You don’t want to be here, you want to go to Martha’s Vineyard.’ Now about that time another neighbor of ours, Sam Sloan, died, and his widow, Peggy Sloan, married a man who bought property from Paul Ganz, and that was Nick Freydberg.” Lucille interjected, “Anyway, the way we got here was we had some college friends who had already been here and said it was wonderful and we should come with them for a week. So we came up, and we couldn’t get into the Beach Plum Inn. That was full. We stayed at Menemsha Inn, which in those days was like a summer camp. Before the end of the week we were looking for a place to buy. And that’s when he got in touch with Nick Freydberg. While we were at my mother’s in Yorktown Heights, Peggy and Nick were on one side, and on the other side were Rosie and Larry Treat [the renowned Island seaweed artist and her husband]. We had known her since she was a youngster; she used to live next door to us, and play with our kids. We had wonderful times with them.” Charles said, “We came up looking, and we went to have cocktails down the road here with some people from Connecticut, and while we were there, a man named Mordecai, Leonard Mordecai, came up to us and he whispered in my ear. He says, ‘I hear you are looking for a house. We have a house that we bought, and my wife doesn’t like to entertain, so we’re going to sell it, come and take a look. So the next day we came. I got to the driveway here and started to drive down; as we drove down, I said to Lucille, ‘I don’t know what the house is like, I don’t know what they want for it, but we’re buying it.’ The next day we bought it.”

And my last question to this sweet couple was what advice would they give other couples on staying together over so many years. Charles insisted on answering. “Sure there’ll be disagreements, arguments, that’s natural, but you must talk and work things out before going to bed. You can never go to sleep angry.” Lucille nodded in agreement. Then the phone rang; it was a work call for Charles. At 88 and 93 respectively, these two are loving examples of living a full life. And we can thank them for enriching the lives of so many Islanders by inviting their New York neighbors to join them here. And wouldn’t you know that the other couple in Chilmark who celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary this summer, Ray and Lillian Kellman, are also old friends from New York?