On Dec. 10, 1960, Marla Perkel arrived at a party in Manhattan with a date named Charlie. There she met Bertram “Buddy” Perkel, a labor lawyer whose blind date had disappeared shortly after he arrived. They started talking about dance. Marla was going for her Ph.D. in genetics at Columbia University and was a flamenco dancer, studying for several years under Angel Cansino, Rita Hayworth’s uncle. Buddy loved dance. When it came time for Marla to leave the party, Buddy followed her and Charlie into the lobby.
“At the time,” Buddy says, “Art Deco buildings in New York City had large urns filled with very old, dusty eucalyptus branches in their lobbies. I took those branches, and I gave them to Marla. Then I walked her to the car that Charlie had brought her in, an MG with two seats, and when Charlie got into the driver’s seat, I sat down in the passenger seat and took Marla into my lap.”
The three of them — Buddy, Marla, and Charlie — drove to Marla’s apartment. At that point, Buddy says, “Charlie got fed up. He was such a gentle soul. He got back in his car, and I walked once around the block and went back up to Marla’s.”
Was Marla surprised? “Not really,” she says. “I fell in love that night.”
“We saw each other every day after that,” Buddy says. “When I wanted to see her, I had to go to Columbia and sleep in a cot at the lab.”
Marla concurs. “It was a lot of work, and Buddy helped me,” she says.
Buddy and Marla were married exactly eight months later, on Aug. 10, 1961. They would have married in June had Marla’s parents not been Republicans and Buddy a Democrat. “My parents did not intend to be at my wedding,” Marla says. “So, it was very small, only 24 people at my sister-in-law’s home, which was downstairs from Mrs. Roosevelt’s.” Buddy’s older sister and Eleanor Roosevelt were close friends. “My family was very Republican, and back in Ohio, we knew very few Democrats,” Marla says. “Mrs. Roosevelt helped give me away.”
After the wedding, “We got in our car and drove to Provincetown,” Buddy says. “We had our honeymoon at little Seascape House, which is gone. It’s now the Surfside Hotel.”
For their 10th wedding anniversary, Buddy surprised Marla with the gift of a summer home in Wellfleet. Since then, they’ve spent more and more time on the Outer Cape, and have lived here year-round since Buddy retired. They recently moved into the Residences at Seashore Point in Provincetown.
How have they managed to stay together for nearly 60 years? “I think it’s the remembering of everything we have,” Marla says. “Whenever we would get into a problem period, which you do, it’s important to come back to what you really mean to each other.”
“I’m tough to live with,” Buddy says. “I raise my voice before I even think of raising my voice. We once had a pretty bad argument, on the beach in Wellfleet. Marla said, ‘I think we should separate.’ And I said, ‘No.’ Nothing says you’re perfect all the way.”
“I was tired of him yelling at me,” Marla says. “I was tired of the kids, even. Then I realized it doesn’t mean a thing. You just know that you love each other, and you have to be together. I have serious health issues now, and Buddy is very, very, very good. He tries to help me whenever he can, and whenever I need him, which is quite often now.”
Buddy considers the last 20 years to be the best of his life. “Something happened,” he says. “We got more intimate. We got twinned at the hip. I mean, the nicest, kindest intimacy happens. No reason, you can’t prepare for it. There was like a Vulcan mind meld, if you remember Star Trek.”
“Buddy just had his 90th birthday,” Marla says. “He’s six years older than I am. It makes you think, what’s left? What do we do from now till then? We just have to live. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”