When Henry and Sarah Schwey were first married, he would come home for lunch every day from his job as a buyer for a Portland wholesale house.
The first time, 'the soup was made, it was hot' when he arrived Sarah said. 'he'd say, like the three bears, 'My that soup is hot,' with a touch of criticism in his voice. 'The second time he came home for lunch, 'My, that soup is hot.' The third time, he'd say, 'My that soup is hot'.
'I'd say, 'But Henry my father liked hot soup.' Then he'd say, 'You didn't marry your father. You married me.'Then I knew, he didn't like hot soup.'
Sarah tells that story to illustrate what she considers to be an important element in their relationship and all successful marriages: accepting each other's differences.
'One should give in to the other, she explained, 'Should see their point of view. Because don't forget, we both come from different homes, different environments, different parents.'
'you learn to adjust,' Henry added.
Yet, it is the similarity in their upbringings and their beliefs that in many ways defines the Schwey's life together.
Both are the children of Russian Jewish immigrants. Both grew up in close-knit Jewish communities where they learned a great appreciation for their faith and had little contact with those of different religions. As a couple, they raised their five daughters in that same kind of environment.
'our house was like a community center', said Sarah. 'They brought their friends.'
No matter how many were around at dinner time, Sarah had plenty of kugel, tsimmes, knishes and other Jewish specialities with which to ply her guests. And to this day, she follows the advice Henry's mother gave her early in their marriage, always making him a potato for dinner.
'I don't say I was the best cook', she said, but 'I put love in the cooking'. When asked what his favorites were, Henry replied diplomatically, 'I liked everything.'
Henry came to Portland from Leeds, England, when he was 3 or 4.
Sarah grew up in Boston and Malden, Mass. As a young woman, she would visit an aunt in Portland during summer vacations from her job as a cashier at Filene's.
'Even though I came from a big city, I never went to public dances,' Sarah said. But on one of her Portland visits, a girlfriend convinced her to do so. There, she met Henry's brother. The next day, he came calling at her aunt's house with her future husband.
Reticent and reserved, at least in comparison to his outgoing wife, Henry says little about their courtship except that he 'commuted back and forth' to Malden for a year. They were married on July 24, 1923, in a Malden hall, with more than 250 people in attendance. After a few months of living with Henry's parents, the newlyweds moved into their own apartment, and they have rented in Portland ever since. They now live in the Forest Park complex near Baxter Boulevard.
Henry worked for 15 years as a salesclerk at the old Livingston's store in Portland and then at the Surplus Store. When he retired from that job at the age of 75, he was night manager.
'The challenge was raising five children on a working man's salary,' Sarah recalled, 'trying to give them better than we had as immigrants.'
'It was a struggle,' Henry said. But they managed to find enough money for the girls to take piano or elocution lessons. On birthdays and anniversaries, 'he'd bring things home, in a quiet way, to make me happy.' Sarah said. She also appreciated the way he arranged for foster girls to live with them and help out around the house.
For entertainment, the Schweys got together with four other couples every Wednesday night for about 30 years. 'The women played bridge,' Sarah said, and the men played pinochle in another room.' She noted sadly that all but one of the couples had died.
'These days, Sarah reads voraciously, as the stacks of paperbacks on a shelf in their living room attest. 'That's my life, is a book,' she says, 'and I thank God my eyes will hold out.'
The Schweys who are both 87 take great pleasure in their family, many of whom live in the area and visit regularly. They have 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Sarah notes with pride their accomplishments - one is a lawyer, another a child psychologist, others are working toward advanced degrees. But she saves some of her lavish praise for the daughter who inherited her skill in Jewish cooking.
In her own kitchen, Sarah clearly remains the boss.
If Henry washes the dishes and 'something's on the fork, I just wash it over again,' she said'...I try my best not to correct him in a way that would demean him, something low.
But when it comes to other aspects of their relationship, both partners said they talk out decisions until they come to an agreement.
'We disagree at times, you know', Henry said, but it ends all right.'
Added Sarah, 'I do lean on him a lot'.
last updated : May 31, 2011