Writer and movie buff Janet Garber says she isn’t exactly what some might call the sentimental type.
The Somers resident’s taste in flicks leans toward high-tech sci-fi; where comedies are concerned, the darker the better. (Think “Burn After Reading” and “Fargo.”)
Back in the mid-1990s, the then 40-something hardworking single mom had dipped the occasional toe into the social scene, but was becoming increasingly doubtful that casual dating would lead anywhere serious.
Born in Brooklyn and mostly raised in Queens, Garber had always relied on her wicked sense of humor to get her over life’s interminable bumps and bruises. Divorced and middle-aged, she had—jokingly—contemplated putting a personal ad in a metropolitan magazine reading: “Fat, Forty, with Fibroids.”
Just the same, Garber had hopes of finding someone to love, if not to marry.
She was badly missing her parents and two brothers, all of whom lived in different parts of the country, and her son, Alex, who was away at college. And, although she enjoyed working as a human resources executive, the job was intense and taxing.
So it wasn’t a huge surprise to Garber when she found herself all verklempt one day while at the doctor’s office. She had been asked to fill out the name of an emergency contact person and sadly realized that she had no one to put down.
That could have been the turning point of a downward spiral had serendipity—in the form of a fellow movie, book, and music lover—not appeared in the picture.
Enter Shelly Hanner, stage right, the hopeful romantic from Flushing, Queens, who would become her second husband, best friend, and traveling companion.
In typical self-deprecating fashion, Garber lays out the details of their courtship in “Desperately Seeking Soulmate,” an essay just published by the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series. The subject of the book?—the “miracle of love.”
It may not have been a miracle, but it definitely was a lucky break when one day Alex casually mentioned to his friend Jenny that he was looking for someone for his mom. Jenny blurted out “Shelly!,” the name of her pal Hope’s dad, who was going through a divorce.
Jenny called Janet and Hope called her father, who called Garber to ask her out.
Gun-shy after myriad blind dates with ill-suited, and sometimes “creepy” guys, Garber was pleasantly surprised by how “normal” Hanner sounded over the phone.
Trying not to let expectations run too high, she arranged to meet him at a public place, the Jewish Museum in Manhattan.
Hanner, who she describes as “a good-looking specimen of 53” with charcoal grey hair, trim body, and winning smile, not only handed the bibliophile a copy of Dorothy Parker’s short stories, he showed her pictures of his daughters Hope and Jill and went so far as to put one of them on the phone.
Before the first date was even over, he got her to agree to go out on a second.
Eight months later, just when it looked like the by-then engaged couple were well on their way to a whole new chapter in their love story, life threw them a curve ball. Garber’s parents announced they were splitting after more than half a century of marriage. The news put her in an emotional tailspin and the wedding was put “on hold” until the dust settled.
But life goes on, and, when one of Hanner’s daughters needed help paying for college, Garber suggested they get legally hitched so she could apply for scholarship money from her employer.
They were—quietly—by a judge in White Plains.
Happily, seven months after that they were married—again—by a rabbi in Rye and had a classy reception, with nearly 60 guests, in Somers. The bride wore an antique wedding dress and the beaming groom, Garber writes, “looked simply dashing.”
Hanner, who freely admits to being the more sentimental one of the pair, says he feels it was meant to be.
He romantically thinks that their paths may have crossed many times when they were young adults.
Hanner’s two girls and Garber’s son are about the same age.
“I’m sure we were pushing baby carriages past each other in the botanical gardens in Flushing,” Hanner recalls. “I liked to talk to everyone I saw back then, so it may be that we actually spoke once or twice.”
Both turned out to also have dined at the same Italian eatery in Flushing and to have attended Queens College, he adds.
In the 20 years since they got together, the couple has faced some of life’s greatest stressors together: health issues, the deaths of three of their parents, two moves, and, Garber writes, the “launching” of their offspring.
On the other hand, they have also shared a great many of life’s pleasures: hiking, exploring, savoring good food, rescuing cats, traveling aboard, hanging with family and friends, and, of course, movies, books, and music.
Hanner works as a recreational therapist at a local nursing home. Garber is retired and happily devoting herself to her writing.
A marriage—like any healthy relationship—has its highs and lows and needs a little TLC now and then.
Is everything perfect? “Pretty much,” writes Garber. “We’re still working on it,” says Hanner, with affection and respect in his voice.
But both also say they are extremely grateful to be in such a loving partnership, one in which they share many common interests.
“We’re having fun,” Hanner says. “I count my blessings every day, I really do.”
Garber admits she has one or two more tiny “asks.”
But to find out exactly what those are, you’ll have to read her essay in the latest “Chicken Soup for the Soul” which publicists say explores the “miracle” of love, something that can happen when you least expect it, at any age, at any time.”
The book can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at independent booksellers such as The Village Bookstore in Pleasantville and Little Joe’s Books in Katonah.