“To err is human; to forgive, divine.”

— Alexander Pope

Here it is again, and not a day too soon.

It’s National Old Girlfriend Forgiveness Week. I’m sure that many of you aren’t aware of this special week. It was actually signed into law in 1884 by President Chester A. Arthur, who was born in Fairfield, Vt.

You’ll not be surprised to learn that there is no actual record of this law on the books or of Chester actually signing it. It is true that history tells us that in 1886, Chester had all of his papers burned. Lucky for me, because I confess that I made the whole thing up because I needed a column in a hurry to cover for my original piece about Christopher Columbus, Monday being Columbus Day. Chris was so bad I couldn’t make him funny.

As my fellow students in Catholic school surely have learned, Sister Maria lied to us about Columbus. He not only didn’t come anywhere near Columbus, Ohio — her hometown, as she told us — but he landed somewhere in the Bahamas. Do you think she was kidding? We took it seriously for some time.


The tales of Columbus are legion. The most fatuous of them is the one Joya Feldstein told me. She claimed that history recorded that there was an iron Star of David embedded in the deck of the Santa Maria, suggesting, as some historians have claimed, that Christopher was actually Jewish.

I explained to her that was absurd. I told her that I had read that one of Christopher’s lieutenants, Giuseppe Pearlman, an actual Jew, said he personally saw Christopher Columbus turn on the ship’s landing lights and answer his phone on Shabbat, which of course is forbidden. Furthermore, Giuseppe was quoted as saying, “Chris wouldn’t know a brisket from a pepperoni pizza.”

Of course I lied. I was angry because Joya had got mad because I slow-danced with her sister Rachel at her little brother’s bar mitzvah, and that’s a true Brooklyn story.

So in the spirit of asking for forgiveness of old girlfriends, I will start with Joya, who is probably still living on Avenue M in Brooklyn. I’m sorry, Joya. I was a different guy then, trying to be a stand-up comedy writer. Love to Rachel.

Next on my list would be Barbara Swenson, of Lake Forest, Ill. — Barbara, who mistook my shopping with her for a bedroom suite as a promise of marriage. Apparently this motivated her to take catechism classes and eventually convert to Catholicism. While I regret the impression, I hope Barbara found happiness in the church. I apologize.

Then there would be Shoshona Schwartz, the ninth swan in “Swan Lake,” in the corps de ballet at the New York City Center Ballet. We had a brief affair when Joya, who was the first swan, broke up with me. Joya and I later made up, and I guess I forgot to mention that night with Shoshona. When you date a girl who is sharing a chorus dressing room with 25 swans, things get around. Shoshona later told her sister swans not to trust me, because, “He’s gone through the entire chorus line like the Asian flu.” Not true, actually; nobody has that kind of energy.


But I offer my apology to the entire flock nonetheless, and I retain fond memories of the ballet.

Certainly my apologies go out to Laura Jo Beauville at school in Louisiana. Perhaps, on an unusually warm night before I left to go to Korea with the Air Force, I did make some hasty promises, which I regret. But I just didn’t see myself coming back to Louisiana to manage her daddy’s plumbing supply business.

And of course, I will always regret trying to keep Mary O’Hara from going into the convent. My persistence constantly annoyed her. I hope she’s a mother superior by now.

Publishing this makes me feel as though my soul has been cleansed. She, to whom I owe a plethora of apologies, replied, “Don’t count on it.”

As someone once said, “The heart of a woman can be the hardest stone.”

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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