I’ve gotten to the point in my life where it’s easier to look back than look forward. A person tends to dwell on regrets at this stage of life. Total up the mistakes and think “what if?” I guess I’m lucky because, like the song says, “Regrets I have a few, but then again too few to mention.” I struck gold on the biggest decision most people face in life. With whom to spend your life. There’s a reason I hit the jackpot. Her name is Fran.
I’ve spent 52 of my 78 years with Fran. The way things are today, marriages tend to have the shelf life of fresh fruit and vegetables. You tell folks you’re married 52 years and they look at you as if you were astronauts just back from visiting Mars. I don’t know how many times we’ve been asked what our secret is. And with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, slow thinker that I am, I just figured out a quick answer — Fran. This is not me being overly humble, humility never being my strong suit. It’s just being factual in an age where, heavenknows, facts are in short supply. A friend even urged me to write about our 52 years of marriage. Hence the column.
Most of you who bother to read this column every week know that Fran donated a kidney to me almost eight years ago, right around our wedding anniversary. Kind of an expensive gift, don’t you think? Not a gift I could repay with a greeting card and a nice dinner at The Prime Rib, though she would think so. She kiddingly tells folks that she just expects a blue box from Tiffany’s every year in return, but if truth be told, she’d have done it if I did nothing at all but get my health back. And I did.
You also likely know that she helped comfort me during my recovery from colon cancer about a year and a half ago. Sat by me during my chemo, pretending she wasn’t as scared as I that I might be wasting her gift of a perfectly good kidney because I’d gotten sick again. What you don’t know is how all this got started.
I met Fran at the Department of Public Assistance (folks called it “the welfare office” back then). It was in March 1961. The offices were located at the corner of Broad Street and Oregon Avenue where a public school now sits. She was working as an administrative assistant — she says I like to use fancy titles and prefers the title “clerk” to describe what she was doing. I had just gotten out of the Air Force Reserve, an unemployed radio broadcaster who, out of desperation, had just accepted a job as a caseworker.
I noticed her right away. How could you not, her being by far the sharpest girl I’d ever seen (the word “hot” was not yet in our vocabulary, but you get the idea). Being the suave and confident person that I am, it took me three months to ask her for a date. And I needed the urging of a couple of buddies at the office to work up the nerve. In fact, one day at lunch, one of the guys said to me that if I didn’t ask Franny “Scratch-a-belly” ( her name was Scroccarelli) for a date, he would. Fran will tell you that her sole reason for marrying me was to shorten her surname.
Fran’s folks had a place in Wildwood near the Crest, so we agreed to meet one weekend in July on the beach at Bennett Avenue. She showed up with a girlfriend. I was deeply disappointed. Even I knew three’s a crowd. But she agreed to a date that night sans girlfriend.
She wore this knockout form-fitting print dress — I saw a figurative flashing sign that read, “Buddy, you’re out of your league.” The night began a bit inauspiciously when we were walking (didn’t drive then or now) on our way to Dom’s Italian Restaurant, and a rain shower forced us to duck into a laundromat to avoid getting soaked. There are more romantic places than a laundromat. Luckily, the shower ended quickly or this might be a far different column. We went to a nightclub called Hurricane East where the great Brook Benton was appearing, and then to the Riptide for a drink. I knew the bartender. He had newfound respect for when he got a look at my date.
The night was nearly over. We were saying “goodnight” in the yard of the R and T Apartments — her parents’ place. A light mist was falling. In those days, it wasn’t a question of whether you’d get invited upstairs, just whether you would get a goodnight kiss on that first date. The headlights of the passing cars showed the rain getting heavier. I looked into her beautiful, dark eyes — eyes like black diamonds. It was now or never, and I leaned forward. Our lips met. And the mist turned into magic dust.
Leonard Cohen once wrote “…There were many loves before us. I know that we are not new…” But all lovers believe they are new. Unique. Forever. And in our case, I still believe it. SPR