Meet the In-Laws

December 17, 2010 at 12:25 am (Uncategorized)

I first met Maureen Ford in the summer of 1966. At the time I was working as head teller at a local bank in Cedarhurst, NY after having gotten out of the Army the previous fall. Maureen had just graduated from high school and taken a job as secretary to the bank’s chairman of the board. The first time I saw her, I confided to my friend Gene Costanzo, “That’s the girl I’m going to marry.” For some reason, Gene seemed very skeptical about that.

I plotted for several days how to meet this lovely lass who seemed a bit shy. Then one afternoon I bumped into her in the lunch room. I blurted out, “Hi Murine. You’re certainly a sight for sore eyes!”

Brilliant tactic. That had to be the worst pick-up line in the history of mankind since the first Neanderthal grunted, “OONK, GORK!” to the object of his affections. Not surprisingly, it didn’t work. Maureen simply flashed a forced smile and left the room without responding.

Realizing that I had made an utter fool of myself, I avoided Maureen for the next few days. Fortunately, Cupid, in the form of a wonderful woman named Helen Carnevale, intervened. Helen was the bank’s switchboard operator, and she had taken a liking to both Maureen and me. She eventually brokered a date between us, which must have required enormous effort on her part considering the first impression I had made. I’ll always be grateful to Helen for that.

Anyway, for our first date we went to a party held by Beatrice Kontanis, who was the vault attendant at the bank. You have to understand that this was a small neighborhood financial institution where everyone knew just about everybody else. Attending parties hosted by other employees was a common practice. When I picked up Maureen she had a pretty flower in her hair and looked stunning. I thought the date went fairly well, but I later found out that Maureen didn’t like me very much. After all, I was five years older than she was, and of course, had been less than suave in our first meeting. But things improved, and we began to see each other on a regular basis.

Along about this time I decided to bring Maureen home to meet my family. Many years before anyone ever dreamed of “The Fockers”, we sat down uncomfortably at the dinner table. Maureen later told me that as she stared across at my father’s devilish face, she could have sworn she saw little horns protruding from his forehead! Anyway, just as my mother was putting the food out, one of the table legs collapsed, sending dishes, silverware and dinner crashing to the floor in a grotesque heap!

While Dad and I roared with laughter, Maureen sat in stunned silence. Mom reached across and began smacking my sister Suzanne, who was sitting nearest to the broken leg. “But I didn’t do anything!” wailed poor Sue. This caused my father and me to guffaw even louder. My sister Denise and younger brother Augie bolted from their chairs and ran for cover from this madness. I can only imagine what poor Maureen was thinking!

During a subsequent visit, a mashed potato fight suddenly erupted in Mom’s second-floor kitchen. Covered with potatoes and laughing uproariously, I dragged poor Maureen outside into the yard. Mom had previously cut up a watermelon, and began throwing slices down at me. Not to be outdone, I picked up several and tossed them back. One of the slices ricocheted off Mom’s head, through the open window, and splattered on the kitchen floor. What a mess! By now Maureen must have been wondering if she had gotten involved with a family of lunatics!

Somehow, despite all the wackiness, our relationship persevered. My future wife fell in love with my grandmother (Nonnie), who lived downstairs. There was nobody like Nonnie. Whenever we stopped in to see her she’d serve tea and buttered Uneeda biscuits, and we’d just enjoy chatting for long periods of time. My grandmother adored Maureen too, so those visits were very special to all of us.

After dating for about eight months, we became engaged the following Easter. Aunt Amelia Piccione had recommended a jeweler in Brooklyn, and we found a beautiful marquis-cut diamond there. I don’t actually remember asking Maureen to marry me, come to think of it. I guess we had just grown together to the point where it was simply assumed, and no words were necessary.

We were married that November, appropriately enough on Veterans Day, at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Inwood, where both sets of our parents had also been united. I was 24 and my new wife was just 19. Donna Fischetti served as Maureen’s maid of honor. She was the fiancé of Maureen’s brother Tom. Her bridesmaids included her dear friend Rosemarie Italiano, my sisters Suzanne and Denise, my cousin Lorraine Sarullo and Maureen’s cousin Susan Muglia as flower girl.

For me, Richie Vicario was best man, joined by my friends Joe Parlo and Gene Costanzo, my new brother-in-law Tom Ford, my cousin Ronnie Bevilacqua, and my brother Augie as a junior usher.

It was a storybook wedding that brought out half the bank to witness the social event of the year. Father James DeVita, who became a good friend of our family, officiated at the ceremony. We laughed then and still do now about the good Father reading us our vows, and then asking maid of honor Donna if she took me as her husband! And as we walked away from the altar, I recall glancing around at all the happy faces. Sadly, many of those people are no longer with us.

From the church we went by limo to the Luna Continental restaurant in Elmont, NY for our reception with 240 family members, friends and guests. Upon arrival, the family tradition of wackiness continued. I had forgotten to put my wallet in the pocket of the tuxedo when I dressed, so I had to run inside to borrow money from the maitre D to pay the limo driver! Recently I found the bill for that reception. It came to $2300, not counting the 60 bucks I owed for the limo! Can you believe it?

The rest of the reception is a blur. I do recall that the party was in full swing when Maureen and I said our good-byes and made our escape. We spent our first night as husband and wife at our apartment in Cedarhurst, laughing as car after car containing some nuts from the wedding passed by, horns blaring and headlights flashing.

The next morning we headed out for our honeymoon in Niagara Falls. Now I ask you, what sane man takes his new wife to Buffalo in the wintertime? After what seemed like an endless drive, we finally arrived, only to find that the falls were frozen and much of the town was closed up. Of course! What else would you expect?

We finally found a seedy restaurant that was still open and ordered dinner. I shook my head in resignation as I glanced into my water glass and spotted a fly frozen into the middle of an ice cube. Funny how you remember ridiculous little things like that. I suppose that’s a product of growing up in a family constantly surrounded by swirling craziness.

Anyway, we decided to cut the honeymoon short. Maureen was homesick, and the weather was lousy, so we headed back to Long Island. Our marriage had begun with such great promise, and we were anxious to get started on our new life together. Someone at the reception had written “JUST MARRIED” in lipstick on our rear car window. Now driver after driver honked at us in congratulation as we made our way home. As yet, we were blissfully unaware of the trials that lay ahead.


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