After graduating from Martin Van Buren High School in 1960, I got a job at American Tobacco Co. on Third Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan. I loved the city, dressing up each day for work, the excitement of a different world than I was used to in Bellerose, Queens.
I had taken the commercial course in high school, so I was an expert at typing — 80 words a minute — and Pitman shorthand. Like all new recruits, I started in the typing pool, where I met many young women my age from different backgrounds. I dated sporadically, but my social life mostly consisted of going bowling, to the movies and to the beach in the summer with “the girls.”
I would also take vacations with my parents. When I was 19, my parents and brother and I went on a road trip to Vermont, Montreal and Quebec. I was my family’s GPS, sitting in the front seat next to Dad — Mom never drove on family vacations — with the Texaco map spread out on my lap to trace the route for my father.
We got to Quebec and found the shrine to St. Anne de Beaupré, Jesus’ grandmother, a place of pilgrimage for those seeking answers to their prayers. It is said that if you climb the 28 steps to the ornate altar on your knees while saying the rosary, your prayer will be granted. After my mother did the 28 steps holding the rosary, I asked what she had prayed for.
“I prayed that you would meet a nice Italian boy and be happy the rest of your life,” she said.
I shrugged. If St. Anne looked closely at my love life, she would see I wasn’t dating anyone, Italian or otherwise.
Later that year, my work friend Millie told me her husband, Joe, a teacher in Roslyn, knew a guy they wanted to set me up with. He was 24 and working on his master’s and doctorate in psychology. I immediately thought “what would he want with a secretary with no college education?” I told Millie I didn’t think so.
She said he was soft-spoken and kind, and I should just meet him, so I let her give him my telephone number. For our first date, she invited us to a gathering at her house so I wouldn’t feel awkward.
George Giuliani called me the Wednesday before the Friday night gathering. He was soft-spoken and very polite. I had no problem talking with him, and we laughed a lot.
I was surprised that at the end of our conversation, he asked me to join him on Saturday for his friend’s barbecue on Staten Island. I thought it odd that though he had never met me, he wanted to book me for a full day. His comforting voice put me at ease, so I said yes.
On Friday he arrived in his old Volkswagen convertible; it had a stick shift and a vocal exhaust. From my second-floor window, I watched him come up the front walk. He was tall, thin and was wearing a suit! I heard him ring the doorbell; my mother answered the door and invited him in. Then she came to the stairs to tell me he was there — like I didn’t already know!
I had grown up in a strict, traditional Italian household, so whenever a date came to the house, Dad would go out the side door to write down my date’s license plate number. “God forbid something happens,” he would say, “and I have to give the police information on who and what the car was, I want to be prepared.” That was always reassuring.
But the night George arrived, I did not hear the side door or the screen door click to signal my father’s routine.
I came downstairs to find Dad talking with George alongside Mom. I got my coat, and we went to the car. I had to run back in — I’d forgotten the house gift — so I whispered to Dad, “How come you didn’t write down his license plate?”
He looked at me and said, “Not him. This one’s a keeper.”
And he was for 57 wonderful years until last November.
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