Joann Gomi shares how she met her future husband, Joe.
When I was a junior at Mater Christi Diocesan High School in Astoria, Queens, during the Vietnam War, I wanted to write to a serviceman, a sailor, in particular, because I liked their uniforms best. My parents owned O’Leary’s Tavern, at the corner of Crescent Street and Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria. My mother suggested I write to Joseph Gomi, an Army serviceman who had lived in the neighborhood and had been a patron at the tavern (although, unknown to my parents, he was under the legal drinking age).
He wasn’t a sailor, but I wrote to him anyway, saying, “Hi, I’m Annie O’Leary’s daughter. Would you like a pen pal?” He wrote back and said yes, and we corresponded for 16 months. I received about two letters a month. I numbered them in chronological order.
Neither of us was a great writer, but for him the exchanges were a connection to home. At one point he sent me a picture of himself and a dog, and that told me that he must be kindhearted.
We met in person in April 1967 when he came home to Astoria for a 30-day leave. I was getting ready for church one Sunday and had shaving cream all over my legs when the doorbell rang. My mother was so nervous she brought him into me while I was still in my robe — shaving cream and all. We made plans to meet after church. I ended up spending the whole day at his family’s house. So on that day I met not only Joe for the first time but his entire family. We dated throughout his leave, going out about three or four times a week.
He got assigned to Fort Lee in Virginia and came home every weekend until his 11-month tour was done. Joe never actually asked me to marry him but instead just started talking about our future together. At some point, he told my dad about his intentions.
We were married March 12, 1969, at the Immaculate Conception Church in Astoria and had our reception afterward at Brendel’s Tavern on 28th Avenue, also in Astoria. We honeymooned in Montreal and moved into an apartment in Joe’s parents’ home. A year later we moved to our own apartment nearby before moving to Bay Shore four years later. We eventually moved to Hauppauge, where we have lived for 31 years.
Joe worked for a number of years as a union plumber in UA Local 1 until the construction industry crashed in 1975, the same year our daughter Debra was born. Joe was a full-time dad until he was hired by the United Nations in 1977 where he eventually became plumbing foreman. He retired in 2005.
I worked for Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Manhattan for 12 years then stayed home as a full-time mother after Joe went to work for the UN. On March 15, 1982, our second daughter, Dana, was born. I eventually returned to work as a customer service representative for a State Farm agent in Bay Shore. I was there 20 years before moving to the agent’s son’s insurance agency in Smithtown where I worked for 20 years before retiring in 2017.
We have been blessed with two beautiful daughters, fine sons-in-law and five grandchildren.
We celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary with a trip to China.
— With Ann Donahue-Smukler
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