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Love Story: His Portuguese was poor, but his love was rich

Jose and Maria Grilo in May 2020 at

Jose and Maria Grilo in May 2020 at Lareira Restaurant in Mineola. Credit: Samantha Grilo

Jose Grilo of Mineola talks about meeting his wife, Maria.

Our love story started in 1975 in Ilhavo, Portugal. I lived in Mineola but was in Portugal on vacation for a few weeks and to help my parents. They had retired three years earlier to Ilhavo but later decided to move back to Mineola. I was there to accompany my mother (who was blind) back to the states. My father would soon follow.

Maria, the daughter of my parents’ friends who worked in health care administration in Ilhavo, regularly paid my mother friendly visits. My parents told her I was coming to visit and asked her to show me around, to which she agreed. I was 27, and she was 23. Technically, we had met years earlier during a family trip to Portugal when Maria, then 9, was spending the summer in the same small beach community. Being a curious young girl, she visited us to check out "the Americans." Beyond that summer, neither of us gave our few meetings a second thought.

After showing me around the day after I arrived, Maria and I went to a nightclub on the beach. Wanting fresh air, we took a walk on the beach. When we sat down to talk, I decided right there that I wanted to marry this woman. In my poor Portuguese language skills, I said, "What do you think about us getting married?" Marriage was the furthest thing from my mind, yet the proposal just came out. She didn't say yes, but she didn’t say no.

Maria’s mother asked her daily what her intentions were. It was a small town and people were wondering aloud why her daughter was "hanging out with this U.S. guy." So, six days after we met, during a family birthday party, she agreed to marry me, and we announced it to the family. A month later, on May 31, 1975 we tied the knot in a civil ceremony. Plans for a church wedding would have taken too long. Our reception is still talked about today. It was in a new hotel that was trying a new four-hour buffet-style reception with cocktails.

A week later we flew to the United States with my mom and moved into the family home in Mineola. I worked at the New York State Department of Transportation as an engineering technician. Maria went to work in shipping at a tool manufacturer in Mineola. Our daughter, Samantha, was born in September 1976 followed nine years later by our son, Matthew. After each baby was born, Maria went to Portugal for a few weeks. She felt it was important for her parents and our children to have a relationship.

Maria balanced being a wife and mother and working a few jobs during our marriage. Since retiring in 2003 as a civil engineer, I’ve been active on Village of Mineola boards and area organizations. We are expecting our first grandchild in August and are very excited.

Maria is the kindest, most giving person I know. She is deeply dedicated to our family and has always given to everyone before herself.

Our family trip to Portugal scheduled for last September was canceled because of COVID-19. Instead, our children organized a beautiful brunch in our home to celebrate our Oct. 11 anniversary, the day in 1975 we were married at Corpus Christi Church in Mineola. Maria’s father had asked that we get married in the church as soon as we arrived in the United States. We have always celebrated both anniversaries.

Asking Maria to marry me was the best in-the-moment decision I have ever made. Some 45 years later, we couldn’t be happier.

— With Ann Donahue-Smukler

TELL US ABOUT HOW YOU MET. Access the online form at — or send an anecdote along with your phone number and a photo to, or call Ann Donahue-Smukler at 631-843- 2520. Publication is not guaranteed. Photos cannot be returned and may be used in other publications affiliated with Newsday.

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