Leonard Caltabiano of North Babylon recalls growing up with future wife Lucille “Cookie” and falling in love.
My better half and I grew up in East New York, Brooklyn. Lucille “Cookie” Bell lived a few doors away. Our families each owned a three-family home. My best friend, Vinny, her cousin, lived on the ground floor of her house. She was 3 and I was 6 when we met in 1952. Later, we both attended Fourteen Holy Martyrs elementary school in Bushwick.
Her grandparents and her aunts and uncles had summer homes in Wayne, New Jersey. When I was 15, I was invited to spend two weeks there and got to know Cookie and her family better.
Cookie was 13 and I was 16 when we started dating. I remember asking her to be my steady girl at the Carousel in Forest Park, Queens. Everyone, especially her father, told her that our relationship would not last because I was older.
In 1963, she was a freshman and I was a senior at Franklin K. Lane High School. After I graduated, I got a job at a bank and took evening classes at Pace University in Manhattan. Her father now warned that I would meet other girls my own age.
We continued dating. Cookie and her family moved to another part of East New York. I had to take the BMT train line 10 station stops to see her.
In January 1966, I was drafted into the Marine Corps. During boot camp, we weren’t allowed to receive anything from home. Nevertheless, Cookie sent me a 2-foot-tall Valentine’s Day card and my parents sent a box of candy. My sergeant ordered me to eat the entire box in front of him. Boy, was I sick.
After basic training, I was assigned to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing in Cherry Point, North Carolina. I served as a bookkeeper, ordering supplies for the base and troops going overseas. I was able to go home every six weeks on leave. Cookie graduated from high school that year. Her father was still warning her that I’d probably find another girl.
On Feb. 24, 1968, a month after I finished my military service, Cookie and I were married at St. Michael’s Church in East New York, followed by a reception at the Regency House in Jamaica. We lived in Richmond Hill, Queens, for two years before purchasing a three-family house in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn.
In 1978, we bought our home in North Babylon. I retired in 2010 from Capital One in Melville as senior vice president. Cookie retired in 2005 as a pharmacy technician at Anscot Pharmacy in North Babylon. We are blessed with four children, three sons-in-law, a daughter-in-law, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandsons. We all rent cottages together in the summer in the Lake George area.
We are fortunate to still have our mothers. Cookie’s mom is 89 and mine is 101 years young.
Our children threw a 50th anniversary surprise party for us last December at the Hibernian Hall in Babylon Village that was attended by 130 family members, neighbors and friends, including some from our old Brooklyn neighborhood.
In February, we renewed our vows at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Roman Catholic Church in Deer Park with our family present, followed by dinner at the Milleridge Inn in Jericho. Cookie and I are also planning a trip together. Despite the warnings that our relationship would not last, our love continues to grow.
— With Virginia Dunleavy