Joan Gargiulo, of Lindenhurst, a grandmother of six known for...

Joan Gargiulo, of Lindenhurst, a grandmother of six known for her big heart and her great Italian cooking, died on Dec. 2, 2014. Credit: Handout

When Joan Gargiulo went Christmas shopping for her six grandchildren, she found it hard to stop.

"I can't even tell you all the presents we would end up wrapping for the grandkids," said Gargiulo's daughter, Carolyn Epifane of Lindenhurst. "The gifts would be up to the ceiling. Now, this is such a hard time of the year for us because our mother loved Christmas."

Gargiulo, a homemaker and longtime Lindenhurst resident, died of a brain stem aneurysm Dec. 2 at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip. She was 80.

"She was the most generous person you would ever meet," said Epifane's daughter, Katie, also of Lindenhurst.

"At the diner, she would give the busboy $50 at Christmas," Katie Epifane said. "And if you liked a shirt she was wearing, she would wash it and give it to you the next time she saw you or she would buy you a new one."She was born Joan Rodrigues in Brooklyn, lived for a time on Court Street and attended the Manual Training School. She dropped out of school after her father died and took a job at Woolworth to help support the family.

Andrew Gargiulo, her husband of 62 years, recalled how they met.

It wasn't love at first sight, said the retired Brooklyn firefighter and teacher and guidance counselor at St. John the Baptist High School in West Islip who is now a deacon at Maria Regina Catholic Church in Seaford.

She was 13 years old, and he was 14.

"She lived across the street from me on Court Street, and she had a lot of giggly girlfriends," he said. "Our meeting wasn't nice. I was riding the trolley, and a spark flew up on my leg. They laughed, and I didn't like it."

Later, one of his friends invited him on a blind date. "It was her," he said. "But we hit it off right away."

They were married in Brooklyn and moved from Red Hook to Lindenhurst, to be closer to Andrew's sister, who lived in Massapequa, and to put their first child, Tom, in a better school system.

At Gargiulo's wake at Lindenhurst Funeral Home, a longtime friend of Tom Gargiulo brought flowers with a wrapped brownie attached, another testament to Gargiulo's generosity and to something else for which she was known -- cooking.

"I went to Dowling College in Oakdale, and he played with me on the basketball team, and he remembered my mother making brownies for the team," Tom, a Babylon resident and a girls varsity basketball coach at Wyandanch High School, said. "She would also make chicken cutlet Parmesan and meatball sandwiches" for the Dowling team.Epifane said her mother was an excellent baker, but the funny thing about Gargiulo being a great "Italian" cook was that she wasn't Italian.

"Her father was from Spain and her mother was Irish," Epifane said. Gargiulo's Italian culinary expertise was developed when her husband was serving in the Korean War. Gargiulo lived with his family, and her Italian mother-in-law taught her about Italian cuisine.

"She was a good person with a good heart," Tom Gargiulo said of his mother, and a lot of people felt that way, he added. "For her funeral, the church was packed like Christmas Mass."

In addition to her husband, son, daughter, and grandchildren, she is survived by a sister, Arlene Spero of Lindenhurst.

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