Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Meet Louis & Lena

I can't remember when I first Louis & Lena but it was before I could open my eyes. When I became aware of them it seemed that they were always there sort of like our idea of God, seemingly eternal. Louis was born December 1, 1901 and Lena was born November 21 1908. They were only 32 and 25 when I first met them but they always seemed so old to me I guess because I was so young. Know what I mean? But they had lives before I intruded on theirs I just never realized it. I guess it was all about "me" in my mind but it really wasn't was it?

Louis was born in Bari, Italy into a very large family who I guess one could say was poor but always had enough for meals. He finished what we would call elementary school but in those days didn't see the need to pursue a higher education. His father was a shoemaker, emphasis on maker not repairer, but he really didn't want to follow that career. As a young man he played Soccer (football), sang with a love for music especially Opera,. He knew all the Italian Operas and was not ashamed to cry, even when he was an older person, when the hero and heroine broke up or died. But he knew he wasn't going to have any life in Italy so he followed two of his sisters and brothers to Waterbury, Connecticut in the United States of America when he was 19 years old, in 1920. Can you imagine being a 19 year old going alone to a strange country where the customs and the language was so different from your own and getting aboard a ship's lowest deck where the living comforts were few and far between and having the courage to leave everything you know and love? I am not so sure I'd be able to do that but Louis did. His courage was strong as was his faith and love for his siblings who preceded him to this strange new land. While in Waterbury he worked in the local factory and lived among his fellow Italians and a large Polish community. He loved to dance especially the Tango and dated a few pretty Polish girls but eventually followed his siblings into New York where he eventually met Lena.

Lena was born in lower Manhattan into a very poor family who didn't always have much to put on the table except some soup which was made with some vegetables, water and a ham bone along with day old bread they could get from a local bakery. Their big meals with a lot of meat and spaghetti in the gravy were few and far between. The living children were including Lena were three boys and three girls. They grew up being very close and loving but not so much that they were above disagreements. Growing up in the Italian ghettos exposed Lena to the old Italian men who were drawn to her because even though she was only 5'1" her figure was ample and apparently tempting. But being a New York girl she was tough enough to fend off unwanted advances. She finished grade school which was an accomplishment in those days and went to work. She was a crochet beader a highly sort after position where the material of expensive dresses were spread across wooden frames called "horses" and would have the beads manually placed on the design with a crotchet needle. Around the middle of the 1920's Louis & Lena met.

They were both living in Corona a suburb of New York City which at the time was considered the country. A mutual friend introduced them and there was attraction immediately for Louis I guess the ample figure didn't hurt, for Lena she liked the fact he was so clean and gentlemanly. One day they met on the way to work where Louis tried to convince her to take off and spend the day together. (What happened to the guy who was so "gentlemanly?) But she coyly gave no indication that she knew he was testing her (was she a good girl?) and convinced him to meet for their first date, a walk in a nearby park. She and her mother argued about a chaperon, a person who would shadow them to make sure no hanky panky would go on, this was the custom of the day. They agreed no chaperon but her sisters would be placed in inconspicuous places in the park with their children and they would just happen to meet by chance. Needless to say they had a lovely walk and Louis met most of Lena's family.

They married in 1929, April I think. They were the first to have a catered reception, at Toffenetti's at Times Square New York. The place is no longer there but you could see it as you came out of the subway at 42nd. Street, on level above the tracks and a level below the sidewalk. The wedding dress and the tux were both rented. The families enjoyed the first catered non Italian Football wedding. The gifts ranged between $1 and $5. And everybody had a good time.

I met them five years later and as long as I knew them they were happy but they had their disagreements, heartaches but they had their joys and laughter. They had two boys, one a handful the other really a good guy. Louis and Lena were together until Jan. 1971 when Louis died. Lena nursed him for all of his sickness, it was tough but so was she. Lena lived some 36 years longer saying she didn't need another man to wash his socks but secretly she knew she didn't need another man because Louis was hers forever. I know deep down in my soul that they are together in that great dimension awaiting all of us who love.      


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