Valentine for Fran

I’ve got­ten to the point in my life where it’s easi­er to look back than look for­ward. A per­son tends to dwell on re­grets at this stage of life.

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I’ve got­ten to the point in my life where it’s easi­er to look back than look for­ward. A per­son tends to dwell on re­grets at this stage of life. Total up the mis­takes and think “what if?” I guess I’m lucky be­cause, like the song says, “Re­grets I have a few, but then again too few to men­tion.” I struck gold on the biggest de­cision most people face in life. With whom to spend your life. There’s a reas­on I hit the jack­pot. Her name is Fran.

I’ve spent 52 of my 78 years with Fran. The way things are today, mar­riages tend to have the shelf life of fresh fruit and ve­get­ables. You tell folks you’re mar­ried 52 years and they look at you as if you were as­tro­nauts just back from vis­it­ing Mars. I don’t know how many times we’ve been asked what our secret is. And with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, slow thinker that I am, I just figured out a quick an­swer — Fran. This is not me be­ing overly humble, hu­mil­ity nev­er be­ing my strong suit. It’s just be­ing fac­tu­al in an age where, heav­en­knows, facts are in short sup­ply. A friend even urged me to write about our 52 years of mar­riage. Hence the column.    

Most of you who both­er to read this column every week know that Fran donated a kid­ney to me al­most eight years ago, right around our wed­ding an­niversary. Kind of an ex­pens­ive gift, don’t you think? Not a gift I could re­pay with a greet­ing card and a nice din­ner at The Prime Rib, though she would think so. She kid­dingly tells folks that she just ex­pects a blue box from Tiffany’s every year in re­turn, but if truth be told, she’d have done it if I did noth­ing at all but get my health back. And I did.

You also likely know that she helped com­fort me dur­ing my re­cov­ery from colon can­cer about a year and a half ago. Sat by me dur­ing my chemo, pre­tend­ing she wasn’t as scared as I that I might be wast­ing her gift of a per­fectly good kid­ney be­cause I’d got­ten sick again. What you don’t know is how all this got star­ted.

I met Fran at the De­part­ment of Pub­lic As­sist­ance (folks called it “the wel­fare of­fice” back then).  It was in March 1961. The of­fices were loc­ated at the corner of Broad Street and Ore­gon Av­en­ue where a pub­lic school now sits. She was work­ing as an ad­min­is­trat­ive as­sist­ant — she says I like to use fancy titles and prefers the title “clerk” to de­scribe what she was do­ing. I had just got­ten out of the Air Force Re­serve, an un­em­ployed ra­dio broad­caster who, out of des­per­a­tion, had just ac­cep­ted a job as a case­work­er.

I no­ticed her right away. How could you not, her be­ing by far the sharpest girl I’d ever seen (the word “hot” was not yet in our vocab­u­lary, but you get the idea). Be­ing the suave and con­fid­ent per­son that I am, it took me three months to ask her for a date. And I needed the ur­ging of a couple of bud­dies at the of­fice to work up the nerve. In fact, one day at lunch, one of the guys said to me that if I didn’t ask Franny “Scratch-a-belly” ( her name was Sc­roc­carelli) for a date, he would. Fran will tell you that her sole reas­on for mar­ry­ing me was to shorten her sur­name.

Fran’s folks had a place in Wild­wood near the Crest, so we agreed to meet one week­end in Ju­ly on the beach at Ben­nett Av­en­ue.  She showed up with a girl­friend. I was deeply dis­ap­poin­ted.  Even I knew three’s a crowd. But she agreed to a date that night sans girl­friend.

She wore this knock­out form-fit­ting print dress — I saw a fig­ur­at­ive flash­ing sign that read, “Buddy, you’re out of your league.” The night began a bit in­aus­pi­ciously when we were walk­ing (didn’t drive then or now) on our way to Dom’s Itali­an Res­taur­ant, and a rain shower forced us to duck in­to a laun­dro­mat to avoid get­ting soaked. There are more ro­mantic places than a laun­dro­mat. Luck­ily, the shower ended quickly or this might be a far dif­fer­ent column. We went to a nightclub called Hur­ricane East where the great Brook Benton was ap­pear­ing, and then to the Riptide for a drink. I knew the bar­tender. He had new­found re­spect for when he got a look at my date.

The night was nearly over. We were say­ing “good­night” in the yard of the R and T Apart­ments — her par­ents’ place. A light mist was fall­ing.  In those days, it wasn’t a ques­tion of wheth­er you’d get in­vited up­stairs, just wheth­er you would get a good­night kiss on that first date. The head­lights of the passing cars showed the rain get­ting heav­ier. I looked in­to her beau­ti­ful, dark eyes — eyes like black dia­monds. It was now or nev­er, and I leaned for­ward. Our lips met. And the mist turned in­to ma­gic dust.

Le­onard Co­hen once wrote “…There were many loves be­fore us. I know that we are not new…”  But all lov­ers be­lieve they are new. Unique. Forever. And in our case, I still be­lieve it. SPR


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