God brings us a today to love…. _
God brings us a today to love,
a yesterday to remember,
a tomorrow to count on
When Bob and I met, who would have thought God would use us to spread the Good News that He is alive and He is in our Church, and in our lives. I only knew I liked Bob; I trusted him. He was not like the other young men in our school. He respected women. The other male students frightened me. He was different; he was polite, considerate and protective; he was honorable. When other young men in the school spoke ill about a girl, he would always defend her. He never gossiped about anyone. He always saw the good in everyone. At times, to my frustration, when I judged some took advantage of his generosity and ongoing Yes, he would gently answer my objections with a smile.
I always saw greatness in Bob. From the day I met him, I knew that God had something special for him to do. I would say, quoting Shakespeare, “Thou hast great Glamis that which would make thee great, if thou wouldst be great.” What it was, I did not know. I just had a feeling!
For Penny and me, there is no doubt in our minds, hearts, or souls that the events of Monday, September 23, 1957 were definitely orchestrated by Our Lord Jesus, Our Lady and all the Angels and Saints. A new class session had just begun in school. We can envision a grand meeting in Heaven, in which it was determined that these two children (us) had work to do for the Lord, and it would not begin until they met and married. And with that goal in mind, a Heavenly contingency descended slowly to the earth, with Angels carrying our Lady on a cloud, singing songs of praise to God. O.K., that’s my vision!
On earth, we were positioning ourselves for the execution of the Heavenly plan, although we didn’t know it. We were busy familiarizing ourselves to a new school year, and new people, whom we had not met the school year before. I had never met Penny. I only knew her by sight, or rather, from a distance, from where I looked at her the previous semester. She was breathtakingly beautiful, lively and buoyant, truly a product of Heaven. In my mind, she was definitely a creation of the Master Artist, God. We had never been introduced, and I was kind of shy. She was shy, too, but covered it up by appearing standoffish and antisocial.
We were just getting used to being back at school. For me, it took a certain amount of discipline, after having been off all summer from school. I worked nights at United Press International, down on 35th Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan. As I got home from work at 6:30 in the morning, and my school hours were not till the afternoon, I was sure, I would be able to get a few hours’ sleep in the morning. It should have worked out all right. The only problem was, I never wanted to, because there was too much activity going on. But after being back to school for two weeks and being exhausted from burning the all-night oil, I vowed that this night, Monday night, September 23, 1957, I was going to sleep after dinner, and not get up until absolutely necessary.
Besides, that night, I had to be particularly alert, as I had to go to the Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, to cover a prize fight between Carmen Basilio and Sugar Ray Robinson. That was my agenda, not our Heavenly Family’s agenda. My roommates told me they were going to give a birthday party for one of the girls they knew, who was away from home. Oh man, I thought, there goes my sleep time. But I had vowed discipline, and I was going to sleep. To be honest, if I didn’t get some sleep, I was going to die. So I buried myself in the bedroom and tried to block out the noise of the party going on in the next room.
Penny arrived. She was outside in the living room with all the guests making a big fuss over her. She later confided that, as she missed her family, she was just looking for an excuse to make a quick getaway, back to the Barbizon Plaza, which was a women’s residence in Manhattan.
It was very difficult. The Angels had to get me out of the bedroom into the living room in order to meet Penny. I was exhausted. To me, the people out there had no consideration for anyone. They just wouldn’t let me sleep. Finally, I gave into the plan from Heaven. If I couldn’t sleep, I thought, I might as well join them, but I was not going to be happy, and I certainly wouldn’t be friendly.
It was as if Choirs of Angels raised their voices in praise of God, as I opened the door to the living room. Among the crowd of people there, who should I see across the room but the girl I had been admiring for so long, from a distance, (actually ogling) my Penny. She was so-o-o-o beautiful. Then I realized, it was her birthday! I had to meet her, but I had to be cool. I would also have to be nice. So I put on my best James Dean look, tousled hair, frown and squinty eyes. For those of you who were not on the earth yet, ask your parents about James Dean. It wasn’t really difficult to put on this posture, as my hair was messed up, from having just gotten up from bed, my eyes were slits because I had been in the dark, and now was blinded by the light. So it didn’t take a whole of lot of creativity to do my James Dean thing.
Now, here’s where I believe the Heavenly Family came in. Penny was on one side of the room, surrounded by all the young men in the room, actually encircled by them. I’m sure some of it had to do with the fact that it was her birthday and it was her party, and also because she was a knockout. But the moment I came out the door, the Angels cleared a path between her and me. The closest I can think of was the parting of the red sea, only in this case, it was the parting of wall-to-wall people. Our eyes met. It reminded me of when St. Bernadette’s eyes met Our Lady’s for the first time in the grotto of Massabielle.
We sat down at the kitchen table, and began talking. I have no idea what we talked about, but we talked for hours, lost in each other’s gaze. It seemed like we were both in a state of hypnosis, but it was more like Heavenly bliss. At the beginning, people may have tried to break in, like when they wanted Penny to blow out the candles on her cake, but the Angels blocked us from them with their wings, and after a while, they knew they couldn’t get between us and they just left us alone. It was like we were not there. We were shielded by the Angels.
I had been excited about the prospect of covering the prize fight at Yankee Stadium, but now, I hated the clock ticking away, getting ready to separate us. This was a mystical, magical moment. I didn’t want it to end. She did not want it to end. But the clock struck seven. I had to get to the Yankee Stadium. I felt like Cinderella at the stroke of midnight. I was furious because I had to leave; I was so much in love.
At the Yankee Stadium, I met Ernest Hemingway, who was sitting ring-side and asked him to autograph one of his books, I just happened to be reading. Now, not even the boldest bettor would give a-thousand-to-one odds that something like that would happen. As I was an ardent fan of his, you would think this would be the highlight of the night. But the experience dims obscurely in the brilliant light of having met the love of my life, my future wife and soul-mate, my Penny.
After having gone through my usual grueling routine, working all night, getting home at about 7 in the morning, I looked forward to getting some much needed sleep; but because my roommates were just getting up and, and as I said before, they had absolutely no consideration for me or my need to sleep, this was not about to happen. However I managed to fit in a few hours of sleep; then got up, shaved, showered and left the apartment in search of the girl I loved.
I started that next day convinced that the meeting with Penny had to have been orchestrated by the Heavenly Family, and I still believe that to be true. Everything that happened that evening was so perfect. It could not have been of man.
But then proof of that came crashing down on me the next day. I knew I would have a chance to run into her; we were in the same class. We would rekindle the flame, lit the night before. I hurriedly walked to the coffee shop near the school, in hopes of finding her there. I knew she always spent time there with her friends. But she was not there! I walked quickly towards the school and found her, standing off by herself, looking at a notebook, as if to remember an appointment. I rushed up to her, and I gave her a big hello.
She looked right through me as if I didn’t exist. I reminded her that we had met the night before at her birthday party. She didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. Bottom line, she had forgotten completely our evening together. The most important day in my life, and she forgot it the next day!
Needless to say, I was crushed! I had also aroused my Irish temper. In my mind and heart, I called her every terrible name in the book. But I never said a word to her directly. I vowed I would never speak to her again, even if she were in danger of death and it would take my being nice to her to save her life. I was really hurt. But now, over 50 years later, I realize it was just the enemy trying desperately to keep us apart. God had put us together, and we would be together for the rest of our lives. Satan had to try to pry us apart.
It didn’t take much time for me to back down on my firm commitment never to speak to her again. She was so pretty. It also didn’t take long before she remembered that she did know me, she had met me, and she did like me. Little by little, our love bloomed. We had the most romantic courtship the world has ever known. We did little things together, which young couples should always be allowed to do. We walked through Central Park together hand in hand. It is a perfect place for young lovers, or at least it was in 1957-58. We sat on the grass and studied there. We talked about our lives and our dreams. We went to the movies together, and shared dutch-treat Italian dinners (cost 35› each). Every day, after school, we would walk down to a fruit and vegetable store on 8th Avenue and 51st Street, where I would buy Penny one golden apple. She loved golden apples. Somewhere down through the years, we stopped the practice of golden apples, until we began to write this book. Then I remembered buying Penny the golden apples, and we started to buy them again. They are the most delicious apples.
The best birthday gift I ever received – the day I met Bob
I was away at school. My first marriage had ended long before our divorce. I came from a family who believed (and rightly so) that marriage is forever. But there came a day, when even my dear mother would tell me it was time to make a life for myself and the children. There was nothing left of the 17 year old girl and the 20 year old boy who met and got married after knowing each other three short weeks. The differences became, over the years, unsurmountable. But that is another story.
Mama suggested I return to school and seek a career; she offered to take care of the children. I reluctantly started to scan the newspapers and magazines, trying to choose where I would go, and as God would have it, I ended up in New York City, going to school in the daytime and returning home at night. At the beginning, I could be home before the children returned from school. But after the first year, as I had to travel fifty-seven miles on not the best of roads, and then to compound the situation, in the second semester I had classes in the morning and the afternoon, it became impossible to go home, except on week-ends.
A day to remember!
It was September 23, 1957, and my birthday. Some of the students decided to give me a surprise party at one of their apartments. Whatever this party was trying to accomplish, it missed its mark. While everyone else was dancing and having a great time, I was sad and downcast. It was my birthday; I was away from home, from my children and parents, and I was homesick! Little did I know that I would meet the one who would become the most important person in my life, that night.
Then the bedroom door opened and although I did not know it at the time, so did my life. Out walked a tall, slim young man dressed in a black shirt and black jeans, his hair tousled from sleep, and not very happy to have been awakened by music blaring, and voices trying to top the noise. I remember his eyes were barely slits. Never able to stay angry for long, his annoyance soon turned to friendship and warm congeniality. He came over to me and the next thing I knew we were sitting in the little kitchenette off to the side and I do not know how, but we were talking!
Sadly, as I was still too wounded and not very trusting, the next day came, and I had blocked him out of my thoughts and, I thought, my life. I was not like the other girls; I was older; I was not there to meet someone, but to learn a career and a way to support my children. So the next day, when Bob saw me, and said hello, I looked at him as if I had never met him. It wasn’t a game; I had psychologically blocked out any possibility of friendship with someone of the opposite sex. I just wanted to be about the reason I came, in the first place. I was also very wary, because there were all kinds of little games being played, to entice me to go out with some of the young men of the school.
Bob and I were thrown together in the same class. When we had a small break between classes, Bob would ask another girl and myself out for a cup of coffee (or as I was a tea drinker, a cup of tea). I thought it was she he liked, as she was Irish, like him, and was part of the same clique who socialized together on the weekends, when I went home. I thought he was asking me to go along, because he was too shy to ask her alone; and he didn’t want her to know he was serious about her, in case she did not share his feelings. You can see, even in those days, I was writing scripts.
Then, I got sick and was out for a few days. The phone rang at least two or three times a day, and it was Bob asking how I was. My parents began inquiring about the young man who kept calling. When I said “He is my best friend,” little did I realize how true this was, and that this truth would become a reality. What I didn’t add was, “I really cannot think about a tomorrow without him in my life.” Understanding, more than I, how deeply I felt about Bob, my father turned to my mother, “Oh, oh Mama, it is the old best friend routine.”
Bob was different! Now that I think of it, he has always been a little like my father. Bob would give me little gifts, like stop at the fruit market a couple of blocks from our school, each night after class, and buy me the largest golden yellow apple, he could find. Then carefully scanning it to make sure it was perfect, without blemish, my knight would hand it to me, like it was a precious jewel. And to me, it was!
The time came when poor Bob had to meet the family!
So many memories, such sweet memories. I remember when the time came for Bob to pass muster and meet the family! Within a short time, Bob had won my parents’ hearts; but now it was time for my brothers’ approval. It was Thanksgiving. By this time, I was out of school, I had an apartment in New York with my children going to Catholic School in Manhattan. It was a tiny apartment with an even tinier kitchenette. But nevertheless I cooked a great big turkey with all the fixings. As cabinet space was at a minimum, I had to get on a step-stool to reach platters on the top shelf. Bob, seeing me, ran over and insisted on getting the dishes. And to my sisters-in-law’s horror, that was not all; he was taking the bird out of the oven! One of them spoke up, “In this family men do not do women’s work.”
Now first of all, I don’t know where she got that idea; my father and mother never played man and woman roles; but instead, always partners in all they did, shared in whatever tasks came their way. To my delight and their amazement, this dear young man, who desperately wanted to be accepted, stood up to the women and said, “In our family this is the way it is going to be. Penny is too delicate and I don’t want her to hurt herself.” Needless to say, that won him a great deal of “brownie points”_ with my father and mother.
My father had only one deep concern. He called Bob over to my closet and showed him my wardrobe. The spoiled youngest child and a girl at that, my parents had given me every advantage and then some. He pointed to my shoes. “She pays more for one pair of shoes than you make in one week.” And turning to me he said, “You know you can only wear a Fenton shoe.”_ I protested I could do without the shoes and all the luxuries, as long as I had Bob. And Bob said, “I promise she will never want for anything. I will take care of her the rest of my life.” And he has! When we could not afford the clothes I was used to, I did not desire new clothes; nothing appealed to me. I had everything! I had Bob and my two children and life was wonderful!
We had the most delightful, up and down, courtship of fifteen months, we believe the world has ever known. We went from being good friends, to boy friend and girl friend. We were kids together, experiencing life with all its glory. Then the time came, when we wanted to get married. But there was a problem: Penny was a divorced woman. She had two children, who loved me; her mother and father loved me; and I loved them all. But we were both Roman Catholics, and the Church would not allow divorced people to marry in the Church. So the dilemma was what to do about our love for each other.
Penny was the best Catholic I had ever met. Granted, she knew very little about our Faith, as opposed to me, who knew whatever you learn in Catholic Grammar School, High School, and two years of Catholic college. But she loved Jesus and everything that had to do with being in the Catholic Church, while I, on the other hand, had embraced the world, and walked far away from the Church.
We sat before a chubby Priest in the Fall of 1958
This was my frame of mind when Penny and I sat before a chubby priest in northern New Jersey, in December of 1958. We were going to be married and that was all there was to it. At her request, we went to talk to the Catholic priest about being married in the Church. I knew there was no way. Her first marriage had been blessed in the Church, some 10 years after she had been married civilly, in an effort to save her marriage. This priest had performed the marriage himself. As far as he was concerned, he had dotted all his i’s and crossed all his t’s. He was not about to tell us it could be annulled. The Church didn’t do things like that, especially not in 1958.
I tried to appear calm, cordial, and respectful, while inside I was nervous and upset. I had convinced myself, we weren’t doing anything wrong, and this whole interview was so much nonsense. My cordiality went out the window, when the priest told us we would be living in sin. I had all to do to keep from exploding. There were many thoughts, which rang through my mind. Instead, I told him what Penny’s and the children’s lives had been like, not being able to practice their religion openly, being Catacomb Catholics. I went on that the marriage should never have been blessed in the Church, in the first place. He knew Penny’s first husband better than I; it had been clear to me that he never had any intention of fulfilling a Catholic marriage contract. It should have been obvious to him, as well.
I went on, how could this priest possibly say, in all good conscience, that by being married to me, where she and the children could practice their religion without any hindrance, we’d be living in sin; while being married to her first husband, where religion was a constant obstacle, an irritant and cause for major arguments, was not. The priest told me it would be next to impossible to prove that her first husband had no intention of living up to the marriage contract he had made when they were married in the Church. But I wasn’t listening. I was on a soapbox.
I accused this priest, and the whole Catholic Church of condemning Penny and the children to a life of misery. I ended my tirade with “If that’s the stand the Catholic Church wants to take, then we don’t want any part of it. We don’t need the Catholic Church to worship God. We don’t need any Church.”
How foolish are the young. How prone we are to make brash statements that we can’t ever expect to live with. That day, in front of that priest, I truly believe that Jesus, Mary, all my friends, the Angels and Saints, were there, rooting for me, praying I wouldn’t make a fool of myself. How they must have wept when I turned my back on them. I know for myself, no sooner had the words slipped out of my stubborn mouth, than I wished I had never said them. Tears welled up in my eyes; my tongue became thick. I couldn’t talk. I told Penny I always got this way when I became angry. But truly, I was sorry for my big mouth. I wanted to cry. In my mind’s eye, I could see my Heavenly Family, so sad, but mostly, my best friend Mary. I had betrayed her so cruelly. Could she ever forgive me?
Penny and I loved each other. Our love was good; my anger with the priest was that he seemed to be making it into something ugly, and it was not ugly; it was beautiful. We wouldn’t let anything or anyone stand in our way. Love would conquer all. The one thing we did not accept, or believe we had to accept, above all else was Obedience.