The years that we lived in Gilbert were very enjoyable. My teaching position afforded me the opportunity of making many new friends, and the chance to casually meet many parents of the children whom I taught. We often met at the supermarket, or perhaps in church, or at the West End Fair. Regardless of where it was, it always was refreshing to hear compliments coming from them concerning the progress they noted that their son or daughter was making in class, and also their child’s interest in wanting to come to school. A teacher is gratified to hear such comments.
While in Gilbert, Frank and Peter were away from home during their school terms. However with Frank going to Temple University in Philadelphia, this allowed him to come home on weekends once in a while. He and Michele Frey, also a student at Temple often visited us. We were happy to meet Michele and to learn later on that she and Frank would eventually marry, which pleased us very much. Paul had a new job working at Tom McAnn’s shoe store in the Stroud Mall. With his work hours and socializing on the side, we did not see too much of him. He often brought his friends (male and female) to our house before or after an evening on the town. With summer vacation and holidays, our college sons had little more time to spend at home, if and when they weren’t getting together with their friends who lived in town.
My teaching took up a great deal of my time, as I was always interested in writing and developing units of teaching, coupled with a suitable program that the students themselves took part in . When these programs were presented, sometimes the parents of the children were invited to attend, or sometimes individually selected 5th grade sections were invited. Of course, after the program was over, I provided and served refreshments to the students and invited guests. The whole venture was time-consuming, but it was very rewarding to see the successful results.
On Saturdays, I always made it a point to do things with Josie as she was basically alone during the day while we were all away. We would go for a ride, or go to Stroudsburg to do the rounds of the various department stores, most of the time just looking, not buying.
On Sundays, we attended mass at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Brodheadsville. It was at church that we had the pleasure of meeting Julia Varkony and Helen and Andy Chizmadia. A friendship soon developed, and since that very first meeting, we have become very close. They winter in Punta Gorda, Florida every year, and come back to Brodheadsville to spend the summer here.
Josie also made trips to Florida every year as she could never tolerate cold weather very well. After her return from Florida in early April, 1978, she complained of stomach problems, and appeared pale and a little thinner. Upon diagnosis at the doctor’s office, it was determined that she had colon cancer, which required immediate surgery. She came through quite well considering her age of 89.
From that time on, Josie seemed to go down hill health-wise. I was very concerned about her being alone while I was teaching. She was still under doctor’s care for routine observations. It was on a scheduled visit at the doctor’s office that another cancerous tumor was discovered, and so it required surgery for the second time. She had lost weight over the past year and a half, and her appetite was poor also.
As I would leave the house each morning to go to school, I would see Josie at the door, waving goodbye to me. I couldn’t help but notice the expression of loneliness on her face, but I think more than that, she was worried about the ravages of cancer which had already hit her twice. She often spoke of her mother’s death due to cancer, and she worried too that someday she would suffer the same fate.
When I would return home from school, there was Josie standing at the door, anxiously waiting for my return. Seeing her in this lonely and worried state as I saw her each day worried me. I also felt sorry for her as many things were racing through her mind. It was all of this worry and concern for Josie that led me to make the decision that I would retire at 62. It was a sad decision to have to make, inasmuch as I had been making much progress with my teaching position, and besides, I was enjoying it very much. But seeing her in her state, almost made me feel guilty , knowing that she was being tormented with her worries, and bearing it all alone.
When I told her of my intention, she immediately commented, “But you just started the job”. My reply to her was carefully phrased in order to absolve her from feeling responsible for my early retirement. I said, “Josie, you know how I’ve always had the desire to travel, as you and Pop had done together over the years. Now, with my retirement, you and I can both travel together and enjoy ourselves”. She accepted this response with a smile, and from all indications, she looked like she would be ready to go right now.
My resignation was accepted in June, 1979. There was no need to live near the school, now that I was not teaching anymore. Josie and I both discussed moving closer to town as all her doctors were in East Stroudsburg. Because of her condition, it was necessary to see her doctor on a regular basis. After having enjoyed the comforts of the house we had rented in Gilbert, we began looking around for something that would be equally as suitable as we had. We were fortunate to find exactly what we were looking for–a two-bedroom, one and a half bath townhouse in Parktowne in East Stroudsburg. We both liked the layout very much. We moved there in September, 1979.
I had promised Josie that we would travel together. We decided to go to Port Charlotte, Florida for the winter. While there, we went on several tours, namely St. Augustine, Lake Okeechobee, Key West, and also to a dinner theater at Burt Reynolds theater in Jupiter. All in all, it was a very enjoyable winter, and Josie seemed to enjoy seeing things together with me.
The next winter, we decided to rent a little bungalow that was located next door to Helen, Andy, and Julia, in Punta Gorda, which was available. Helen, Andy and Julia were happy to hear of our impending arrival. Josie and I decided we would make the trip to Florida by auto bus. This would make my car available to us while in Florida.
Josie seemed to be feeling fairly well up until the Christmas holidays. We had been invited to spend Christmas and New Year with Freddie and Mary. It was during this time that Josie developed a severe case of flu and bronchitis. She developed a deep cough as well. As soon as we returned to Punta Gorda after the holidays were over, I took her to the emergency room of the Punta Gorda hospital the next day. While the doctor was checking her lungs for possible pneumonia, they discovered a very large lump on her breast. The doctor tried to give the news to both of us as gently as he could, but it was evident that judging from his serious manner, the situation was very serious. He explained that the tumor was much too large and beyond surgery. The only alternative he could offer was radiation treatments. Needless to say, Josie and I were both shocked to hear the prognosis. She wanted a little more time before making a decision, and I could understand her feeling that way.
After we returned home, I fixed a cup of soup for her, and after that she immediately went to bed, trying to get some much-needed rest. The combination of her bronchial condition and the shock of her learning of the cancer was overpowering for her, I could tell. I knew that she would be better able to discuss her problem with me the next morning, which is what we did. I tried to reassure her that the radiation would take care of the problem, without the need to go through surgery (she had already had one breast removed many years ago) and that things would turn out OK.
We returned the next day to see her doctor. She informed the doctor that she was ready to undergo the treatments he had prescribed. The treatments were started immediately and continued each day for a total of 15 days. They were not administered on weekends, which would require a total of three weeks to fulfill the necessary amounts. She did not seem to feel any adverse effects the first three or four days, but after that her breast reddened considerably and became very tender to the touch. It was sad to witness. As each treatment continued, her discomfort escalated.
After three weeks of this torture, she was discharged from further treatment. Her doctor advised her to see the oncologist as soon as she arrived in Stroudsburg for further evaluation. My concern was how she would be able to survive her ride home on the bus after her recent ordeal. I suggested that for her comfort, it might be better for her to fly home. I would put her on the plane, and Frank would meet her at Kennedy Airport on her arrival. But she informed me that she would rather be with me. And that is what we did. We took the auto bus as we had when we left for Florida. We were both relieved to finally return home. Josie slept soundly that first night. She needed that rest, especially after what she had recently been through.
For Josie this would be the beginning of a long ordeal still ahead of her. The next step would be seeing her doctor, as well as an oncologist, for further diagnosis, as was recommended to her by her doctor in Florida.
The doctor and oncologist I had taken Josie to see concerning her serious cancer problems did not really give us much encouragement. There were no other alternatives available. The only hope remaining was to make her as comfortable as possible, while spending her remaining days of life with me and all her grandchildren.
Having acquired much experience with the details of home care while taking care of my mother during her long illness, I had no problem administering to Josie’s needs as they arose. I took every opportunity to get her out of the house with me as often as her now frail body would allow, and I made the time to arrange as many get-togethers at our house as I could. Dad’s brothers Joe, Teddy and Frank often came to see her as did my brother Johnny, together with their families. She seemed to enjoy all of it, and it kept her mind off herself, which was most helpful.
Prior to our move to Parktowne, our three boys were pretty much on their own now. Since his graduation from Temple, Frank and Michele were seriously considering marriage. Peter, likewise, had already completed his master’s degree at Duke, and was interested in finding a position while still entertaining the idea of marriage someday.
But Paul, now in his early thirties, had no inclination or desire to consider matrimony whatsoever. He seemed to enjoy the carefree life of bachelorhood and the socialization that was all a part of it. He continued to pursue almost everything that held his interest. But the shock which all of us found hard to overcome was that Paul was now suffering from diabetes, which, unfortunately, went undetected for a rather long time. It was while he was still working at the shoe store in the mall that it all surfaced. From that time on, Paul’s health deteriorated slowly but noticeably, as now his heart became seriously affected by the effects of his diabetes. Over the years he had suffered two heart attacks, which later on in time would necessitate by-pass surgery.
In the meantime, however, he was determined to enjoy anything and everything that caught his interest. He took up skiing, drove a motorcycle, at one time as far as Yellowstone National Park, backpacked through Europe with his friend Ben Tonti, flew to Munich to take in the Olympics there, attended the Olympics in Montreal as well, and followed baseball and the Mets feverishly and furiously. While engaged in all of this, he became more and more interested and involved with painting (mostly oils) and pottery as well. The painting had its beginning while Paul was still in high school, and his interest in pottery was developed while in college. It was almost unbelievable to see a very sick young man such as Paul was, to completely ignore his serious health problems, and substitute all its pain and heartache with the beauty and creativity of his art. It was inspiring to all of us, and a blessing and gift from God.
Early in 1981, the love bug succeeded in catching Paul, after all! Soon we were delighted to meet Lisa Jo Matthews who he had chosen to be his wife. Although there was a considerable span of years between them, they were extremely compatible in every way, a good beginning for someone who had been a bachelor for many years. The date was set and they were married in November of that year. By the time Paul and Lisa’s wedding was ready to take place, Josie was seriously ill and confined to a hospital bed at home with me. Because she could not navigate the stairs to get to her bedroom upstairs, I arranged to have her bed in our living room.
The wedding went on as planned, as this was Josie’s wish. I made arrangements with my neighbors, the Scibettis, to stay with Josie so that I would have the opportunity to see our son getting married. The wedding ceremony took place in the little Presbyterian church in Shawnee (on the hill) and Lisa and Paul were married by Lisa’s dad who was a minister. What a beautiful tribute of love and emotion! It was a beautiful wedding, and the reception which followed was held at the Shawnee Country Club.
After the wedding ceremony, Lisa and Paul returned to my house so that Josie could see both of them in their wedding attire. Lisa looked radiant and beautiful, and Josie seemed to be beaming with happiness, as she saw before her very eyes her grandson and his new bride.
A few days before Christmas arrived, we were delighted and happy to welcome Darice Joy into the Pappalardo family. When Lisa was discharged from the hospital with our newest grandchild, the three of them, Paul, Lisa and baby, came to our house to show Josie her latest great-grandchild. Darice can always proudly tell her friends for years to come, that she was carefully placed in all her baby finery in a guitar case when she was only a few days old. This event took place in our living room, and, of course, we have pictures to prove it, all of which proves a point, that cribs for babies are not always required or necessary. With this latest addition, our number of grandchildren had increased to thirteen, with the promise of more to come.
The month of September, 1982 will be a month, that, for us, will be long remembered as a period of time which captivated both joy and sorrow, and together with it, unparalleled anxiety and worry.
1.) Months before their actual wedding, Michele and Frank had announced their plans to get married on September 4, 1982, which happened to be our anniversary as well (September 4, 1937). We were all excited and looking forward to this happy event. Unfortunately, as the time for the wedding approached, Josie’s health worsened to the point where it was just a matter of time. Once again, as with Paul, she did not want plans for the wedding changed on her account. After all this was her godson, as well as her grandson, and she was determined that nothing should interfere with this marriage.
It is hard to describe how one copes with joy looming ahead, as well as with the devastations of death flirting with all of us at the very same moment in time. Ten days before the wedding was to take place, Josie was rushed to the hospital again. This time, it appeared certain that the end was near. I proceeded to be at her side at the hospital each day, as did our children, giving her hope and encouragement that she would be coming home in time for the wedding. Down deep we knew that physically, she would never be able to attend. But she needed hope and an incentive to live.
As the day of the wedding neared, I provided the medical staff at the hospital with an itinerary and schedule giving them the necessary information as to where we were, and how we could be reached, if necessary. Just picture, if you can the wedding ceremony ready to begin in ten minutes, as we quietly sat in the front pews designated for family, waiting for the bride to come down the aisle. Suddenly the telephone rang loud enough for all of us to hear. We swallowed hard, worriedly looked at each other, and already began to assume that the inevitable had already happened–that Josie had died. Thank God, the phone call pertained to another unrelated matter, and the wedding proceeded as planned. During those very crucial moments, we had been completely drained of all our senses, but very fortunately we recovered quickly. Now we were ready to enjoy a day of joy and merriment.
2.) On September 11, 1982, Josie quietly passed away while still in the Pocono Hospital. It was a sad time for all of us, but considering the length of her illness, and the suffering endured while we all watched, her death was really a blessing for her as well as for us. The funeral mass took place at St. Matthew’s Church here in East Stroudsburg, and she was buried next to Grandpa with whom she shared her life for 52 years. Their burial plot is in a cemetery located on the outskirts of New York City. Grandpa often bragged to Josie after he had purchased the cemetery plot, that the cemetery was conveniently located near the New York City subway lines– not that the subway would be of any use to the dead, Josie and Grandpa included.
When I look back in review, I feel much pleasure and gratitude in knowing that our relationship with both of them was filled with love, peace, and happiness. In the years that followed Grandpa’s death, Josie became even closer, living side by side. The last eight years, we lived together in complete harmony under the same roof, and enjoyed each other’s company to the fullest. Everybody we knew or met was astonished to see the compatibility that always existed between us. She would often refer to me, when speaking to others, as “my Mary”. Friends sometimes without thinking, would assume that I was her daughter. She would quickly correct them in their erroneous assumption and then say, “No, she’s my daughter-in-law, but not even a daughter would do what she does for me!!” I would suggest to her privately not to say this, to which she would quickly respond and say, “But it’s the truth. I can’t lie!” So, who was I to argue? I was always taught to respect elders and never to contradict them, and I was still practicing what I learned as a child, I guess!
3.) I had planned months in advance to have a party, which I named a “Medicare Party” in celebration of my approaching 65th birthday. It was scheduled for September 18th, a day before my actual birthday. As usual, it was another good excuse to have all the Vecchios and Pappalardos all together again, as well as our many close friends. I had made detailed plans, laced with humor, for this very special occasion. It was held at the VFW in Stroudsburg, and there were a little over 100 in attendance–a nice cozy group!! I wore a special jersey which I had made especially for me. On the front of it were the words noticeably displayed: MARY — PRESIDENT — MEDICARE CLUB. In the back was written just one word: W – H – E – E – E. The party was in itself a statement to everybody in attendance that reaching the age of 65 is not the end of the world, but really the beginning of a new and exciting chapter of life.
Too many people, as they approach the autumn years of their lives, fill themselves with needless worry and anxieties with little hope or optimism in the years still ahead of them. They can only see the doom and gloom in life. This has never been, or will it ever be my philosophy. There are just too many beautiful things around us for each of us to enjoy, and equally as important are the people with whom we interact every day of the year. Life, indeed, can be beautiful, and we, as players in it, can help to keep it that way.
As for the birthday celebration, it was a huge success. There was lots of food for everybody, with music to go with it. Peter and his buddies, The Lost Ramblers, played the whole day and evening. It was a great day, packed with lots of fun and camaraderie, but most important of all, it was another wonderful opportunity for another family get-together.
4.) On September 25th, we attended the wedding of Eddie and Barbara, Johnny and Carol’s son. It took place near Lake Ronkonkoma and was most enjoyable for all of us who attended. It gave us an opportunity to begin the healing process since Josie’s recent passing.
As you can see, September of 1982 was not exactly a quiet month of relaxation or meditation but somehow, we all managed to get through all of its 30 days.
With everybody in our house already married, Peter was the last one left to decide if and when he would take the plunge. Fortunately, Peter met Lynn Waddington, an RN, who had graduated from Duke University but was never aware that Peter was a student at the time she was attending there. Lynn worked in the emergency room at the Pocono Hospital and continues to do so today. They dated for some time, and soon it was announced that they were planning to marry in October of 1983.
Soon I met Lynn’s parents, Betty and Bud, and it was gratifying to know that Peter would soon become a part of the Waddington family, just as Lynn would be a part of ours.
On this note, I must state how fortunate our four sons have been in finding and marrying such perfect mates to be their wives. All four girls, Joanne, Lisa, Michele, and Lynn have helped to make ideal marriages for themselves, for my sons as husbands, and for all their children as well. I have found much love and compassion coming from each of them, and from all their families as well – the Murphys, the Freys, the Matthews, and the Waddingtons.
Peter and Lynn’s wedding was beautiful as was the reception that followed. With the last of our six now married, this left me much time and space to make plans for my life.
The first thing I decided to do was to leave Parktowne, as the electric bills for heat was getting to be prohibitive, since there was little or no insulation in the houses there. Fortunately, I was able to move to the Green Valley Apartments adjacent to the townhouses, and which were operated by the same owners. The cost was considerably cheaper, inasmuch as the rent included heat, hot water, cooking and washer and dryer included. The heat, hot water and cooking was all supplied by gas. I was pleased with the savings that I would realize in the move. The apartment was lovely and spacious. It consisted of 2 bedrooms, 2 baths and plenty of closet space. I finally made the move by November, and my new address was now 333 Greentree Dr., Apt. C-5, East Stroudsburg, PA. I was relieved and happy.
Now that I was completely by myself and living alone with no responsibilities whatsoever to worry about, I made plans to continue with my usual activities with all my friends, as well as to sing in the church choir.
But now, I gave serious thoughts to do some traveling as I had always dreamed of doing. With our large family, Dad’s health problems and little money, travel up until now had been out of the question. However since Josie’s death and the probate of the will had been completed, I was named as beneficiary. The inheritance consisted of a rather modest amount which would provide me with the many extras I ordinarily would not have bought.
I can still vividly remember Josie’s words of wisdom which she very often said to both Dad and I as she witnessed our constant ties of responsibility with our home and our young growing children: “Don’t worry, your day to travel will come sometime soon, and remember, that when the opportunity comes, make sure you take it and GO. (She emphasized the word go.) Never put it off for tomorrow, because tomorrow may never come.”
And so with these words of advice, I decided to travel and make as many trips as I could, before money or health, or both, ran out. And that is exactly what I did, and I was thrilled and happy to have done so. The experiences of seeing so many beautiful things, scenes, and people from distant places are hard to describe or properly equate in words. Traveling is an education in itself, and with it one gets much relaxation and pleasure. And so, thanks to the wise words of advice from Josie as well as her monetary remembrances, I made many worthwhile trips within a seven year period of time. God, indeed, had showered me with His blessings. Below are listed some of my trips.
- The National Parks in the West
- An extended visit of Europe, covering seven countries
- Montreal to see Pope John Paul
- Nova Scotia and the Thousand Islands
- Four trips to Los Angeles, California to visit with Jean.
On one of these trips, Rosemary and I went together. After meeting up with Jean, the three of us spent about ten days together covering lots of miles and many things. It was a wonderful feeling being together, just the three of us!
- Four trips to Hawaii to visit with Jean.
One trip to Honolulu, Hawaii to meet with grandson, John. This trip was combined with one of my visits with Jean and Prem, who were still living in Los Angeles. The three of us took off for San Francisco where we stayed for several days. Jean and Prem returned to L.A. and I, in turn, proceeded to fly to Honolulu from San Francisco where I was met by my grandson John. We had a wonderful week together, including taking a dinner cruise. John became very interested in the pretty Hawaiian girls who entertained us with singing and dancing in the boat.
In addition, I have made numerous trips to Florida, staying at various times with family and friends there. Florida is definitely the place to visit in the cold and snowy days of winter. I am fortunate to have so many of them living there year round in places such as Gainesville, Lake Worth, Fort Lauderdale, Holiday, Fort Myers and Islamarada as well as Punta Gorda.