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Family Life

Words of Advice for an Enduring Marriage From Some Old Pros

June 11, 1988|JAN HOFMANN | Jan Hofmann is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Angeline Anzalone's hand was trembling so badly as she walked down the aisle that "my flowers were shaking," she recalls.

She was too nervous to look at Michael Bongiorno, waiting for her at the altar, to see if he noticed. If she had, she might have seen that he was trembling too. "Like a leaf," he says.

They had been dating for more than three years by then, but they had known each other even longer. Their parents had been friends long before they were born. They knew each other, and their own feelings as well. They were sure. And they were terrified.

"I knew that when we got married it was forever," he says.

"That was instilled in the generation we came from," she says. "When you got married, you stayed married."

Still, he says, "Nobody thinks they're going to be married 50 years."

That was Sunday, June 12, 1938. They were both 21 years old. Sunday--long since recovered from those nuptial jitters--Mr. and Mrs. Michael Bongiorno of San Clemente will celebrate their golden wedding anniversary.

June traditionally is the peak of the wedding season and therefore a time for wedding anniversaries as well. Each young couple goes into marriage with the same hopes and promises, but if current trends hold, "till death do us part" will become "until the divorce is final" for as many as half of them.

Family Life asked couples whose marriages have lasted 25 years or longer to tell us how they decided on each other and how they have managed to stay together while so many others have given up.

"You have to know who you're marrying," Michael says. "Know their traits, their habits. A lot of these young people today, it doesn't seem like they know each other very much. And I'm not talking about going to bed; don't get me wrong. Are they neat and clean? Sloppy and dirty? What kind of food do they eat? We knew ourselves."

He and Angeline wouldn't have dreamed of it, but for those reasons, Michael believes that living together before marriage isn't such a bad idea. "Today, I think it's right--our church doesn't approve of it, of course, but I think maybe you should stay with them for six months or so to find out what they're like. I think it makes sense."

Both the Bongiornos say that long before they knew each other's habits, something inside told them this was the real thing. And they both remember the moment it happened.

"It was at her cousin's wedding. She stood up for the wedding," Michael recalls. "I think I had taken her out before, but it was nothing serious. It was hot, and I asked if she wanted to take a walk outside. She said OK, and as we were walking along, talking, she said, 'Oh, I think my strap broke on my shoe.' So I knelt down and I picked up her foot, and I just knew, right then, that she was the one."

"It wasn't really broken," Angeline says. "I just wanted to see what he'd do. I knew it then too, that this was it."

But there was a catch. Angeline already had a boyfriend. "She was hard to get, but I pursued her, and finally I won out," Michael says.

"Little by little, I forgot about the other guy," she says. "And finally, I was still going out with the other guy, and Mike said, 'If you want to see me, you have to do it on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.' "

"I wasn't going to settle for Tuesday or Wednesday night," Michael says.

They were in his car one night after going out to dinner a few months later when Michael pulled out a diamond ring--"a little diamond," he says. "My gosh, in '38, things were rough. You just barely got by." They were both working for a tobacco company then, making about 40 cents an hour.

The expectation that their marriage would last helped make it so, the Bongiornos say. But if there had been serious, insoluble difficulties, Michael believes they "wouldn't have hesitated at all to separate."

Over the past half a century, they've had their share of arguments. "Oh, sure, we yell at each other like everybody else," Michael says. "But we've never hit one another. We just holler hard."

"We've had our spats and all that, but after a few hours, we just forgot about it," Angeline says. "That's the trouble with modern marriages. They jump in, something comes up and they don't settle it, and then they jump out."

Fred and Dorothy Pilone, both 71, of Los Alamitos don't have quite as much experience at marriage--they'll only be celebrating their 47th anniversary June 28. But if Dorothy's life had turned out the way she had it planned at one point, she might be celebrating that anniversary with another man.

She met Fred at a party "a thousand years ago." He was fun to be around, had a great sense of humor, but "I was more or less engaged to someone else. We hadn't announced it, but we'd talked about it."

So when Fred asked her to marry him, Dorothy didn't say "yes" right away. "I said, 'Oh, I don't know. Let me think about it awhile.' " Three months passed before she made up her mind.

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