It's a love story. But it's not just any love story, it's a for real and for true love story...and I know that, because I was a witness to it.
Meet William Andrew Chomos, his family and friends called him Bill, and he hated the name Andrew. I never understood why, I loved it, and gave it to my own son.
This is my grandfather...He was born January 7, 1912. Dashing character in his silk shirt and vest, isn't he?
And, you've been introduced to my Grandmother before... Mary Erma Natale Biondi. She was born on Christmas day in 1913 (Natale is the Italian word for Christmas). Those finger waves were the cat's meow...
Of course, this was long before I met them. I didn't come into the picture until much, much later, but even then, even when I was little, I knew there was something special between them when they looked into each others eyes...it was almost like they somehow got lost in a world that was only theirs.
They both grew up in tiny hamlet called Masury, it's in Ohio, not very far from Youngstown, Pennsylvania. It's still a tiny place, in the 2000 census they had a population of 2618. I don't know what it is like there now, I haven't been north to see that side of my family in forever, but I know when they were growing up there, it was a town made of of tight families...people were close and looked after each other according to the stories my Grandmother told me.
She never told me of how they fell in love, it just seemed to me like they were born that way. When I was 14 or so I found a card that he had sent her...he'd written her a love poem...from jail.
When I asked her about it, she was horribly embarrassed, but she told me that he and a couple of his friends had taken a car for a joy ride. No one was hurt, and the car was returned, but he had to spend 30 days in jail for the crime. I thought it was the most romantic thing I had ever heard. I'm not sure that my Great Grandfather Oscar thought the same...but this kind of love has a way of being unstoppable, and I am sure that, had he not approved, it would have only added to their resolution to be together.
They married at St. Bernadette's in June of 1940. They were a young couple, poor in money, rich in love and the faith that their marriage would endure and their love grow.
Two years later my mother came along, and they welcomed her warmly into their little nest.
Wars ended...time passed...days were lived, and years added up. And, just like in any other relationship, they had ups and downs. My mother, their only child, married too young and moved away from them. Grandchildren brought them south. And I am forever thankful that we did because my life was made so much richer because of the way they loved me.
My grandfather loved all things with a history, something that I've inherited from him. He was an exceptional man. I can remember crawling into his lap to watch him draw, he was seriously talented...even though the Sisters at the Catholic school he had attended broke a finger in his left hand. He was a leftie, something my sister inherited...and that was, apparently, a sign of the devil. When they caught him writing with his left hand, they would hit it with a ruler, eventually enough to break the middle finger. It was never properly set so he would stop using it. I can only imagine what his talent would be like had he been able to use his dominant hand.
I remember when his brothers would come to visit, along with their wives, and they would play music long into the night...the more beers they had, the more hymns they sang...Aunt Helen dancing the polka to all of them...his favorite was "In the Garden". I can still remember what it felt like when I would lay my head against his chest while he softly hummed it.
We went digging arrow heads together, and searched out old historical sites...and when we got home, all covered in mud, he'd pull my grandmother to him, her smile shining through her giggling protests, to give her a kiss, mud and all.
Tragedy struck when he was in his mid 50's. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer. There was great confusion for what seemed the longest time, there was so little then that could be done. Looking back, I realize there wasn't much time spent in the hospital, most of his time was at home with his beloved. I watched them go through so much together, and even though weariness was often with it, never once did I see the shine of love leave their eyes. Exactly a week before my 11th birthday he left her. He was only 59. I saw it all. The last thing he whispered to her was that he loved her...and then I heard a sound from her that could only be described as her soul being ripped from her...I'm sure she felt that it had been.
Years later I found a letter she had written to him after he'd died. Much like I do, she found a voice in writing letters, letters to the living, and letters to the dead...none of them ever meant to be mailed, just written... She wrote to him about how much she loved him, and how rich her life had been because she had shared it with his...and how much she missed him. I cried. Then I took it to his grave and tucked it in that space between his headstone and the grass.
She never married again, never even "kept company" with anyone. But every time I asked her about him, the love she felt for him was alive in her eyes. I asked her once..."Grandma, why did you never see anyone else?"
A Mona Lisa-esque smile slowly came to her face, and I could see her looking far off, at her memories of him and their life together...and after a slow minute she said to me..."Because it wouldn't have been fair. It would have been like standing in cool moonlight after basking in the warmth of the sun."
May we all have a love in our lifetime that compares...