By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
In early 1939, when Diana Granato was 18, she met Joe DiNapoli, who was 19, on a blind date. Before the night was over she was convinced of one thing. She wouldn’t marry him if he was the last man on earth.
Never say never. This year they will celebrate 70 years of joy-filled, loving marriage.
They were introduced by her friend, Mary, who was also along with a date, and they were at a dance. Mary and her date did what you do at dances – they danced. Joe, on the other hand, would not ask Diana to dance.
“I had new shoes and my feet hurt,” he said.
Diana would have accepted that, but later in the evening there he was, dancing with another girl.
Joe explains it was a set-up. Another friend who was tired of dancing literally threw the girl into his lap and said, “I’m tired of dancing, you dance with her.” The girl grabbed poor Joe, and with her leading, off they went.
Anyway, friends, especially Mary, who knew they would make a great couple, kept inviting them out. Diana would only go if it was a double date.
“I was afraid of him,” she confessed.
Finally, on Jan. 14, 1940, Diana consented to go with Joe alone on a simple date – to a pizzeria in Bristol, not really far from her home in the Tacony section of Philadelphia.
It went well enough and on the way back they passed St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Croydon, which had a beautiful outdoor shrine to St. Therese of the Little Flower. Diana knew about it, although she had never been there. She asked Joe to stop for a visit.
At the shrine she lit a candle and silently prayed to St. Therese: “If he’s not meant for me, please don’t let him ask me out again.”
Joe took her home, and as she got out of the car he asked, “Can I see you next week?”
Flustered, Diana answered, “Mary will let you know.”
The answer was obviously yes, and so began a very tentative courtship leading to marriage.
On the surface, they had a lot in common. Both were first generation Americans born of immigrant Italian parents. Both were strong Catholics, with Joe worshipping at St. Joachim Parish in the Frankford section of the city, Diana at Our Lady of Consolation Parish in Tacony. Both loved to sing and still do.
There was one major difference. Joe was from a very typical huge, close-knit Italian family. Diana was from a broken home; she was not raised with her mother, she didn’t know many of her relatives, and it was not really a close family.
As their relationship progressed, she dreaded that first meeting with Joe’s mother. Italian mothers have a well-earned reputation for protectiveness of their sons. Diana could speak Italian of course, but practiced correct diction and simple phrases to use at that first encounter.
She needn’t have worried. At that first meeting Clara DiNapoli hugged her with both arms, and in accented English said, “I’m so happy to meet you, honey.”
Diana and Joe became engaged over the Christmas holidays in 1940 and wed June 21, 1941. The ceremony was at Our Lady of Consolation Church, where they have remained members up to this day, although due to age and physical infirmity they are both housebound.
Things were getting dicey back in 1941. War was on the immediate horizon, and once it started many young husbands were called up for service. Joe received two deferments because his work at Rohm and Haas constructing bomber nose cones was critical to the war effort.
Their first child, Louis, was born Jan. 6, 1943. Even though he never slept the night through, they were delighted.
Louis was a year old when Joe was finally drafted into the U.S. Navy, where he served as a ship’s cook, adding zesty Italian recipes to the traditional bill of fare.
Before he left, Joe insisted Diana learn to drive, and it was good. While her husband was away she would pack the baby into the car and spend most weekends with her loving in-laws.
Joe came home in 1946 and resumed work with Rohm and Haas, before ultimately switching to the Philadelphia Water Department. On April 1, 1949, baby Dan came along, completing the family.
The years rolled on, leaving indelible memories of vacations to Wildwood, crabbing and clamming, walking the boards, picnics at Spring Lake, and singing in the choir at Our Lady of Consolation, with Joe eventually becoming music director.
It wasn’t just a long marriage, it was a good marriage.
“I always thought from day one I was blessed with a good wife and a good partner. I had to make her happy,” Joe said.
“Marriage is a two-way street with give and take,” Diana said. “You have to have some consideration for your partner.”
The boys grew, went off to college, married and tried to follow the example given to them by their parents. They both sang at the Mass at Our Lady of Consolation that preceded the big party they threw for Joe and Diana’s 50th anniversary.
“[My parents] loved and respected each other and looked out for each other,” Louis said.
“I remember the tremendous sense of family with all of my cousins living within a mile of each other,” Dan said.
For her part, Diana said, “I wanted to be a mother-in-law like my mother-in law was to me.”
On Feb. 12, when Father Dennis Carbonaro will celebrate a Vigil Mass at Our Lady of Consolation Church followed by a Valentine Dinner Dance, the DiNapolis will be the most senior among couples honored for longevity of marriage.
As for Feb. 14, when Valentine’s Day really is, the DiNapolis just intend to have Chinese food delivered, because for them every day is Valentine’s Day.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.