By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

“…In sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death do us part.”

For those who take their marriage vows seriously, this isn’t a quaint phrase in a ritual, it is a commitment for life, no matter what.

John and Nancy Pizzi of St. Bede Parish, Holland, have been living that commitment for the past 61 years; the last two at the “no matter what” stage.

John was a South Philly kid from Sacred Heart Parish, not long out of the military; Nancy Santicerna was a coal miner’s daughter from Ravens Run (population 199) near Shenandoah. She was a very young woman when her parents died and she and her sisters moved down to Philadelphia where work was more plentiful. They met on neutral ground – at the Penn Fruit store in Upper Darby where John was a meat cutter and where she also worked.

When the meat department went self-service Nancy was sent over to help John, mostly weighing and wrapping the packets of ground meat, and just about immediately were mutually attracted.

Hitting it off and getting married are two different things. When you are old-fashioned Italian it’s not just marrying a person, it’s marrying a family. For John, it wasn’t a problem; after all, she was an orphan. But Nancy had to prove herself; she wasn’t from the neighborhood, and would she make a good wife? She had to go to his house and cook a spaghetti dinner for the whole family. She apparently passed the test and both 24, they married June 18, 1949.

“I only made one mistake, I took her to South Philadelphia,” John joked. “She was sweet and quiet before then.”

They quit Penn Fruit and opened their own Mom and Pop grocery at Sixth and Dickinson, where they worked side-by-side seven days a week, and also raised their two children, Angelina and John.

“She was three people in one,” John said. “At work she was my employee, at home she was my wife, and when we went out together she was my girlfriend.”

For her part, Nancy said, “We fell in love, what else? He’s been a good husband in every way. He helps me, we cook together, we do everything together.”

They kept their store in South Philadelphia for about 25 years. When they moved to Langhorne they operated another store for five years or so until John was forced to give it up for health reasons.

But for the most part life was good and their marriage was good.

Something happened two years ago. Nancy began to develop Alzheimer’s disease. John has watched as the Nancy he knew slowly drifted away.

“Everything is fading,” he said. “She spoiled me and she did everything for me. Now I try to reciprocate. I have to take care of her. I love her and I want to cry.

“I pray my rosary, I pray for her all the time. What a beautiful lady she was.”

“…In sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death do us part.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.