Thank You, Padre Pio
In 1978, a gangly guy with a beard was seen around the hospital where I worked as a social worker. We were told he was the street worker from the council on aging. He made regular visits to elderly people in low-income apartments to ensure their well-being. He looked interesting to me, with his white cotton bell-bottoms and Art Garfunkel hair, bushed out around a badly receding hairline.
The next thing we knew, he invited himself to lunch with us in the hospital cafeteria. “Us” would be the five female social workers on staff. He explained he’d been at the hospital recently because we had an old lady on our cancer ward whose cats he was taking care of. Not a very glamorous or well-paying job, he admitted, but he lived cheap because he was renting an old house in the county park for only $52 per month, with the understanding he’d fix it up. He said he loved to fix things, used to work as a finish carpenter, and had moonlighted with his dad as a plumber. The last place he’d lived was a horse farm, where he’d taken care of horses in exchange for rent—that’s where he helped his landlord rebuild engines on classic cars. Sure you did, I thought, thinking at this point the guy was certainly full of baloney. But still ...
The brakes on my Celica were making a funny noise. Being single and having been ripped off before by auto repair shops, I asked this David Ronco, who was supposed to be an expert at everything, whether he could take a listen. Sure, he said, and after work we rode around together so he could listen for the problem. Do you think those brakes would make the slightest noise while he was listening? They did not. Those stupid brakes made it look like I was making a play for him. But he assured me he’d listen again any time I wanted.
I soon found myself face-to-face with him over the hospital bed of an ancient, chemo-bald Italian woman named Carmela. As she held his hand, he assured her that her cats were doing fine. She was not. The oncologist had said he didn’t understand why she’d even been alive for the past six months. But she explained it with a big smile, a heavy accent, and a finger pointing heavenward: “I pray to Padre Pio!” The doc joked he might have to include the Padre in his treatment plan, because Carmela could actually still walk and had become well enough to return to her apartment. It was my job and David’s to coordinate her discharge plan, which we proceeded to do, one of us on either side of the bed. When he later left the room, she peered up at me. “He likes you,” she said, lifting that promising finger. I hoped he did. I could go for a man with that much heart.
I was working head-down in my office, documenting Carmela’s discharge plan, when I whiffed a familiar aftershave and saw those white pants in front of my desk. I looked up to see David, smiling and wearing a blue-velvet, double-breasted jacket. “I was wondering whether you’d like to go to a movie with me?” he asked, fingers fidgeting against the pants.
Thrilled and suddenly sweating, I said stupidly, “It depends on what movie.” (Seriously? How to blow a guy’s confidence.) Of course he hadn’t thought that far ahead, but we worked it out to see Woody Allen’s Interiors, a movie I remember absolutely nothing about. I do remember that it rained very hard on the way home, and that the windshield wipers on his 1969 reclaimed BMW did not work. Unbothered, he pulled over to the side of the road, got out into the drenching rain, and futzed with something at the base of the wipers. They sprang to life, verifying his claim he could fix cars, and absolutely melting my young heart.
It was his idea to tell our dear Carmela that we were dating, since she’d sent him off from his last visit with orders to ask me out. He invited her to picnic with us in the state park (the very park where he lived in the cheap reno house). She dressed for the occasion in a green polyester dress, nylon stockings, and a dark-brown wig, and she walked by her own power (or at least that of Padre Pio). David wore his Superman t-shirt and took pictures. It was a delightful day for all of us, a celebration of serendipity. God rested her sometime much, much later.
I soon learned, as David's hair began to flatten a bit at the crown, that the Garfunkel fuzz was attributable entirely to a perm. Yes, why not, if all those other things about him were true? I was more than willing to roll his hair in tiny plastic rods and squeeze on the next round of stinky perm solution, which I believe is how we spent our fifth date. I was that smitten.
Thus ends the first installment of the 35-year story between my husband and me. Stay tuned for other adventures.