Valentine’s Day approaches, and with it, (if the Hallmark-Industrial-Complex is to be believed), come marriage proposals. These betrothals – both the long awaited, and impulsive spur-of-the-moment – are fraught with uncertainty. What will the future bring? What will married life be like?
Forest Park’s Angelo and Dorothy Spinelli – he’s 99, she’s a mere 96 – look back on a long and happy marriage that has lasted for 75 years. So far. Their secrets? Two ingredients seem vital: communication and family ties.
The Spinellis married on Feb. 7, 1937, the week before Valentine’s Day, at Our Lady of Pompeii Church near Taylor Street in Chicago – but it wasn’t because of the holiday.
“I had to wear my fur cape, and it sleeted with snow. My father held the umbrella over my head,” said Dorothy. “Terrible, slushy weather. We wanted to get married in June, but we had to get married then, because his mother was sick – but we didn’t know it.”
Their daughter, Antoinette, 73, lives with them in the house on the 1100 block of Circle they’ve called home since 1949. Laughter rings through their tidy home – living-room upholstery shielded with plastic – where the Spinellis raised three children.
“They’ve learned the art of compromise,” said Antoinette. “Mom always took care of the bills, but she’d show dad where the money was going at the kitchen table. They were constantly yelling at each other and letting it all hang out, but they discussed everything. Maybe loudly, but they discussed it.”
“We’re Italians. We don’t talk, we holler,” joked Dorothy. “And the children were always included,” she added.
“They talk to each other. And communicate with each other,” said Antoinette. “If you don’t know it’s broken, you can’t fix it.”
“I lived in a house with so much love and so much fun,” Dorothy said. She grew up during the 1920s and 30s in the 900 block of South Paulina Street, across the street from Angelo’s family. Her Italian parents were immigrants. Her father owned a jewelry and fur business. “My mother would say to me ‘Always pray for your family and children and keep love in your heart.'”
But her father was unhappy about any of his five daughters marrying. Dorothy’s older sister had to elope: she married secretly during her lunch break downtown. Her brothers were sent to dances to chaperone the five sisters and their mother rarely let them off the block, she said.
Even walking her down the aisle Dorothy’s father was anxious: “We don’t have to do this,” he hissed. “We can turn around and walk out.”
Angelo and Dorothy waited until he was 24 and she was 21 to get married. “At the time that was old to be marrying,” she said. Both had finished school in 8th grade and had been working. “At any jobs you could find.” It was the depths of the Depression. Angelo drove a cab during their first year of marriage: he tells a story of a mysterious woman who jumped into his cab in the back of the cab line and refused to get out until he reached the first cab position. Then, when he told her he had a new baby at home, she tipped him $20. “That was two month’s rent!”
Angelo had come to Chicago as a 7-year-old from a village near Naples. His mother, while she was living, had run a produce stand and his father sold fruits and vegetables as a peddler with a horse and wagon. He worked for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as a laborer earning $85 per month and then got a wartime night-shift factory job at the Martin Manufacturing Company. When the family moved to Chicago’s West Side and then to Forest Park, he worked as a driver for a trucking company.
And family life is vital to the Spinellis. Dorothy said her mother would not let her complain about her husband. “She would say, ‘you started it, I’m not going to interfere.’ She always said, ‘Marriage is what you make it.'”
The couple spoke of sending their three children to St. Bernardine’s and then to local high schools. The boys, Arthur and Benjamin (now in their 70s) were among the first Little Leaguers in Forest Park. “Angelo always did Boy Scouts. He was a troop leader,” said Dorothy. The family reminisces about taking the streetcar to see Cubs games, especially on “Ladies Day” Wednesday home games. “We’d bring a picnic basket and the ladies would pay 10 cents. The boys always brought their gloves.”
Staying close to home, they would attend games of Forest Park’s all-female softball team, the “Bloomer Girls” at Parichy Stadium at the corner of Harlem and Harrison – where U-Haul parks its trucks today.
“On Sundays we would go downtown to Lincoln Park and see Bushman [the first gorilla at Lincoln Park Zoo whose taxidermied body is now displayed at the Field Museum].” Angelo would take the boys fishing in Lake Michigan.
Holidays were important as relatives moved from the city to points west. The Spinellis reminisced about big Italian Christmas Eve feasts with seafood, lasagna and ravioli, and a memorable New Year’s Eve party that went on for three days in their basement. “We ran out of food and had to send to the [sister’s houses] for more.”
Their sons both became printers and Benjamin owned the Flying Tiger Hobby Shop for 20 years at Roosevelt and Elgin. Antoinette worked in the medical industry. The extended family now has seven grandchildren and 15 great-grandkids.
“Love isn’t every day with marriage” Dorothy said. “Every night I’d go to bed and say, ‘God, one day at a time. Whatever comes, comes. But family is important. My mother always said, the best friends you’ve got are your parents. They’ll never leave you.”