{Vintage} What is love? An Interview With My Grandparents

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{I wrote this piece in 2011 for my NonFiction writing class in college. I interviewed both my Nana and Grampy separately. I have always loved their story. They traveled the world together + understand the hard work that comes into love + marriage. Enjoy!}

When Ann Lee was born, her parents thought that she was completely deaf. They sent her to the Cleveland Clinic to see what could be done about her hearing loss. The doctors removed her tonsils and adenoids at the clinic and that did not help. As trying as this was for the Lee family, they were not sure what to do. Mr. Lee drank too much and Mrs. Lee was a very religious, prim woman. In nursery school, the teachers noticed that Ann could hear a little bit. Later, another teacher suggested getting Ann a hearing aid. “That was the turning point in my life.” She tells me, her eyebrows high. When Ann grew older, they sent her to live with her aunt and thirteen children, and she attended a public school with a special program for hearing-impaired children. It was very difficult to learn there, as the classroom was very large. Ann learned to read lips at an early age.

Time passed by. Her father had to move because of his a job change, which resulted in Ann and his entire family moving as well. Moving to a new high school was a different experience. “I had my older cousin to look after me, and that was good… I hear but I don’t hear. And I have a hard time with that. For instance, if we’re in a group and everybody is talking, I’m not with it. I have to know the topic and what’s being talked about. If I know that topic, I’m okay. But when everyone is talking all at once, I’m lost, and I’m just sitting there. I’ve had this all my life.” She explains this with a bemused expression, looking down into her lap. It was a scary thing for her, as she was unable to completely hear what people were saying. It was by either luck or fate that Ann’s family moved to Lima, Ohio. As she walked the hallways of Lima Central Catholic as a junior, she couldn’t have known that she would meet the love of her life. “That’s where I met my husband. But I didn’t like him. I didn’t like him at all because he was such a menace.” She says the last word with distaste, a slight smile still on her face.

“Well, I was born very young. And I was happy until I turned twenty-one, when I got married.” The ornery Francis Guagenti grew up in a Sicilian family. His mother and were father very hardheaded people as stubbornness is the Sicilian way. Francis first started working when he was fourteen years old, and his job was washing cars and pumping gas. When he went to high school, he began working at Milano’s Pizza Carryout. After he quit making pizza, he worked for Woodlawn Pharmacy stocking shelves and waiting on customers. When Francis turned eighteen, he spent six months in the regular army and then went into the National Guard for six and a half years. He was never active during wartime. “I had dated a lot of girls during high school… And then I met your Nannie and it was all over.”

Ann’s first impression of her future husband was rather distasteful. When I ask her what her first thought was, she wrinkles her nose. “Oh, it was horrible!” She shouts. “They were trouble makers, him and his cousin, they acted and looked like hoodlums. Them, with their leather jackets! It was hard for me to be friends with him and his cousin…” Ann and Francis began dating when he took her to the prom despite her ‘horrible’ first impression. It also sent an intentional message of rebellion to Ann’s controlling mother.

“What made you think you liked him?” I ask her, and she laughs.

“I guess I kind of liked him. I don’t know… butterflies in my stomach. I really loved his parents. When I met his family, I found out where he came from. I could not believe that he came from such a wonderful family. That’s when I found out what he was, after I met his parents.”

When I ask Francis about his first impression of Ann, an expression I have never seen on his face takes over. “I thought she was beautiful. She was kind and easy to get along with.” He says to me sincerely. “A buddy of mine had been dating her and he told me, ‘I have been dating that Ann Lee for three or four months and I haven’t gotten so much as a single kiss.’” Francis bet his friend that he could kiss her first, and he took Ann Lee to the prom. “So I dated her and I kissed her… I knew that I would marry her just about the time we started dating.” Their first date was at the Allen Country fair. They had a wonderful time but when they returned to their car, somebody had stolen it and returned it, completely wrecked on every side of the vehicle. “I always said she was bad luck from the start… we got along pretty good.” He says with a smirk.

After high school, Ann attended an all-girls university. When she was at school, Francis wrote letters to Ann when he was in the service. “I was very worried for him.” Ann shakes her head. He pleaded with her to stay with him. Ann decided her junior year that college was not for her. “When I was in college, he tried to make it up to me and he sent me all of these stuffed animals and letters, trying to get me to stay with him.”

“How did you feel when he proposed to you?” At this question, Ann’s eyes light up and a smile graces her face.

“I was so excited.” Apparently, Francis was not a very affectionate young man. He had a little box with her engagement ring in it, and he tossed it at her.

As I have been told a number of times, marriage is not easy. It’s hard as hell. Francis and Ann did not always have money to spend. They worked very hard to get themselves where they are now. “I think we got along better when we didn’t have money,” Francis chuckles with a twinkle in his eye.

No matter what, they both admit that they were good for one another. Francis helped Ann to be more self-sufficient, as her mother had been doing everything for her ever since she could remember. Ann most likely helped Francis become more patient, as he admitted that it was very hard to date and constantly be around a hearing-impaired person.

He tells me a story about the dryer starting a house fire. Ann’s mother was around the house and Francis told Ann to call a man about fixing the curtains. “I’ll do it.” Ann’s mother suggested. “Like hell you will,” Francis said to her. “If she can talk to me, you, my mother, and her sister on the phone she can sure as hell call Mr. Murphy.” Although Mrs. Lee wasn’t fond of this, it was much better for Ann to call everyone and talk to the person herself.

When Francis and Ann settled down together, they learned that Ann was pregnant. “I was very happy,” Francis remembers, staring into the woods in his backyard. Unfortunately, this time was not their time to have children. “It was awful.” Ann tells me, her face turning grim. “Having a miscarriage is just like giving birth. You have the birth pains… it’s very painful.” This was a very hard time for Francis and Ann as they had been very excited to have a baby. Soon enough, they had a healthy baby boy, Gary Guagenti.

Francis had to work a lot so that his family could have nice things. “I loved to work,” he says. There is a proud air to his voice that only a businessman can emit. “I worked all my life. Fifty years was enough at one job. My legs weren’t as good as they used to be and I couldn’t do all of the things I wanted to. I just threw in the towel and retired.” He would often have to get up in the middle of the night and take care of baby Gary because Ann could not hear her son’s cries.

“When he went into the army, he bought me something called the Sontral.” Ann tells me. “He put it under the bed and when Gary would be crying in his crib, it would just… BUZZZZ!” She demonstrates the vibration that would wake her in the middle of the night. “It was wonderful.”

They later had two more sons, Joseph and Francis Jr., despite the second miscarriage Ann suffered through. Francis worked very hard so that his family could have nice things, which meant that he was not at home too often. Ann was not good at disciplining the children, which was a little frustrating for Francis.

Ann and Francis have a different life together now, as the years go by. I ask them what they do now, as they are reaching their fiftieth anniversary.

Ann is quick to answer me, brushing her white hair from her eyes. “It’s hard for me to lead the live that I want to lead. I want to go kayaking and swimming. Grampy never wanted to go to the movies or out to dinner. He doesn’t like to go out. So I have gotten used to staying at home.” Ann shrugs. “But I have my own circle of friends and we do things together. I don’t mind it too much now that I’m used to it, although I still enjoy doing things to stay active… I want to be with people and in the public.”

Francis’ Sicilian profile is very defined against the setting sun. “You know, when you get seventy years old, the stories don’t get as crazy. You wish you did more. I always liked to drive fast, very recklessly, and that’s the way it was. It’s been a good life…  and then I have them damn grandkids. I knew I forgot somethin’. And my Julia, that was my first grandchild. Sure changed Grampy’s life. Grandkids are better than kids because you send them home at night… I sure enjoy them and I love every minute of that.”

Ann sits across from me with a smile on her face. “I have my three sons who are my whole life. And oh my God, when my first granddaughter came along… that was the joy of my life. It was precious and it was a whole different life. I enjoy all seven of my grandkids and I try to do as much as I can for them.”

“Was it fun to be with Nana?” I ask my grandfather. In response, he squints his eyes.
Sure, it was fun. The fun never stops. We had good fun for about thirty or forty years. It’s really hard to be with someone who has a hearing problem but I love her.”

“What do you think of love?”

Love is a mother goose tale.” Francis looks me in the eye while telling me this. “Most of the time, it isn’t love that people are feeling. It’s lust. Love is a word that is very overused. Love isn’t marrying your ‘best friend’ like everyone else says so. Love is two people getting along and working together. Marriage is hard. It’s harder to stay married and it’s easy to get divorced.”

“Oh, that’s a hard subject,” Ann pauses, looking thoughtfully into the night sky. “Love is understanding each other. Trying to make peace with the two. Trying to keep everything calm and collected. Trying to make each other happy… Love is being together.”

Works Cited
Guagenti, A. (2011, October 8). Personal Interview.
Guagenti, F. (2011, October 8). Personal Interview.

In loving memory of my amazing, hilarious Grampy.
Listen to: “Que Sera, Sera” by Doris Day (Grampy’s favorite song)


XX JULES

6 thoughts on “{Vintage} What is love? An Interview With My Grandparents

  1. Thank you for your blog. It is very positive and uplifting. I’ve never signed up to fallow a blog, until now. You write like you’re talking to a friend, it’s very nice. I was Francis and Ann’s realtor from Florida and I respect your family very much. I’ve never met more kind and caring people than Francis, Ann and Joe. It was my good luck to also have been your grandparents neighbor.

    Like

  2. After reading the interview with your grand parents, one word jumped out at me and stuck,,,,,,MEANACE !
    The times I was around him were entertaining to say the least. Two I will never forget. Although I never had the honor to meet your grandmother, she must be a saint! She doesn’t know me but I did have a recent contact in passing with her. What I saw was a very special person. As the days go by the sorrow will fade and the happy memories will take over. ALWAYS focus on the good times because you can’t change the bad ones.
    Steve T

    Like

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