Niagara Gazette

November 10, 2012

LETTERS FROM THE ISLAND: Lesson in love from the LaMancusos

By Doug and Polly Smith
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Dear Mainland Memorialists — Since last we wrote, our population is down one, our memories up many. The pews filled up at St. Stephen Wednesday morning for a farewell to Jackie LaMancuso, the best “do’s” on the Island getting their heads together to try to comfort her husband Carlo, to whom she’d been married for 62 years.

Sixty-two years! Good heavens, compared to that, we’re so new at this we’ll probably have to show the clerk our marriage license next time we check in at the Red Coach.

Artist, cook, gardener, Jackie had a mind of her own. She tried golf once but gave it up after one summer because the “real” players were “too mean,” as Carlo recalled with a wan smile. In short, she slowed up their game by hitting the ball too often. “But she stuck it right out to the end of the year, and she was getting better.”

She didn’t exactly spoil her children and grandchildren, but many recalled coming over for breakfast and requesting “hot dogs and cheese.” Honest. “She didn’t care,” one recalled. “If that’s what we wanted, that’s what we got.”

And what might she have made for this occasion, we wondered as St. Stephen volunteers, “Bereavement” neatly embroidered on their blue aprons, bustled and served, hanging coats, even. “She’d have made something, that’s for sure,” Carlo said. “Pies, probably. That’s what she loved doing.”

(We interrupt this reverie for news: Our cherished “Little Old Pie Ladies” at Island Presbyterian have cooled their ovens for this season. They had the business, but not the bakers. We will truly miss their just desserts.)

Back to Jackie and Carlo. Although best known for the hairstyles designed in his off-stucco parlor near the South Bridge, he could cook a little, too. Kept him off the front lines in Korea, when the officers found out and assigned him to their kitchen.

But those talents paled in comparison to his dedication to his wife. No party marked their 60th anniversary. She wasn’t well enough to leave the house, hadn’t been since their 58th.

And that’s what they talked about mostly over lunch, how, with the help of his family, Carlo had painstaking cared for her, with the goal of making sure she would stay to the end in the house that he and his father had built in 1960. Few possess such perseverance. Four years ago, hospice came and left.

In “Tuesdays with…” Morrie warns Mitch: “Maybe you’re not so good with sick people…” Carlo never thought of Jackie as a sick person. She was his wife. “In sickness and in health,” as it goes.

“I never once thought of it as work,” he said. And so Jackie died at home. He wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Come visit. We’ll be home for a while, we hope.

Polly and Doug. E-mail