On December 5, 2009, I will marry John Mooney, a fine Limerick export, and I just can't wait! As I cleverly dodged the patches of ice on the Manhattan sidewalks last Wednesday morning on my way into the office, I quietly pondered the ingredients of a successful long-lasting marriage. What is it that makes a marriage last? I wondered. Is it good communication? Having the same circle of friends perhaps? Maybe passion? Unsure and badly wanting the answer, I decided to ask the experts, those who have gone before us and withstood the test of time (and many a disagreement or two). Later that evening, I made a phone call. "Hello," answered the voice at the other end of the line. I explained who I was, a reporter and a future bride. "Congratulations," he said. "I am married 61 years you know." I did know. That's why I was calling, I explained. He laughed. On Thursday afternoon, one of the funniest and most adorable elders I've ever met, Joe Cunningham, 96, and his ever so beautiful bride, Rose Cunningham, 91, welcomed me with open arms into their cozy apartment in Yonkers, and more importantly into the past 61 years of their lives. Rose, a Leitrim lass, gave me a hug, a motherly hug that I will always cherish. Joe, a Clare man who is best known in Irish circles as the Joe of the Joe Cunningham Band, directed me to a space he had made available at the kitchen table. After we exchanged a few pleasantries, I dived right in, excited to hear the story behind Joe and Rose's first encounter. I'm a serious romantic with a huge admiration for the generation before me, so I knew I was going to be in for a treat. A broad smile adorned Joe's soulful face. "You won't believe it when I tell you," he laughs. While Rose watches television in the living room, Joe elaborates on the first time he laid eyes on the love of his life. It was in April 1948. "I was playing that night at the Carmelite Hall; it was a dance for a priest from Kilkenny, and Rose had met the priest on the boat over so she was at the dance," he said. As Joe relaxes back on his chair, his smile gets broader. "I knew there and then she was the one. She was beautiful. Still is," he said. Rose, 31 at the time, approached Joe, then 36, and asked him to play "The Stack of Barley." "I wanted to hear her talk so I asked her when she wanted me to play the 'Stack of Barley,'" Joe said. Rose, not buying into Joe's charm, ignored her pursuer and walked away. Joe watched Rose out of the corner of his eye all night, but he didn't know anyone she was talking to. He thought he had lost her forever. Three weeks later, Joe attended Friday night Mass in Our Lady of Good Counsel Church on 90th Street in Manhattan. The church was packed, but Joe managed to squeeze into a seat near the front. A nice gentleman moved out of his way to accommodate him. During the offertory a beautiful girl seated in the pew in front of him swung around and asked Joe for money. "There she was, the girl from the dance. Rose from Leitrim. Beautiful as ever. She thought I was her brother - you see, her brother had moved to give me his seat - and she asked me for money." He paused. "And she is still asking me for money," laughed Joe loudly. It was Joe's sense of humor, handsome looks and musical talent that made Rose fall head over heels in love with her suitor. "We just got on and I knew straight away that it was Rose who I wanted to be the mother of my children. I just knew it," he said happily. Five months later Joe and Rose were married at St. Ignatius Loyola Church on Park Avenue and 84th Street. "She was a beautiful bride," smiles Joe proudly, "and she still is beautiful, isn't she?" Assuming Joe had many ladies interested in him during his band days, I asked why he waited until he was 36 to get married. "I'll tell you why, because my mother always told us not to settle down until we had enough money, to have security," explained Joe. "I didn't have much when I came here first. I had nothing to offer a girl." When I asked Joe what the secret recipe is to a long and happy marriage he gently interrupted to say, "It's not that long when you enjoy being with the one person." Joe said his word to Rose was always important. "During my days of playing gigs, if I told Rose that I would be home at 3 a.m. I'd always come home at that time, always," he said. He tenderly smiled again as he had a loving flashback. "Often when I got home at night, Rose would be kneeling down at each of the children's cribs saying the Rosary. Wasn't she great?" he asked. Joe also said it's important for a healthy marriage to have hobbies. After spending 60 great years playing the New York circuit, Joe put down his accordion and took up a paintbrush. He proudly showed me some of the wonderful art pieces that he created during art classes at the Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers. "I also send emails," said Joe. I was flabbergasted, another skill he also learned at the center. A familiar cheekiness crossed his eyes. "I learned to type using all my fingers, so when I'm on the computer I can always look up at Rose," he giggles. Joe told me he had once piece of advice that got him and Rose through a lot. "If you did it, admit it," he said. "If you tell one lie you must tell many more to get out of it." And, he added, "Oh yeah, and always let her win the arguments!" "Listen," said Joe moving towards me. "There is no secret to our marriage, we were just happy and still are. This is a happy home," said Joe looking around and giving Rose a wave. Appealing to Joe's romantic side, I quizzed him to see if he had any Valentine's Day plans. I wasn't one bit surprised when he said he did. "I'm going to bring my bride to Rory Dolan's for a candlelight dinner," he said. "I might even get her flowers." Next up was a visit with Eileen and Paddy Moran, one of the nicest couples I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. Paddy instantly reminded me of my John when I walked in the door, a gentleman with a great sense of humor. I was taken aback and delighted by the chemistry that still exists between Eileen, a Cork woman and Paddy, a proud Galway man. When I called Eileen earlier that day to ask if she and Paddy would allow me to come and pick their brains about their 54-year marriage she laughed and said, "April, it's just pure luck." Eileen, 73, and Paddy, 81, met in the then Connemara Bar in Manhattan, a popular haunt to meet in before going to a dance. Eileen, who was there with another boyfriend at the time, spotted this tanned gentleman who was giving her the eye. She assumed he was Greek or Italian until her boyfriend flung his arms around him and said, "Paddy, how are you." Paddy had just returned from Korea where he was a sergeant with the Combat Engineers Unit. Paddy, the cheeky thing, whispered to Eileen that she had better get rid of her boyfriend. "Oh, there was great chemistry between us," laughs Eileen as she offered me a cup of tea. "That's true," smiled Paddy, who had one eye on the television as Irish golfer Padraig Harrington was teeing off on last week's leg of the PGA Tour at the Panama Golf Club. After a few weeks spent in Ireland, Eileen came back, got rid of her boyfriend and began dating Paddy. They knew they were meant to be together. They got engaged at a friend's wedding when Eileen was 17. Two years later, February 12, 1955, Eileen and Paddy were married. "We tried to get married on Valentine's Day but the 12th was the closest we could get," said Eileen. On to the burning question. I asked both Eileen and Paddy what makes them still love each other so much after 54 years of marriage. Said Eileen, "I guess I've just always been fond of him." While Paddy blushed on the opposite sofa, he nods his head in agreement. "Comprise," adds Eileen. "We had to compromise a lot but we always did." "That's very important," adds the Galway man. Paddy, who has become an avid golf player since his retirement from the Grand Union food company, admitted that life was always busy and they just got on with things. Parents of four boys, Eileen said, "Everything revolved around the family." Eileen, who doesn't look a day over 60, said when their children were born they both willingly gave up their social life and put their family first. "We had so much fun together with the kids, didn't we Paddy," she asks. Paddy nods to concur. Wanting to see if they had any advice for John and I as we begin our new life together, Eileen smiled and said that her and Paddy made a solid agreement before they got married. "We said if we ever got to the stage in our marriage where we stopped talking to each other, that would be it," said Eileen, who worked at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center for 25 years. Paddy added, "Yes, but we never let it get to that stage." They both explained to me that it's not always easy, but because they loved each other a lot they got through any obstacle that was in their way. And, said Paddy, "We laughed at a lot of stuff." "Yes," agreed his wife, "we sure did." Looking forward to this coming weekend, Eileen and Paddy said they plan to go out to dinner to celebrate both Valentine's Day and their 54th wedding anniversary. "We'll make the most of it like we always do," Paddy said. After spending a wonderful afternoon in the company of two beautifully content couples, I promised John that evening to always laugh at his jokes, to tell him the truth forever and a day, to be home when I say I will, to stick to my word, to realize it can't always be my way (or his) and most important, to always remind him when it's Valentine's Day!
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