A cigarette and a lollipop, not an arrow, were all Cupid needed to strike up the courtship of Curtis Jones and Wilhelmina Simmons some seven decades ago.
“I offered him some of my lollipop, and he said ‘no’; he offered me some of his cigarette, and I said ‘no’,” said Mrs. Jones, now 88, as she reminisced about the day she met her husband, 87, when both were 15 years old.
The Joneses, who attend Mass at St. Charles Borromeo parish’s Resurrection Chapel in Harlem, will celebrate 70 years of marriage April 21.
They were one of a number of couples honored at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Feb. 10 for World Marriage Day. Cardinal Dolan served as the principal celebrant and homilist of the Mass.
The couples, 26 in all, have been married 65 years or more. “You’ve been married longer than I’ve been alive,” joked the cardinal, who is 63.
The "Longest Married Couples Contest" was sponsored by Worldwide Marriage Encounter and the archdiocesan Family Life/Respect Life Office.
Although the previous day’s snowstorm may have prevented some of the couples from venturing out onto the snow-strewn streets, those who were able to attend the Mass appeared appreciative as they prayed together.
Referring to the Gospel (Luke 5:1-11) in which Jesus asks His disciples to “cast out to the deep,” the cardinal congratulated the couples for showing a similar faith in sustaining their respective marriages. He then officiated at the renewal of their marriage vows.
At a reception in the basement of the Cathedral after the 10:15 a.m. liturgy, Mrs. Jones, who is affectionately known as “Poupie,” shared in animated detail the events that led her to meet her husband when both were teenagers.
Wilhelmina was visiting one of her classmates from St. Mark the Evangelist School in Harlem whose family lived in the same complex as the Jones family. With lollipop in hand, Wilhelmina, who was sitting by the open window in her girlfriend’s home, looked outside. Curtis, who was leaning against a car smoking a cigarette and chatting with one of his friends, quickly caught her eye.
After the offers of the lollipop and cigarette were politely declined, Curtis, called “Sonny” by his parents, abandoned both his cigarette and his buddy and made a mad dash in pursuit of “Poupie.”
“The next thing I knew, he was knocking on my girlfriend’s door,” Mrs. Jones said. “So that’s how we met. And I haven’t gotten rid of him since,” she joked.
The Joneses raised six children. They also have 11 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandson.
Jones, who was Baptist, became a Catholic in 1951. Mrs. Jones, a cradle Catholic, was raised in St. Mark’s parish in Harlem. The Catholic faith and, in particular, attending Mass as a family, has buoyed their marriage, they said, and helped in the upbringing of their children, all of whom graduated from Catholic high school.
The secret to 70 successful years of marriage? “Patience,” Mrs. Jones said. “You’ve got to give each other a little leeway. You can’t monopolize each other’s lives. Give and take. That’s what’s it all about. Giving and taking. I think sometimes the wife has to take a little more than the husband,” she added with a laugh. “Sometimes the husband tries your patience.”
Jones said his love for Mrs. Jones is “automatic.” As the primary provider of the family, “I slept and worked, that’s all,” he said of his jobs delivering mail for the U.S. Postal Service and in refuse removal in the sanitation industry for a private company. He also served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
In addition to her work inside the home minding their children, Mrs. Jones also worked as a teacher’s assistant at a nursery school.
Mrs. Jones’ advice to couples marrying in 2013: Plan your future together. “You’ve got to know in which direction you want to go, meaning you can’t be wishy-washy. You’ve got to have a settled mind and decide what you want to do and how you want to do it.”
Mr. Jones’ advice: “Make sure you’ve got income and a place to stay. Be honest with each other and don’t hide anything.”
Still, the skies haven’t been blue every day of their marriage. “It hasn’t been a bowl of cherries,” Mrs. Jones said with a gentle laugh. “But it has been wonderful,” she added. “We’ve lived a very full life. We’ve traveled. We’ve had a wonderful life with children.”
When did they know they would spend their happily ever after with each other? “When I met him, I really fell in love with him,” Mrs. Jones said. “He was a very loving person, but not possessive, and caring.”
The vows in sickness and in health have certainly come into play in the Jones’ marriage, especially as they near their 70th anniversary. “You’ve got to take the bitter with the sweet,” Mrs. Jones said. “I’ve been sick and he’s taken care of me. Now he’s sick and I’m taking care of him. That’s the way it is. We’re going to be ‘until death do us part.’”
Longest-Married Couple Winners
• Tom and Anna Nassisi, 76, St. Ann’s, West Nyack
• Santo and Jennie Gulla, 73, Immaculate Heart of Mary, Scarsdale
• Anthony and Theresa Munizza, 72, Our Lady of Good Counsel, Staten Island
• Michael and Margaret Nigro, 71, St. Benedict’s, the Bronx
• Martin and Rose Vespo, 70, St. Columbanus, Cortland Manor
• Dominic and Annie DiLorenzo, 70, Immaculate Heart of Mary, Scarsdale
• Frank and Marie Aidala, 70, St. Mary’s, Kingston
• Arthur D. Sr. and Joann Plog, 70, St. Stanislaus Kostka, Pleasant Valley
• Michael and Stella Canosa, 69, St. James, Milton
• Harry and Audrey Bloomer, 69, St. Matthew’s, Hastings-on-Hudson
• Anthony and Carmela Albano, 69, St. Teresa’s, Staten Island
• Curtis and Wilhelmina Jones, 69, St. Charles Borromeo and Resurrection Chapel, Manhattan
• Michael and Mary Gileno, 68, St. Eugene’s, Yonkers
• William and Constance Mittelstadt, 68, St. Mary’s, Washingtonville
• Michael and Suzanne DeCarlo, 67, St. Patrick’s, Staten Island
• John and Ann Clemets, 66, St. Joseph’s, Manhattan
• Arthur and Theresa Galipeau, 66, St. John the Evangelist, Goshen
• Charles and Mildred McLoughlin, 66, St. Patrick’s Home, the Bronx
• Angelo and Elsie Menoni, 66, Holy Family, Staten Island
• Dominic and Emily Dragonetti, 65, St. Joseph’s, Yonkers
• Albert and Anne Gargiulo, 65, St. Ann’s, Ossining
• John and Marie Lancellotti, 65, St. Clare’s, the Bronx
• Peter and Kathleen Nardoza, 65, Immaculate Conception, Manhattan
• Eugene A. and Myrtle Prisco, 65, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Pelham Manor
• Vincent and Josephine Berretta, 65, Holy Rosary, the Bronx
• Gabbett and Jean Murphy, 65, St. John the Evangelist, Goshen