70 years of love and trust
BRATTLEBORO -- As Josie Shencavitz, in her Long Island accent, begins to tell the story of their 70 years together, remembering how they met, she is interrupted by her husband, Joey, who asks her to speak up.
"Josie, I can't hear you," he says. "I want to hear what you're saying. Speak louder."
Josie scoffs, waving him off dismissively, and yells, "What am I supposed to do Joey, yell the whole time?"
Joe closes his mouth and settles into his chair with no answer.
Josie continues talking, telling me the story of how they came to meet.
It was 1942. Joe played accordion in a band at a club called the Seashell. Josie was sitting close to the band and found herself "kind of flirting with him" while he played. When Joe had a break, he introduced himself to her and, by the end of the night, had asked her for a date.
Josie finishes telling the story of their meeting and asks me to relay it to Joey. I turn to him and speak, trying not to speak too loudly or too quietly, and relate the story to him. He nods in agreement, then Josie bursts in with, "You trust me?" And Joey responds, "Yes."
So goes the story of a couple that's been married for 70 years. Sometimes there are irritations with the limitations of 90-year-old bodies, but there is always trust.
Like a seed before it sprouts, Josie and Joe's life together began in harsh conditions. They met in 1942, in the middle of World War II. Josie lived in New Hyde Park, N.Y., and worked at a defense plant during the war. Joe worked on his family's farm in Coreham, N.Y., rather than joining the Navy, and played his accordion on the weekends. About once a week, he would make the hour drive to New Hyde Park to see Josie and then drive home again.
In 1944, Joe and Josie decided to "tie the knot" and they married on Feb. 6, a Sunday. Josie continued working for another three months before they "took up housekeeping" in April of that year, in Port Jefferson, N.Y.
They both worked for a while on the farm, but in 1949, they bought a small piece of land in Mount Sinai, N.Y., expanded the garage to accommodate a living space and began a small business out of their home. They started a small garden center specializing in plants and cut flowers, which was successful because they lived on a main road. Joe worked during the day as a salesman for Gregory Doyle, selling farm supplies, chemicals and "anything that pertained to growing things," and Josie took care of the business.
The ‘50s were busy years for Joe and Josie, who, in addition to working, had three boys by the time the decade was half over -- Joseph Jr. in 1950, Gerald in 1953 and Peter in 1955. They would operate the farm stand in the summer and close it in the winter, using that time to start plants in their small greenhouse.
Once the kids were a little older, they would help cut and bunch the flowers, which in those days sold for 50 cents a bunch, and help wait on customers, too. The kids "loved to work around the flowers as they grew up," and were a great help. After a while, Josie's sister began to also help with their budding business, and Joe would plant his flowers when he got home from work in the afternoons. Joe and Josie also always raised vegetables for their family to eat.
In 1959, Joe's company closed, so the couple began to work together on their business right around the time the expressways were being built. Theirs was the first garden center in the area and they were able to expand their business with the expansion of the highways. Joe continued to play music on the weekends and would take the ferry to Shelter Island in the summer to play with various bands. Their life began to move with the seasons -- selling, cutting, bunching and playing music in the summer; seeding and planting in the winter.
Once the ‘60s came around, Joe and Josie were able build a house on their land with the help of Josie's brother, moving into their new house in 1963. Their boys graduated high school in the late-'60s and early-'70s and all moved onto different things while Joe and Josie kept the business going. During this time however, many more garden centers were popping up in their area and it was not as easy to sell their flowers as it had once been. Josie moved to buying and selling rather than selling only what they'd grown, especially around mother's day and Easter as a way to keep the business afloat.
In 1989, Joe and Josie retired and moved to Brattleboro, where they've been ever since. They came to Vermont for the "clean air, good water and the slower pace of living," and have always enjoyed their life in the small hills surrounding Brattleboro. For the past 25 years, they have made their life here, growing and planting flowers and food in the summer, and seeding and transplanting in the winter. Joe has enjoyed making gardens around the house and has appreciated the admiration he's gotten from passersby. Joe and Josie also started the church garden at Saint Michael's Church, and while they don't plant that garden anymore, they still donate plants to the church every year.
Josie has been a member of the Daughters of Isabella for about 20 years, a charitable organization that, among other things, makes dinners for the parishioners to raise money for charity. She was very active in the group for many years and made many close friends through the church and the organization. She also taught catechism and was a lector for 16 years.
Joe and Josie, at 93 and 90, are still very active and healthy. They continue to grow and put food up for the winter. Their freezer is a testament to their belief that "you are what you eat," containing food from the gardens they still make every year. Joe starts the plants under lights in the basement and then transfers them to cold frames until they are ready to be planted by Josie in the spring. They credit their good health and long lives on eating wholesome, fresh, home-grown food.
Josie and Joe have their family -- which has grown to incorporate their three children, three grandchildren and four great grandchildren -- over for Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter almost every year. They love spending time with their loved ones, especially over the holidays.
When questioned about how their marriage has lasted for 70 years, they credit their faith and the ability to forgive and forget, quoting Alexander Pope -- "To err is human, to forgive divine."
Starting as a small seedling and blossoming into a long and rhythmic life together, more than seven decades later Joe and Josie's marriage continues to flower.
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