Secret to Long Life: A Happy Marriage

Happily married for 65 years are Tillie and Anthony Bonanno.

Tired of circling the block in his car every night for untold amounts of time, Anthony Bonanno and his wife, Tillie, packed up their belongings and their young son, Anthony G., some 50 years ago and fled the North End for the expansive and empty confines of Ward 6’s Lantern Road.

“We lived on Hanover Street and we moved because when I came from work every night, I could never find a parking spot and got tired of it,” said Anthony. “My wife used to get mad because the food was on the table and I would be driving around the block looking to park. You couldn’t just park anywhere. If you parked in someone’s spot, you might come out and have your tires flattened the next day.”

Said Tillie, “It was terrible. We had to get out of there and that was tough because that’s where we grew up and that’s where our family lived.”

But all of that, as the couple explained, is all ancient history.

What is more important this week is the marking of their long history together and the memories that they’ve shared.

This Thursday, Feb. 9th, the exceptional couple will celebrate their 65th year of marriage and their 50th year of living in their Lantern Road home – one of the first homes built in that part of Ward 6.

Both are now in their early 90s.

Their story began in the North End as they were neighbors and Anthony was a very good friend of Tillie’s brother.

His family was from Italy; hers was from Spain.

That didn’t seem to matter though as fate brought them together.

“We were neighbors on Commercial Street,” said Tillie. “He was good friends with my brother. We used to laugh and joke with each other, but I never thought we’d end up being married.”

World War II took its toll on their families, and postponed their friendship, Tillie said.

Anthony was overseas in the Army serving in the Pacific theatre, and Tillie – one of nine children – was beside herself worrying about four of her brothers who were fighting in the war.

In December 1945, Anthony returned to his home in the North End.

On month later, in January 1946, Anthony marched up to Tillie’s apartment and spoke with her father.

“He came up to our apartment and went in to see my father,” said Tillie. “He asked my father if he could date me. My father said, ‘I don’t know. Ask her. She’s sitting right there.’ So, he asked me and I said ‘yes.’”

Said Anthony with a laugh, “He gave me a shot of Brandy too and said, ‘Please take her.’ I had a good father-in-law and a good mother-in-law.”

A little over a year later, on Feb. 9, 1947, they were married in a church service at St. Stephen’s in the North End, followed by a reception at the old Spanish Club there.

“It wasn’t one of those big deals like they have today,” said Anthony.

Soon, they had a son, Anthony G., and the elder Anthony had a steady job at a chemical company in downtown Boston. They were settling into family life.

Then came the parking problems, and Revere looked like a good landing spot.

“I chose Revere because she saw an ad in the East Boston paper that advertised land for sale in Revere,” said Anthony.

“A woman in East Boston had inherited land in Revere from her father,” explained Tillie. “I liked Revere because I used to visit a girlfriend of mine out here. I went immediately over to the woman on the advice of my father, who told me not to wait. The woman told me she’d sell it to me, but we had to buy it now because a lot of people had held her up by asking about it and not buying it. I gave her the deposit right there. We paid $2,000 for three lots here.”

Anthony said he knew a friend in construction and he hired an architect to draw up plans for the new house in the deserted farm-like location on Lantern Road. The mortgage ended up being $75 per month.

“There were only a few houses on Malden Street at the time,” said Anthony. “This place around us was all trees and the roads were made of dirt. My son ruined several bicycles because the roads were so bad. It would get so muddy you could hardly get around, especially when it rained.”

Tillie said, “It was so quiet out here. There was so much noise where we came from.”

During their years, they had family in the downstairs apartment – first Tillie’s mother, then a sister, and now her youngest sister, Amy Fernandez, lives downstairs.

Tillie always took care of the bills and the home.

Anthony kept good habits – never smoking or drinking – and brought home a good paycheck.

The key to their long, peaceful marriage has been communication and cooperation. They’ve never really yelled at each other, and they don’t argue.

“We had a system,” said Anthony. “We made sure to work together when we had to do something. We discussed it first. I see the girls today and they say their husband has his money and they have their money. It’s separate. We pooled everything together. Everything was ours, together.”

Said Tillie, “You have to decide things together and maybe you get a little of what you want and he gets a little of what he wants. If you don’t do that then you start arguing and yelling and for what?”

Such a system and love for one another led to a peaceful 65 years, both said. They had their ups and downs, but both said they were happy to be able to celebrate 65 years this week.

“I’ll take you out on Thursday if you want, out to eat,” said Anthony, sitting at their kitchen table. “Where do you think you want to go?”

Said Tillie, “Ask me on Thursday. I’ll know then what I feel like eating. Let’s talk about it on Thursday, okay?”

And so it is, after 65 years together, the discussion – the pleasant togetherness between the two – continues on in what should be an example to anyone who has ever tied the knot.

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