All Write, Columns

It’s the hardest part…

I sat in her kitchen, surrounded by fragrant braids of garlic. Plump and juicy just-picked tomatoes spilled from a bowl on her counter.

The garlic was famous, grown from seeds her father-in-law had sewn into his coat when he emigrated from Italy to the United States.

It was supposed to be a quick visit – just long enough to give her a hug and return some photos. But you didn’t visit Connie Disotell DiLuzio without being fed.

Connie died Nov. 23. When I saw her obituary, I remembered our last visit six years ago.

“Sit,” she insisted. “Have some biscotti.”

So, I sat.

She placed freshly baked biscotti on a plate and filled a ceramic mug with coffee.

“Eat,” she said. “You’re so busy with the book and those boys. You need to take care of yourself.”

“War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation,” had just been accepted for publication. Connie and her husband’s story is featured, and I was returning photos I’d included in the manuscript.

Ray had died not long after I interviewed them, and Connie loved to talk about their courtship.

They met in 1942, when he was home on leave from the Navy. Connie was just 15, but they corresponded as best they could during the war. He wanted to marry her when he got another brief leave, but she insisted they waited until she graduated from Rogers High School.

He waited, and they enjoyed 66 years together.

She told me how much she missed Ray.

“It’s hard, honey,” she said, as she hugged me goodbye. “It’s real hard.”025

Ray and Connie, January 2012

She wasn’t the only “War Bonds” bride I lost last year. In September, Marie Clemons died. Her husband, Rusty, preceded her in death in 2018. They were married 72 years.

They met when he was hanging out at his brother’s Colville restaurant. Rusty had just returned from 42 months of serving in the Pacific theater with the Army during World War ll.

Marie waitressed at the restaurant, but on this night the dishwasher hadn’t shown up, so she offered to scrub pots.

To Rusty’s surprise, he volunteered to help her.

“I don’t have a clue why I did that,” he recalled. “I never did like to wash dishes.”

That offer changed both of their lives.

“We got to holding hands,” Rusty said. “I don’t know whether it was during the wash or rinse cycle.”

After the interview I snapped their picture in their beautiful backyard, and Rusty pulled Marie close for a kiss.

Chpt 6 Clemons 2011 full view

Rusty and Marie

My schedule filled with “War Bonds” events after the book’s 2015 release, and when they heard I would be doing a signing at the Spokane Valley Barnes and Noble, they showed up to give me a hug.

“You did good, kid,” Rusty said.

Marie beamed.

“We’re just so proud of you,” she said.

It felt like I’d received my grandparents’ blessing.

Cindy with Rusty and Marie Clemons April, 2015

Rusty Clemons, Cindy Hval, Marie Clemons, April 2015

Scanning these obituaries reminds me of how many goodbyes I’ve said in recent years. I’m so aware that every point of contact might be the last.

That’s why I was delighted to see Walt Powers honored before an Eastern Washington University football game last fall. He and his wife, Myrt, were proud supporters of the university where he had taught for so long. He checked in with me via email after Myrt died in 2017.

“I’m healing daily, but I have a long way to go,” he wrote.

And I received a lovely letter from Betty Ratzman in September, not long after she lost her husband, Dean.

“I do miss him so much,” she wrote.

Betty also wanted to tell me that a copy of “War Bonds” had been placed in the new Orofino Historical Museum.

“Not my Auntie’s February 2015 autographed by Cindy Hval copy,” she assured me.

She concluded with a reminder.

“Watch the obits for me.”

How I dread seeing her name there. Out of the 36 couples featured in “War Bonds,” only 13 widows and widowers and one surviving couple remain.

Each loss feels like saying goodbye to a beloved family member.

I think of what Connie DiLuzio said about losing Ray.

“It’s hard, honey. It’s real hard.”

And I know exactly what she meant.

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