By RICK WATSON
The seven-decade-long love story of Jake and Margaret Monte fills volumes.
Margaret keeps the letters and love poems Jake wrote to her while he was abroad in the Army during World War II in a box and re-reads them from time to time.
The two, who have lived in Homewood since 1954, celebrated their 71st anniversary on Jan. 30.
The couple married January 30, 1941 and welcomed their first daughter, Concetta, the following year before Jake went off to war.
Some of the words in his letters were cut out by Army censors who feared the information might fall into enemy hands.
When Margaret told Jake about the omissions, he started making up code words whose meaning she quickly caught on to. His letters stopped being censored.
When Jake returned from the war, the two wasted no time getting back to the family life. They had two more daughters, Josephine and Marguerite. They also had their only son, Dominic. Today, the Montes have 10 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren.
Margaret was born in Ensley in 1919, and Jake was born in Cardiff, a town just west of Birmingham, in 1913. Jake was a bread delivery man in 1940, and Margaret worked in her father’s grocery. He took notice of her while making his rounds at Ragusa’s store. They hit it off and married soon thereafter.
“We didn’t have a big fancy wedding,” said Margaret. “There were only four people in the wedding party, but our whole family came.” Afterwards Jake and Margaret headed off to Texas on their honeymoon.
After the war, Jake remained in the food business as a bread salesman and later as a milkman. “He never made big money,” said Margaret. “But he always had a job, and we got by just fine.”
Jake went to school with Joe Bruno, who was the patriarch of the Bruno’s (and later Food World) grocery chain.
“It didn’t hurt being Italian and being in the food business,” Jake said.
Jake and Margaret raised their four children in Homewood, where they attended Our Lady of Sorrows and John Carroll Catholic Schools. Their granddaughters J. Shay McNamee and Jacqueline Dillon DeMarco now reside in the area, too.
The couple are longtime members of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, are active at the Homewood Senior Center and have always frequented the Homewood Pool with family members. Jake is also a member of the Knights of Columbus, American Legion and VFW.
When the subject turned to what makes a marriage last, Margaret raised a conspiratorial eyebrow and smiled: “It takes a lot of patience.”
“We learned to put up with each other,” Jake said. “You can’t go running to mama when the other one makes you mad.” Margaret also said that trusting the Lord is essential.
Jake and Margaret don’t dish out advice to younger folks. “Most of them don’t want to hear what we have to say,” she explained.
But DeMarco said her grandmother gave her good matrimonial advice: “Don’t do anything on the first day that you don’t want to do the rest of your life.”
“I used to polish Jake’s shoes every morning, but that wasn’t something I wanted to do,” said Margaret. So Jacqueline was forewarned.
Jake, 98, and Margaret, 92, are not as strong as they once were. For many years, she cooked dinner for the entire family every Sunday, but it got to be too much. The family still gathers on holidays, but everyone pitches in with the cooking chores.
“We have Grandma’s recipes, but the food doesn’t taste as good as it did when she cooked it,” said DeMarco.
Jake has a hard time hearing these days and doesn’t get around as well as he once did, according to Margaret: “He spends most of his days napping by the window in his recliner.”
He’s fallen several times so he moves around the house on a walker. Margaret also uses a device when she walks.
But they still live alone in their Homewood cottage.
“We’re at a point in our lives where we can’t take care of ourselves, so we take care of each other,” she said. “We lean on each other’s shoulder.”
Grandma Margaret Monte’s Chili
In the cold winter months what is better than warm homemade chili? Margaret Monte has passed down her Italian chili recipe to her granddaughter Jacqueline DeMarco, and they graciously share their recipe with us:
1 Zeigler’s Chili Con Carne Chili Brick
1 Package Mild Chili Seasoning Dry Mix
1 Pound Ground Chuck (Use ground turkey for a healthier option)
1 Chopped Onion
1 Large Can Tomato Sauce
2 Cans Chili Beans with Sauce
Red Pepper or Hot Sauce
Cooked Rice or Oyster Crackers
Brown onion and ground chuck in skillet.
Remove browned chuck and onions from skillet and place on paper towels to drain excess grease by blotting with paper towels.
Move browned meat and onions to the large pot on low heat and stir in 1 Large Can of Tomato Sauce. Stir in Zeigler’s Chili Brick. Stir in two cans of Chili beans and Package of Dry Seasoning Mix . Add red pepper or Hot Sauce to taste. Add small amount of water if needed to desired consistency.
Simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally, until ready to serve.
Serve over rice or oyster crackers. The chili tastes even better if served the next day.