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Wife’s illness a footnote in seven decades of marriage

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

Louis Fiorentini, former owner of Fiorentini Jewelers, poses Monday with photos of his wife, Lillian.

CORTLANDVILLE — Louis Fiorentini of Cortlandville feeds his wife, Lillian, oranges during his daily visits to Cortland Park Nursing Home where she now lives. After three years of dealing with dementia, it’s one of the few foods she will still eat. And after 70 years of marriage, Fiorentini remains committed to the “in sickness and in health” promise.

Their love transcends time. It transcends dementia. And it embodies Valentine’s Day.

Because of her dementia, Louis’s daily visits don’t always hit home for her in the same way they do for Louis. But Louis says that is no reason to stop going.

“We spent 24/7 together for 70 years and there’s no way I could stop it now,” said Fiorentini, who worked beside Lillian for 41 years in his jewelry store, Fiorentini’s Jewelers, in downtown Cortland.

Lillian was diagnosed with dementia about three years ago, Louis said. She has been in Cortland Park Nursing Home for about a month and a half because she broke her hip during a fall at Walden Place, where Louis reluctantly had to place her in January.

He visits her every day, spending time just sitting together. Perhaps he’ll feed her an orange, something she can still tolerate since dementia has taken away her appetite.

He met Lillian in 1946 when he was on crutches and convalescing from a wartime injury during World War II (Gen. George Patton was his boss, he says offhandedly). A bomb fragment had severed his sciatic nerve, but he still asked her to dance. It began what he called a “nice relationship.”

They married Jan. 5, 1947, and had two children, Louie and Linda. They now have three
grandchildren.

Seventy years later, the date marking their anniversary didn’t mean much to Lillian, but it still resonates in Louis’ heart.

Her condition changes daily, Fiorentini said, but Lillian still recognizes him and he has many years of a happy marriage to keep in his memories.

Lillian was a good sport, if not a good athlete, and would take up any activity he embarked on, be it tennis or golf or camping.

Since they worked together, Fiorentini said often just the entrance of a customer would force them to resolve any disputes. If they were having a disagreement before a customer walked in, they’d forget it by the time the customer left.

“When the door opens, if you don’t have a smile on your face, they leave,” Fiorentini said.

Fiorentini also credits their 70 years of marital harmony to their agreeable personalities.

“We just always got along really well and right to this day when I go visit her it’s no different than it was 20 years ago,” he said. “We just see eye to eye together.”

Reached at her home in Boston, Linda (Fiorentini) Battaglia recalls her parents providing her and her brother a secure and loving home, where she never saw them call each other names or hold a grudge.

“His devotion to my mother as she slowly fades to a place we don’t understand brings tears to my eyes,” Battaglia said. She added, “we should all be so blessed to have somebody like that in our lives.”

Marriage is a “give and take,” Louis would tell a young couple. Neither partner can be adamant; both have to bend a little. Sometimes this means letting go of disagreements or being willing to “eat your words,” he said.

“Because when you were married, you were married because of love of one another and one disagreement should not change the picture,” he said.

Small acts of love are important, too. Louis recalls fondly Lillian’s penchant for leaving him love notes, right up until three years ago.

“I’ve still got lots of those notes saved,” he said.

One of the last ones she left him reads:

“I love you Louie, it’s me, Lil.”

So today Louis plans to bring Lillian a box of chocolates instead of an orange. And they’ll eat them together.