A couple married 51 years gives some no-nonsense relationship advice—and owes it all to a duck named Oscar

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This is Part II of our three-part series on love that lasts. Tune in Friday for Part III, and read Part I here if you missed it..

Together 51 years, the Robertellas dish on support, compromise and ‘big rings’

They met because of a duck named Oscar.

It was 1961, and Joanne Robertella—now a Charlotte resident who last year celebrated 50 years with her husband, Lou—had just moved to Clifton, N.J. She was just shy of 14.

“On my way to mail letters to my friends back in Long Island, I would walk past Lou’s parents’ house to see the family’s pet duck.”

One day, Lou’s mom suggested that he stay home to wait for the “cute girl” who passed by every day to visit the duck.

“And that was the beginning,” Joanne says. “We saw each other every day after that.”

Lou was older—15 at the time—but the connection was immediate. Even after spending a day together, the pair would communicate once they got home.

“From his bedroom window, you could see my bedroom window,” Joanne says, “and at the end of the day, we’d synchronize our little watches and, at a certain time, he’d flash his lights three times for ‘I love you,’ and I’d flash my lights three times back.”

Lou says he first told Joanne, “I think I love you” after three or four weeks.

“I told him, ‘we’re just kids—how can you know you love me?’” Joanne recalls.

But Lou knew. They got engaged when she was 18; he was 20.

True compromise looks like this: A talented guitarist, Lou had big dreams of playing for a television station band. Joanne stood by him, through the successes (he met The Beatles on their first U.S. tour and held a permanent backstage pass to The “Ed Sullivan Show”) and disappointments (he once met John Lennon and Yoko Ono in a New York City studio with the goal to record an album together—but that fell flat).

“Joanne was really patient with me,” says Lou.

And eventually, when she was ready to start a family, she wrote a poem. She called it, “Someday,” and it expressed her longing to move to the next phase. Lou decided to hang up his professional guitarist ambitions and pursue a career in engineering. But their kids grew up in a house filled with music, and he still plays today.

“Compromising works just so long as it is balanced out between the two people,” says Joanne.

Don’t focus on the fancy: Because the first 20 years of their marriage were lean, the couple learned to celebrate the little things.

“My parents did the fancy things,” the nice dinners and big gifts, Joanne says, “but I never saw them laugh. What’s a big ring? That means nothing. I want to be happy, every day—to touch and love.”

Those little things eventually became the things, she says.

“All you really need is a bowl of ice cream, sitting together on the couch, watching a favorite TV show.”

The key is wanting to be together and to connect. Keep your love strong as you raise your children, she adds. “Then, when the children are gone, you become two again, as you were when you started out on your journey all those years ago.”

Remember, ‘marriage is not disposable’: Through career disappointments, medical scares (Lou, now 72, suffered a stroke several years back), the timing around starting a family—through it all, they’ve supported each other.

“Hang in there when things get tough,” says Joanne, 70. “Young people today give up too easy. Marriage and life are not always easy. And marriage is not disposable.”

Though their love has grown and changed and deepened over their time together, they’re still in love today.

“We’re still each other’s best friend,” says Joanne. “We’re still boyfriend and girlfriend. And we’re looking forward to being two cute 80-year-olds, still holding hands and being there for each other.”

Photos: Lori Konawalik | CaptureMeCandid Photography

This story first ran in the February 2018 issue of SouthPark Magazine.

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