My father proposed to my mother on their first date. Tall, dark, and handsome, he didn’t so much ask, as declare his intention. That night, over red wine and white linen table-cloth, Daddy insisted he would marry Mom, when, if fact, my mother was already engaged and laughed at Daddy’s audacity. But Daddy knew what he wanted, and Judy Kunkle was it. Decisive, determined, daring, he had a reputation for getting what he wanted, for making magic happen.
Having graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in June of 1960 with a degree in elementary education, my mother applied to several Pittsburgh schools, choosing ultimately to teach Kindergarten in Fox Chapel—an upscale Pittsburgh suburb where the houses have wide lawns and domestic help is more common than the cold.
At the time my mother was engaged, and had been promised in marriage to another boy before that. She had dated Millard while attending high school in Homer City and accepted a ring from him before he left to join the military and she went off to college. With Millard gone overseas, it wasn’t more than a year before, as a cheerleader, she began dating the school’s star basketball player. Poor Millard was quickly cast aside for George—big man on campus.
But when she ultimately finished college a semester before George, whose own progress toward graduation was slowed down by basketball, it was again out-of-sight-out-of-mind when she began dating Daddy that fall, maintaining her engagement to George, romanced by Daddy on the side.
My mother, fair, freckled, and fun, says she doesn’t remember the name of the tavern where she met my father, but that Daddy was tending bar at the establishment. She was out with girlfriends, a Friday night on the town.
After that initial introduction, Daddy began calling my mother’s Shadyside apartment and talking to whichever of her roommates answered the phone. Soon however, he began asking for “Judy” and talking to her exclusively.
When she returned to Homer City over the Christmas holiday (1960), she said Daddy called every day, what back then would have been expensive, long-distance calls, persuading her by the end of those two weeks, to break off her relationship with George and begin dating Daddy exclusively. Daddy proposed to my mom on Valentine’s Day, and they were married several months later.
On a sunny Saturday in June 1961, my parents married at the Methodist Church on the corner of Main and Church Streets, and though she didn’t know it at the time, the mafia had made its way into the heart of this small town, Homer City girl.
Though my mother told me last week she knew nothing about this aspect of Daddy’s “business” before they married and only came to realize gradually during their first year of marriage, I also discovered from reading their marriage announcement published in the Indiana Gazette that the man who is currently, 50 years later, the underboss of the Pittsburgh crime family was in my parent’s wedding party. The text of that announcement is reproduced below. (To read the original and see a photo of my mom in her wedding dress, click here.)
When I told my mom I thought it was “interesting” she would be engaged three times in the course of 4 years, each time breaking off the engagement when a more attractive suitor came along, but not end her marriage to my father, when she found out about his mafia affiliation, she blamed the “sanctity of the marriage vow” for her decision.
Perhaps, because the Bible, conveniently, does not mention the mafia, and therefore does not condemn their crimes specifically, the “sanctity” of marriage trumped the offences committed by the organization.
This was, at best, a loose understanding of “sanctity” and an uneven application of the term, since my mother married the mob, quite literally–an (in)convenient truth, whose meaning differed according to the context.
It was into this “sanctified”setting that I was born one year later, but the marriage and mafia games were already well, and conveniently, under way.
Judy Kunkle may have been a prize, but what else would Daddy win?