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AMID FAMILY, WARMTH AND WISDOM, CELEBRATING 80 YEARS OF MARRIAGE

Paul and Mary Onesi didn't set out to break any records when they got married on Aug. 6, 1917.

But they certainly did.

Two years ago they were given a plaque on World Marriage Day in honor of being the longest-married couple.

To best that, the Niagara Falls couple is now celebrating their 80th wedding anniversary.

Mrs. Onesi gives only one clue to the secret of this long-lasting union: "We always fought. Before, we'd stay mad and I wouldn't talk to him for a while. Now we get over it in two minutes."

What's left to fight about after 80 years?

"It's little things," she said.

"If he says up, she says down," said Mimi DeCorse of Lewiston, one of their daughters. "If he says it's black, she says it's white."

The Onesis' children -- white-haired great-grandparents themselves -- still call their parents "Momma" and "Poppa."

They chime in with more opinions about their parents' relationship:

"You wouldn't hit a man who's 101, would you?" one says.

"You bite your tongue a lot," says son Anthony.

"You survive by forgiving and forgetting," adds Marie, who is married to their son Sylvester.

When Paul and Mary married in Clymer, Pa., he was 21 and she was 13.

"I didn't want to get married," said Mrs. Onesi, who retains her humor at a young-looking 93. "When we went for the marriage license, I told them I was 13, but my father said I was 16."

Asked about taking a wife that young, Onesi, now 101, answers simply, "It was another time."

During an interview, he was holding court under his favorite tree outside the couple's Niagara Falls apartment, joined by an extended family who had come from as far as Texas, California, Virginia, Syracuse and Albany for a party last Sunday.

Among those here for the once-ever occasion were their children and spouses: Joseph and Kitty of Kissimmee, Fla.; Kathryn, the widow of Victor Rotundo; Anthony and Marge; John and Gloria; Sylvester and Marie; Mimi DeCorse and Richard. Also on hand were many of their 17 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and 10 great-great-grandchildren.

"I see them nearly every year," said Mrs. Onesi. "But I wouldn't know the names of all the small ones."

The gathering is enough of a gift for them, said Mrs. Onesi, who turns down any offers of a bread-making machine or a microwave.

"Oh, no gifts," she said. "Just our health."

What more could they ask of life? After all, they've seen their five oldest children celebrate 50th wedding anniversaries.

"They took a train to Florida for ours," said Joseph Onesi. "Can you imagine, having your parents at your 50th wedding anniversary?"

Onesi left Italy alone when he was 15, joining his brother John, who was already in this country. He came through Ellis Island and got his first job as a water boy at a reservoir that was being built for New York City. He never returned to Italy or saw his parents or sisters again. Often he said, "America my home," and he still proudly flies the American flag each day.

He moved to Pennsylvania, living in small towns while he worked as a coal miner. In one of them, he boarded at the home of Mary Corsaro's older sister, Rose. Rose suggested to their parents that Mary should marry Paul, partly because he had a job.

Mrs. Onesi remembers little of their first meeting. "I used to go to my sister's house, the way you would. I didn't think nothing of him. I was too young to think anything."

As far as courting: "In those days, they didn't ask. They just came to the house. They'd sit down with your brothers and sisters, whoever was around."

And the honeymoon?

The question sets the room rocking with laughter.

"It was upstairs, in the house. I didn't know anything," said Mrs. Onesi. "The funniest part was that the others stayed downstairs all night long, making noise, playing the accordion and singing."

She had her first child at 14.

"I was a kid and the baby was like a doll," said Mrs. Onesi. To which her oldest, Joseph, 79, adds, "I'm still a doll."

Four more children followed while they lived in Pennsylvania.

In 1927, they moved to Niagara Falls and Onesi got a job in the furnace room of Union Carbide, working there until he was 65. They rented in a number of locations in the Pine Avenue area. And their sixth child was born.

"We were gypsies," said Anthony Onesi. "We moved like crazy."

Another thing he remembers is his mother's strong fingers.

"She used to pinch our arms," he said.

"I don't remember," said Mrs. Onesi. "Well, there were four boys -- what're you going to do? I had to do something to stop them."

When Joseph Onesi got his first job at 13, earning $1 a week at the Niagara Falls' Amendola Theater, he brought the money home to Momma.

"She gave me 5 cents for an ice cream cone," he said.

"In those days, you had to do anything to get a few dollars," Mrs. Onesi said.

Now the older couple lives contentedly in a spotless two-story apartment.

Each morning Mrs. Onesi cooks a big noontime meal, anything from soup to lentils or pasta with sauce.

"I like beans the best," Onesi said.

On Sundays, the size of the pots and pans increases.

"She doesn't bake one pie -- she bakes three," said daughter-in-law Marie Onesi.

"I always cook a lot for dinner and they're in trouble if they don't show up," said Mrs. Onesi.

Onesi, who drove until he was 95, follows baseball, especially the Yankees, and enjoys watching Vanna White. Mrs. Onesi plays solitaire and jumps at the chance to play bingo. She still does their laundry, but he folds it and takes it upstairs because he doesn't want her to climb the steps.

"That's his job," said Mrs. DeCorse. "I'll bet my dad goes up and down those steps 10 times a day."

Underlying this union was the unspoken pact of the times: The husband made the money and called the shots. The wife took care of him and the children.

"Like a lot of old-timers, the man was the boss," said Mrs. DeCorse, "and the wife had to follow."

But there may have been a slight power shift over these past 80 years.

When asked who's the boss now, Paul Onesi points into the house.

"Momma's the boss," he said.

And if Poppa says it, it's so, his children say.

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