Paula spent much of her teen years behind the counter of her family’s Italian bakery — P. Tatasciore & Son at 19th & Sigel in South Philly.
Every Friday, her mother made pizza, and Joey from the corner came in for half a pie. He always paid in change. For years, this was all Paula knew about him.
Then one Friday in the summer of 1967, Joey smiled. “His smile did me in,” she remembers. From then on, she wanted to know everything. Joe was pretty sure that pretty Paula was flirting with him, but he did not pick up the hints she dropped. Paula was special — clever and confident and living a life that seemed much grander than his.
“Her family had a successful bakery. My father was a carpenter and my mom was a waitress,” he said. “My friends hung on street corners, while Paula’s friends were going to dances and bowling. It was known that Paula would be dating college boys, not the corner-hanger types.” Joe was certain he had no chance with Paula, but he sure liked talking to her.
A good listener can learn a lot about a boy while selling him his weekly half-pizza. Paula learned that Joe was on the business track at what was Bishop Neumann High School. When school resumed that fall, she fit a bookkeeping class into her academic prep schedule at what was St. Maria Goretti.
One Friday, Paula asked him to help with her homework. He was at the front door when she realized she had left her textbook at school, but no matter. She didn’t really need the help, and neither she nor Joe said one word about bookkeeping during his visit.
Paula did ask a question: “Would you like to go to the harvest dance with me?” Joe did not see that coming. “Back then, girls never asked the guys out,” he said. “Paula was light-years ahead of her time.” He said yes and suggested they go out once before the dance. Turns out, boys from the corner go bowling, too. More dates followed.
Joe felt so lucky — privileged, even — to be with her. And his friends reminded him so on the regular. “Even as the relationship grew — my friends were like, ‘You’re dating who? How the hell did you do that?’ ”
By making her laugh, and making her feel so good and understood, said Paula. “Anytime something was bothering me, whenever I was with Joe it was better,” she said.
They graduated at the height of the Vietnam War. Joe was so young when he signed up for the Marines that his mom had to cosign. His bookkeeping skills landed him a series of stateside desk jobs.
On leave from his North Carolina base in fall 1969, Joe asked Paula, who worked at a Center City bank, to meet him for lunch at what is now LOVE Park. He handed her a pill bottle and asked if she’d mind fishing out an aspirin for him. Out came some tissues and a gold and diamond ring, purchased at his base’s post exchange for $162.
On Nov. 7, 1970, they wed at St. Thomas Aquinas Church. Joe wore his dress uniform. “After the ceremony, at the altar, Joe and I turned around to face everybody, and I felt so proud to be his wife,” Paula said. They walked beneath an arch of swords held high by his fellow Marines and began building their life together.
After his discharge in 1972, Joe took an accounting job. The couple moved from South Philly to Upper Darby to their home in Collegeville. Along the way, Joe and Paula — now 70 and 69, respectively — had three children: Jennifer, Karen, and Christopher.
When Joe’s firm announced they were moving out of state, he launched the company that is now Bond, Pezzano & Etze so the couple and their household could remain near family.
Paula took on almost all of the child care and a part-time job as a wedding planner in the evenings so Joe could put in the long hours his new business required. She told everyone she met about this fabulous new accounting firm and continues to hand out Joe’s business cards to this day.
Joe’s company was still in its infancy when Paula said she wanted to pursue her long-delayed professional dream of becoming a nurse. “We had three young kids, and he was starting this business, but it was never a question. It was, ‘When do you start?’ ” Paula said. “We have always allowed each other to grow.”
When Paula had classes or clinicals, Joe adjusted his hours to get the kids off to school. She earned her associate’s degree at Montgomery County Community College and her bachelor’s at Eastern College — now Eastern University. Paula began her nursing career working on the floor at Phoenixville Hospital. She recently became a nursing supervisor with a home health agency.
As busy as their household was, Joe and Paula made time for each other every day — even if it was just 15 minutes. “You’re a couple before you can be a whole big family,” Paula said, and they worked hard to keep their relationship strong. “It sometimes wasn’t until 10:30 at night, when everyone else was asleep, but we did it,” adds Joe.
When their oldest daughter left for college, the couple established a new tradition, the Pezzano Family Sunday Dinner, to entice her home every week. The bakery closed long ago. The couple’s parents have all passed on — Paula nursed both of their mothers at their home. But the Pezzano and Tatasciore legacies — and delicacies — are always present at the Sunday table. Paula makes roast pork, or pasta with gravy — the tomato kind her mother taught her — or the panfried meatballs with chicken soup that she asked Joe’s mother to teach her when they were newlyweds.
At early dinners, Joe always had a dad joke. As the kids grew up, Sunday dinner was where triumphs were celebrated, sorrows soothed, and, for potentially significant others, gauntlets thrown. “If you’re new, it’s the way for everybody to judge you, where we ask all the questions,” Paula said with a laugh.
Their children married and brought six grandchildren, now ages 17 to 8. Sunday gatherings grew louder, requiring 14 chairs and sometimes, a referee.
Then COVID-19 did what nothing had ever done before — it stopped Sunday dinner. Paula and Joe, both essential workers, had to accept some risk, but when regional cases were growing fast and little was known about the virus, they could not allow their family to share that risk. Sunday dinner for two was entirely too quiet. So Joe ordered a mountain of take-out containers online, and the following week, Paula cooked and cooked and the couple packed their love to go.
For nine Sundays, someone from each of their three children’s households came to the house at their appointed time to pick up a package of hot food and give Paula and Joe a five-minute rundown of the previous week through the storm door. It was not ideal, but it was still very good. “The single most important thing in life is that the 14 of us are one unit, and we are all in this together,” said Joe.
On Memorial Day, when COVID-19 cases were dropping, 14 family members gathered again. “It was thrilling,” said Paula. “The only thing that was missing is that I wanted to hug everybody.”
On Nov. 7, Joe and Paula will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. They hope to do so with 45 people at the restaurant where, at their 30-year mark, Joe regave Paula her engagement ring, set with a larger diamond.