Editor’s Note: This is the first in a regular series of transcribed interviews with local citizens. Many thanks to Eugene and Patricia Pielli of Germantown for their kindness in telling their story.
Where were you born?
Eugene: Both my wife and I were born in Manhattan, Mid-Manhattan. Both raised in Mid-Manhattan. I was on 56th between First and Second and my wife was on 66th between Second and Third. We met at Bloomingdale’s—I was an associate buyer and my wife was the store detective. So, that’s how we met. And we lived on the Island—Long Island—for a couple of years. Then we moved up here. We raised our family in Coxsackie. Good decision. Cute, tight little town. Then we went to Florida and, after a couple of years—ten years—my wife decided she wanted to live near the children and grandchildren. So we moved back to New York, here to Palatine Manor. And this was supposed to have been a temporary situation. But we’re so comfortable here now and the people are just fantastic, we’d sort of hate to leave.
What did a store detective do at Bloomingdale’s?
Patricia: Apprehended people who were taking things that didn’t belong to them.
So you were under cover, watching shoppers?
Pretty much, yeah. Went to court with them. You’d do pretty much what they do today except it’s a little bit of a different system. Back then they didn’t have tags on everything, so you could put it on and walk out the door with it. But if you knew what you were looking for—I caught them when they did.
How would you say Manhattan has changed since your childhoods?
Eugene: We’ve gone back to Manhattan for the touristy things. And I feel it’s not as personal as it was when my wife and I grew up. I lived on a block that was Italian. Fifty-fifth and Fifty-sixth were Irish. I think it’s become more dissimilated. It’s a conglomeration of everything now. We grew up in the streets, we played in the streets. You don’t see that now.
What do you remember being the biggest challenge growing up?
Eugene: There was no challenge; I think it was a matter of going out in the street and playing. We played ball in the street. There were no parents telling us to win, or how to win. You know, the fender of the black Chevy was first base, the manhole cover was second base. We played with a broom stick and a pink Spalding ball. Life was a lot less complicated. I think there’s too much pressure being put on the children of today. So much so. We just played, we enjoyed life and I think we became more responsible for it.
Patricia: Well, I lost my mother when I was thirteen. My father got sick later on, he was gone. So I had an aunt raise me. And, it’s not quite the same but you get through it. And as I got older I looked for work. But I think back to when I was younger, I would play ball too, play jacks, roller skate. You did a lot of things that today I don’t see kids doing.
You have kids?
Eugene: Yeah, we have two sons and a daughter. Our oldest boy is in the medical profession up at Albany Med. Our daughter is a stay-at-home housewife. And our youngest boy is a state trooper and he’s a Major in the National Guard. He saw action in Bosnia and Iraq.
What’s been your biggest struggle during your adult years?
Eugene: Well, physically, financially—there’s a couple. Financially, I ventured into a business down in Florida, much against my wife’s wishes, and we lost everything. And, physically, I have—had—recovered from stage four renal carcinoma. And I just had a quadruple bypass. So that’s physical and financial. And emotional—just throw everything together and it was very emotional.
Patricia: I’ve been fortunate. I have this and that but it’s nothing to rant and rave about.
What year did you move to Coxsackie?
How have Greene and Columbia counties changed since you first came here?
Eugene: I see 9W developing. And some of the rural charm is being swallowed up by the big box stores, warehouses—and that’s a little bit upsetting. It was so much more rural. Well, let me go back a little bit. In the late ’40s, early ’50s my folks had a shack up in Earlton (west of Coxsackie). A summer place. Dad would drop us off right after school and we stayed up there all summer with Mom and he’d come up on weekends. And it was country. I mean, we had electric in the shack. We had running water but no hot water. We had an outhouse. It was fun. And at that time the Catskills were a summer resort and it’s since lost all that. Because it became just as cheap to fly down to the Bahamas or fly down to the panhandle of Florida. But it was nice, the Catskills. They’ve become more and more developed. This side of the Hudson we don’t see that as much. So, I hope it retains itself.
So Eugene, you’re into painting?
Eugene: I play at painting. I’m not an artist.
Patricia: These are all his.
Eugene: I paint what I see, I paint what I like.
Patricia: And it’s usually from this area—not that one, that’s Florida, but the rest are all around here.
Eugene: Our children have most of the paintings. There’s only so many paintings I can hang on these walls.
Patricia: We’re running out of room.
Eugene: I play at painting. I’ll copy other people’s work. I’ll take photos and work off of snapshots. Wherever I get an idea. I play around. I’m not selling them. I have no intention of doing anything with them. I wish we had a bit more room here to hang more up.
Have you ever been in any shows?
Eugene: Yes. There’s an artist who painted my wife’s portrait. Nina Irwin. She lived in Coxsackie. In fact, when Pat and I were 25 years married, I gave Nina a picture of my wife from when we first started dating. And my wife is the most beautiful lady in the world. And I asked her to paint a portrait from the picture and that’s what Nina came up with. Anyway, Nina had me show my paintings in the Schenectady Stockade—a section of Schenectady that has all the old houses. Then many years later there was a showing at Columbia-Greene.
How long have you two been married?
Patricia: It’ll be 52 years this June. Fifty-two.
Eugene: Long time. And we knew each other for five years before we got married.
What advice do you have for couples?
Patricia: If you love each other enough, you should be able to be honest with them. Be upfront about everything. Share. Don’t hide anything from each other. I think that’s the worst thing you can do.
Eugene: Trust, that’s the whole thing.
Patricia: That’s the big word—Trust. You have to trust each other and you have to be honest with each other.
Do you two remember the first day you met in Bloomingdale’s?
Patricia: I was working as a sales girl at the time. And I happened to be working with his brother. And another friend. And Eugene used to have to walk around to different sections. And I used to see him. And, this one day I was talking with one of the women I worked with and I said to her, “You see him?” meaning Gene. I said, “I’m gonna marry him someday.” So she said, “Oh, really? How long have you known him?” And I said, “I don’t even know him.” She said, “Are You crazy?” I said, “No, I just know I’m going to.” I think his brother, he didn’t know; we didn’t tell him, but he kind of introduced us and then we were supposed to go out and go skating or something and that’s how it all happened. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.
What would you say are the most important things you’ve learned throughout life?
Eugene: God plays a big role.
Patricia: Yeah, our faith has a big role in our lives. I think by trying to do the right things we’ve learned to do better with life. You learn as you get older. When you’re young it takes a while. So many things you don’t realize when you’re young.
Eugene: I feel God was always part of our lives.
Patricia: We’ve had several incidences in our lives. At the same time he came down with the cancer my son, John, ended up going to Bosnia. We did an awful lot of praying and that’s what pulled us through.
Eugene: It gives you the strength. It gives you the ability to go forward.
That’s all the questions I have, but there must be something I didn’t cover.
Eugene: Well, in a couple months, I’m going to be 77. My wife’ll be 75. We find that up to this point we were so busy making a living—raising the children, mowing the lawn, keeping the house, that type of thing—that we never found the time to really appreciate, love, understand one another. Because we were busy. I always had jobs with much responsibility. It’s only now that we can enjoy one another a lot more than we ever did in the past.
This interview was edited lightly for length and clarity.