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Husband's quiet devotion speaks at end

The tale of longtime spouses who died 21 hours apart was an old-fashioned love story, says a daughter, one that revolved around the little things.

By RYAN DAVIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002


PORT RICHEY -- Sometimes Frances Cznadel confided in her daughter that she didn't think her husband loved her.

"He didn't show love," said Marie Marakowits, the couple's daughter. "My mother was Italian. She wanted that kind of affection, and she didn't get it from him."

But Paul Cznadel loved his wife. And he needed her.

His children say that last month -- during the 62nd year of the couple's marriage -- he confirmed that love. And that need.

As usual, he did it silently.

Paul's older brother met Frances first. He nearly sank their marriage before they met.

The Cznadel family, a Polish clan, owned a luncheonette and candy store in Manhattan's lower east side. Paul was raised in a Jewish neighborhood, though he was Catholic.

Frances Grieco lived in the nearby Italian neighborhood, and one afternoon she came to the restaurant. Paul's brother, John, sweet-talked her into a date.

Paul also spotted Frances' striking petite frame. He set out to break that date. He told Frances the truth: His brother was already married, and had a habit of making dates. He just never followed through with them.

"My father took my mother out and that was it," their daughter said.

About a year later, in 1940, Paul and Frances were married at Fort Lee, Va. He was 25. She was 22.

He wore his Army uniform. She wore a black dress with a white collar and black gloves.

* * *

Paul, an Army cook, earned a Bronze Star during World War II but kept it secret.

His son said he fed men headed to the Battle of the Bulge. He brought local musicians into an abandoned hotel and treated his superiors to fine dining.

His daughter said he constantly cooked, serving men who arrived day and night at a fort in the Alps.

His oldest grandchild, 34-year-old Laura Marakowits, said it was her grandfather's job to guess how many people would not make it back for dinner.

Family framed the medal for him, but Paul refused to hang it.

"He was ashamed of it," Marie said. "He didn't know why he got it. He didn't feel worthy."

Henry Terry, a good friend and Port Richey neighbor, first saw the medal earlier this month.

He never knew Paul had it.

He also didn't know the strength of the bond between Paul and his wife.

He learned of both at once.

Frances raised the couple's two children while her husband earned paychecks.

It didn't matter if he was running a Kosher restaurant in New York City, overseeing the Sugar Bowl restaurant on Long Island or stocking shelves with Grand Union groceries in northern New Jersey, Paul worked late.

Years later he looked back and felt fortunate his children had blossomed. John, 51, is a middle school band director, and Marie, 58, is a secretary at the U.S. Department of Defense. They live 10 miles apart in Virginia.

If the kids misbehaved, Frances never threatened with, "Wait until your father gets home."

"She didn't have to do that," John said. "She took care of things herself. She wasn't always very gentle. That's for sure."

Her energy didn't waver in retirement. She would wake the grandchildren at 5 a.m. to get in line for Walt Disney World rides, and she would play 18 bingo cards at once.

When Frances played bingo at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Port Richey, Paul tagged along to work the snack bar.

The way their daughter sees it, this is an old-fashioned love story.

"These days we watch TV and we read books about roses and love," Marie said. "That's all crap. What's real is the little things we do for each other every day."

As Frances and Paul got older, those little things got bigger.

Growing up, their children don't remember little chocolates, kisses or flowers.

But their parents needed each other, the children said, especially after Paul and Frances retired to Florida in 1977. First they moved to Sun City Center in Hillsborough County. Shortly after, they found west Pasco.

He played penny-ante poker with neighbors; she talked with everyone, and they made Las Vegas trips with neighbors.

He loved it when she wore red lipstick.

The children remember their parents' downturns in a series of dates that came too quickly.

The first was July 13, 1999. That day Frances went under anesthesia for knee replacement surgery, and was never the same again. She emerged with unpredictable emotions.

By the end of the summer she was taken to Tandem Health Care in Hudson.

Paul visited her every day. He would come in about 9:45 a.m., feed her lunch, leave after lunch and return to feed her dinner. Even when he was put in a nursing home in January 2001, he took a van to see her.

"He would have a conversation with her even though she was not answering," said Maryann Domingo, the activities director at Tandem. "I could hear him telling how much he loved her."

But when she was reduced to just a few words and her weakness started to show, Paul took a sudden downturn.

On Dec. 10, 2001, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Doctors give him three to six months to live.

Three days later, the couple celebrated their 61st anniversary. Neither realized it. Paul, 86, moved from his old nursing home into Tandem the day after their anniversary. On Dec. 30 they moved into the same room.

Three days later -- Jan. 2, 2002 at 1:30 p.m. -- Frances, 83, died in her sleep.

Men and women, especially those of the World War II generation, place different emphasis on marriage in later years, experts said.

To men it means more, said University of South Florida professor Donna Cohen, an aging expert.

There are more older single women so older single men often feel alone, she said. They are lost without their wives.

"With men being very task oriented, the tasks were around her," she said. "He can't build a world without her.

"There's very real social phenomenon that in couples who've been married a long time and are very intertwined and emotionally attached . . . when the woman dies, the man will die within a year."

There is no such phenomenon for women, Cohen said.

Paul didn't last nearly a year. He sensed his impending solitude.

"Where's your mom, am I alone yet?" he continually asked his children.

He was heavily medicated and apparently unalert when "his everything" died. Minutes after Frances died, Marie leaned over her father's bed to tell him: "I kissed him and I said, "Mommy's gone. If you need to do this you really can. It's okay. You can let go.' "

Twenty-one hours later he did just that.

The family held a joint viewing for the couple.

The way the Cznadels' children tell it, Paul's two secrets were on display: his framed medal and his overriding love and need for his wife.

"It's just a funny way love expresses itself," John said. "They needed each other, and they stayed together."

Frances and Paul's ashes were interred Friday at Arlington National Cemetery. In the same niche.

-- Ryan Davis can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6245, or toll free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245. His e-mail address is rdavis@sptimes.com.

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