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Neighborhood news

Lovesick without Jean

Bruno DeLuca is deeply lonely. Who wouldn't be after the loss of a great love?

By BEN MONTGOMERY
Published February 16, 2007


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GIBSONTON

 

The Flagman stands in Velcro shoes in the double-wide mobile home he rents on the edge of town and he thinks about her.

The woman with the petite body and the soft lips. The one whose picture is taped to the leaky icebox, just above the handle on which he wrote in marker as a reminder, PUSH HARD TO SEAL DOOR.

"Her lips is almost like real," the Flagman says.

- - -

7:30 a.m., March 9, 2006.

I miss bringing you flowers. Remember when I used to bring you flowers all the time?

- - -

They call him the Flagman because he wears flags on his T-shirts and draws them on envelopes and the backs of Little Debbie boxes. He sticks flag stickers to his car and writes "The Flagman" on his hats and says he was born in Italy and he's proud to be American.

Bruno DeLuca is his name.

- - -

10:35 a.m., March 27, 2005

It's Easter Sunday. I miss you real bad. ... We've been married 60 years this coming August 12th. You was only 15 when I fell in love with you up in Newburgh, New York. Remember that? We used to go to the Academy Theater. I'd pay your way in. I used to bug you to let me take you in there. I got to be a pest and you finally said, 'Okay, I'll let you take me in if you'll leave me alone.' I can still picture that beautiful suede shirt you used to wear. You looked so pretty. Your long hair. Your buck teeth.

- - -

They married on Aug. 12, 1945, at Sacred Heart Church in Newburgh. They retired to Florida years later and settled outside Tampa.

Rheumatoid arthritis disabled her. He always said he could take care of her. He tried.

- - -

7:55 a.m., July 9, 2006

I'm so lonely for you. They say I've got to have hope. Hope for what? I try to be good, but it's hard. I miss you real bad. I'm gonna go crazy without you.

- - -

Their daughters are grown. One lives in New York, the other in Virginia. He calls sometimes and leaves messages.

He also dials the police station. He can almost always find someone who will talk. He calls the Oklahoma Highway Patrol in Pawnee, where the trooper who caught Timothy McVeigh worked. He calls the police in Newburgh.

"This is Bruno DeLuca," he tells them, "and I used to live up there in Newburgh, I sure did, and you think there might be anyone who would want to talk to me?"

One time he was talking to a dispatcher with Hillsborough County. He began to cry. The dispatcher sent a deputy over. The deputy put Bruno in his car. He wouldn't say where they were going. He just kept saying, "It's going to be all right."

- - -

7:30 a.m., March 9, 2006

Here's this picture. It's a picture of us at Busch Gardens. We both had green T shirts on. Mine said Mr. D. Yours said Mrs. D. You were so beautiful.

- - -

Bruno's daughter, Toni Jean, does not blame him. Her mother was ill for a long time. The arthritis stole her life, and it didn't matter that her father had trouble caring for her. But Toni Jean stopped returning his calls around the time her mother died. She grew tired of dealing with all his issues.

He thinks the Little Debbie boxes are so cute, he cuts them flat and saves them. Putting flags everywhere gives him a purpose. When he's busy, he doesn't feel so lonely.

"I'm just trying to keep my sanity," he says.

- - -

8:20 p.m., February 9, 2006

Three years right to the minute. You died three years ago today. I wanted to have a nice memorial for you.

- - -

Jean DeLuca died four years ago last week. She was 75.

On holidays, special occasions and the ninth day of every month, without fail, Bruno DeLuca, 84, stands before a shrine he built for her in a corner of his mobile home. As the world spins outside, he lights the candles and offers a penance. Then, out of grief or remorse or loneliness, he pushes the record button on a tape player and begins to cry and talk to his wife.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or 813 661-2443.

[Last modified February 15, 2007, 07:57:10]


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