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Their second chance at love

A widower helped a woman through her sorrow and ended up making her his wife.

By ERIN SULLIVAN
Published April 29, 2007


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NEW PORT RICHEY - Her fiance was a doctor, and one day, in the late 1970s, he drove his fancy convertible to make a house call and never came home. He was at a red light in New York City and a thief jumped in beside him and clubbed him with a wrench. They drove on, the thief trying to take control. The car hit a cement overpass and the doctor was thrown out of the car. He died later at the hospital.

Ruth Taylor said goodbye to the man she thought she was going to spend the rest of her life with. She boarded a train back to her small studio apartment in Oyster Bay, N.Y., where she was a nurse. The nice, older gentleman beside her asked why she was crying.

"My fiance is dead, " Ruth said.

This man, a Hungarian immigrant in his 60s with thick, white hair and a kind smile, comforted her all the way back to Oyster Bay, where he worked as a butler for relatives of the Louis Comfort Tiffany family. Paul Csicsatka pronounced chi-chat-ka had a warm way about him, sincere, polite. Later Ruth would learn that Paul, 16 years her senior, had been through his own sorrow.

In Hungary, Paul was married with two daughters and had a refrigeration business. His wife became crippled from strokes. Paul cared for her until she died. Then Paul was a single father. Communists took over his business in the late 1960s and, when Paul couldn't take living like that anymore, he left. His eldest daughter, Regina, stayed there. His youngest, Clara, came with him. The only luggage he took was a briefcase with his passport and his espresso machine. They went to Switzerland, then Canada, then the United States. Paul had a relative living in Oyster Bay, so he settled there.

Paul understood pain and what it took to survive - humor, tenacity, adaptability and love. He was kind to Ruth on the train. Not in a lecherous way, but as in someone who saw a person hurting and wanted to help.

Ruth gave Paul her phone number and he called a few weeks later. They had dinner and became friends. Later, he asked her out on a date. She said okay, but was firm about not wanting to be serious. But Paul was persistent - in a gentlemanly way, never harsh, never scary, but open with his feelings for her.

"He was a big pest, " Ruth said, with a laugh.

He asked her to marry him.

"Heavens no, " she said.

But he kept asking.

He made her laugh. He opened the car door for her. He was patient and thoughtful. He was a strong man. And, she thought, handsome.

They married in 1982 and, a few years later, moved to New Port Richey, a town they found through one of those subdivision deals where you get a few free nights in a hotel if you come listen to a real estate spiel.

Paul swam at the beach every day, in his Speedo. His English was flawless, but there were many ways he remained a European, his teeny swimsuit being one of them. He won medals in swimming in the Florida Senior Olympics. Ruth was his coach, timing him and taking tons of photos of him draped with all his gold medals. She learned how to make all his favorite meals, like goulash. They visited Hungary often. He drank espresso every day. She tried, but it made her wired, so she stuck with regular coffee. He called her his Honeybee, which, over the years, became just "Bee." She brushed his hair and cut it for him.

A few years ago, he started having trouble breathing. It was his heart. Ruth took care of him until she couldn't anymore and Paul went into hospice a few weeks ago. Paul, 90 years old, wanted to go home. "Darling, " she said through tears, "I wish you could."

His breathing was shallow after midnight on April 17.

"Hold my hand, " Paul said. "I'm scared."

"I'm here, " she told him and grasped his hand with hers.

"I know you are, " he said.

She held his hand for hours. Near dawn, she kissed his forehead and let go. He was gone. She went home to an empty house, slipped on her nightgown and laid awake in the dark.

The pain comes in waves and she tries not to cry. She's lost the two men she loved. This one, though not a shock, still hurts. She thinks of Paul's wonderful sense of humor, and it makes her smile. She talks to the white cardboard box that contains Paul's ashes. She rubs it every time she walks past and brings it into the kitchen as she's cooking, the worn copy of Hungarian recipes nearby, the ones she now knows by heart.

Life Stories is an occasional feature taken from the Times' obituaries. Erin Sullivan can be reached at (813) 909-4609 or esullivan@sptimes.com.

[Last modified April 28, 2007, 20:00:12]


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