From letters to love: Lake Junaluska couple celebrates 65 years
Frank Costa was visiting his uncle in New Jersey in 1944, on leave from the U.S. Navy, when he walked into the Zicarrello household and saw five young girls, one of whom was wearing a yellow dress.
Tory, a first-generation Italian-American, caught his eye immediately.
“Later, he told his parents he sure liked that girl in the yellow,” Tory said.
Frank and Tory had actually met before when they were much younger. Both sets of their parents — longtime friends — decided to come to the United States from Italy and, after arriving on Ellis Island, chose to settle in New Jersey. Although the families did not live in the same towns, Tory recalls one specific visit between their parents that involved a very young Frank.
“My sister and I, and my cousins, were playing in the cherry tree and here comes this big car — and then, here comes this little boy out of this car, and we didn’t know who he was,” Tory said, laughing.
Yet it was the meeting in New Jersey almost 10 years later that sparked a romance that would eventually turn into what is now 65 years of marriage. Even as Frank was serving on the U.S.S. Tarawa in the midst of the final years of World War II, the pair chose to stay in touch, writing letters back and forth.
“We still have every letter we ever wrote to each other,” said Tory, who stores the letters safely in a trunk, full of words that detail their three-year courtship.
The couple’s letters were their only means of communication during a time when Tory was finishing up high school and Frank was stationed on a U.S. Navy assault ship. Excerpts from their writings reveal the emotions of a couple learning more about one another in the midst of a global war.
“I wrote to her a lot,” Frank said, who was able to get free postage while on the U.S.S. Tarawa. “But I could never tell her where we were or what we were doing.”
In a letter dated Wednesday, Oct. 17, 1945, Tory wrote, “Today’s headlines read: ‘Navy to Free Five Million Men by Year’s End.’ Do you think that concerns you? That would be swell if it did. But if you still have to go out to sea, maybe it leaves you out. Oh, well, things won’t always come our way, we’ll just have to be patient and wait.”
Frank and Tory did have to wait — and even though the war was winding down, Frank was busy on the U.S.S. Tarawa with plane operations and drills.
“We lost a pilot yesterday,” he wrote on Feb. 8, 1946. “He and his plane caught fire while he was landing. He was on fire so he jumped in the water, but our destroyer escorts never did find him.”
Frank was able to return to the United States in 1946, and the couple was married two years later on Sept. 5 at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Whippany, New Jersey. Frank was 21, and Tory, fresh from high school, was 18.
Tory wrote to Frank shortly before they married, “We’ll travel any road together into a future full of health, wealth and happiness,” and it is a declaration that has certainly been kept.
The couple, who moved to Lake Junaluska in 1972, will celebrate 65 years this weekend, in a house they built together, with friends and family by their side. The celebration will include their children and grandchildren: Sara Smith and husband, Kevin of Blue Jay, California; Christina Newsome with husband, Homer and daughter Jenna of Milledgeville, Georgia; Frank Costa with wife, Michele and daughter Anna of Asheville; and Tommy Costa with wife, Laura and children Michael and Rebecca of Raleigh.
The gathering is in honor of Frank and Tory’s anniversary, of course, but it is also a representation of what the couple cherishes the most: family.
“My mother’s mantra was, ‘Love in the family is the main thing,’” Tory said. “In this day and age, we move away from each other. It used to be that people stayed in a small town. Children got married; they moved a town or two away — but that’s not the way it is today. But we’ve still managed to keep our hearts close even though the miles are far between. And that’s a beautiful thing to have.”