PEABODY — One day in 1938, Anna DiPietro went to church and a visiting pastor advised a group of mostly young women, “If you girls want boyfriends, ask God for one.”
So Anna asked.
She was 17 and from a poor Italian family in Boston’s West End, she said. There were lots of things she could have prayed for — and did pray for. But that night she included a prayer for a boyfriend, then fell asleep and dreamed that she would marry a man named Charlie.
This Valentine’s Day, Charlie and Anna DiPietro have been married for 77 happy years, the couple and their family said.
“He is a wonderful father,” Anna said proudly, sitting beside her husband on a sofa in the living room of their Peabody house Saturday afternoon. “My three daughters think that he went to the hospital and had them.”
At the time she had the dream, she said, she didn’t know anyone named Charlie.
But one day, Anna and her brother went to visit their mother’s friend in West Boylston and there she met Charlie.
She was wearing no jewelry, no rouge, and a $1 dress, they said.
But Charlie was impressed.
“I know good stuff when I see it,” Charlie said confidently.
The two were married June 25, 1939. She was almost 18, and he was 21. Her wedding dress cost $18. They received only one wedding gift: a waffle iron.
“We had waffles for breakfast for quite a while [as] I learned to cook other things,” Anna said with a smile.
“Dad came from the country; mother was a city girl,” said Jeanne Detrellis, the couple’s middle daughter. Her father disliked the city and eventually brought her mother back to West Boylston with him, Jeanne said.
After seeing city children from unstable homes who had sometimes never seen farmland, Charlie founded Camp Woodhaven as a summer camp for youth. The camp is on land that was part of his father’s dairy farm. Detrellis’s son — Charlie’s grandson — runs Camp Woodhaven today.
The DiPietros are active in their church, including sponsoring children in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and they are proud of their daughter Jeanne, who goes on mission trips there, as well as their other two daughters, nine grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren.
Charlie and Anna will spend their 77th Valentine’s Day at church with Jeanne, as she speaks at a morning service about her experiences as a missionary.
The young people getting married nowadays, “maybe their values are things that are not lasting, like money or fame or success and all that,” Anna said.
For the DiPietros, the secret to their long and happy marriage is shared values, especially an appreciation and trust in God.
“She has a list,” Charlie said. “Anybody who is suffering, right away, she puts their name on that list and prays for them.”
“When I met him, I saw his gentleness, I saw his kindness, and that’s what attracted me to him, more than the physical,” Anna said.
But, she recalled, smiling, “He was handsome, with curly black hair.”
“You pulled it all!” he said next to her on the sofa, smiling.
She laughed, leaned over, and pulled on his now-gray hair. He will be 98 on Memorial Day. She will be 96 in July.
Nicole Fleming can be reached at email@example.com.