STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is Friday morning, which means it's time to bring you StoryCorps, the project that gives everyday people the chance to interview one another about their lives. These recordings become part of a collection at the Library of Congress, which is growing into an oral history of America.
Today we'll check back in with a memorable couple whose story was first broadcast on our air two years ago. Their story captivated many listeners and also StoryCorps creator Dave Isay.
Mr. DAVID ISAY (Creator, StoryCorps): Danny Perasa is a horse-betting clerk in New York City. His wife Annie is a nurse. They first visited the StoryCorps booth in Grand Central Terminal in January 2004, to tell the story of their very first date.
Mr. DANNY PERASA (StoryCorps Participant): She started to talk and I said, listen, I'm gonna deliver a speech. I said, at the end you're gonna want to go home. I said you represent a 34-letter word. I said, that word is love. I says if we're goin' anywhere, we're goin' down the aisle because I'm too tired, too sick and too sore to do any other damn thing. And she turned around and she said, oh, of course I'll marry you. Then the next morning I called her as early as I possibly could...
Ms. ANNIE PERASA (StoryCorps Participant): And he always gets up early.
Mr. PERASA: (laughs) ...to make sure she hadn't changed her mind and she hadn't, and every year on April 22 around 3:00, I call her and ask her, if it was today, would she do it again, and so far the answer's been the same.
Ms. PERASA: Yeah, 25 times yes (laughs).
Mr. PERASA: You see the thing of it is I always feel guilty when I say I love you to you - and I say it so often. I say it to remind you that as dumpy as I am, it's comin' from me. It's like hearing a beautiful song from a busted old radio and it's nice of you to keep the radio around the house.
Ms. PERASA: If I don't have a note on the kitchen table, I think there's something wrong. You write a love letter to me every morning.
Mr. PERASA: Well, the only thing that could possibly be wrong is I couldn't find a silly pen.
Ms. PERASA: (Reading) To my princess, the weather out today is extremely rainy. I'll call you at 11:20 in the morning...
Mr. PERASA: It's a romantic weather report (laughs).
Ms. PERASA: ...and I love you, I love you, I love you.
Mr. PERASA: When a guy is happily married, no matter what happens at work, no matter what happens in the rest of the day, there's a shelter when you get home; there's a knowledge knowing that you can hug somebody without them throwing you downstairs and saying get your hands off me. And being married is like having a color television set; you never want to go back to black-and-white.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. ISAY: That story was the beginning of a love affair between Danny and Annie and StoryCorps. After that first interview, Danny returned to the booth many times to talk about his love for Annie. Over time, Danny and Annie became something of the public face of StoryCorps, sought after for interviews in the newspapers and on TV, eventually traveling the country talking about the project.
Our motto is: listening is an act of love, and Danny and Annie came to personify StoryCorps - the eloquence, grace, power and poetry in the words of people you might not notice walking down the street. Danny falls squarely into that category, a bald gnome of a man with a near-toothless grin, but one minute in his presence and there's no doubt that Danny Perasa radiates more romance and authenticity than all of Hollywood's leading men put together.
Last month, Danny Perasa was diagnosed with a fast-spreading terminal cancer. Although his cancer is particularly painful, he wanted to talk one more time about his feelings for Annie. So, last week StoryCorps went to Danny and Annie to record them in their home in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Danny spoke lying down on a couch. Beside him in a chair was his wife Annie.
Ms. PERASA: The illness is not hard on me; it's just, you know, the finality of it - and him, he goes along like a trooper.
Mr. PERASA: Listen, even downhill a car doesn't roll unless it's pushed and you're giving me a great push. The deal of it is, we try to give each other hope and not hope that I'll live, hope that she'll do well after I pass, hope that people will support her, hope that if she meets somebody and likes 'em, she marries 'em.
Ms. PERASA: Yeah, he has everything planned, you know.
Mr. PERASA: I'm workin' on it. She said it was her call. She wants to walk out behind the casket alone. I guess that's the way to do it, because when we were married, you know how your brother takes you down, your father takes you down? She said, well, I don't know which of my brothers to walk in with, I don't want to offend anybody. I says, I got a solution. I said, you walk in with me, you walk out with me. And the other day, I said who's gonna walk down the aisle with you behind the casket? You know, to support her. And she said nobody; I walked in with you alone. I'm walkin' out with you alone.
Ms. PERASA: Mm hmm.
Mr. PERASA: There's a thing in life where you have to come to terms with dyin'. Well, I haven't come to terms with dyin' yet. I want to come to terms with being sure that you understand that my love for you up to this point was as much as it could be and it'll be as much as it could be for eternity. I always said the only thing I have to give you is a poor gift and it's myself, and I always gave it, and if there's a way to come back and give it, I'll do that too. Do you have the Valentine's Day letter there?
Ms. PERASA: Yeah.
(Soundbite of paper)
Ms. PERASA: (Reading) My dearest wife, this is a very special day. It is a day on which we share our love which still grows after all these years. Now that love is being used by us to sustain us through these hard times. All my love, all my days and more. Happy Valentine's Day.
Mr. PERASA: (Crying) I could write on and on about her. She lights up the room in the morning when she tells me to put both hands on her shoulders so that she can support me. She lights up my life when she says to me at night, wouldn't you like a little ice cream or would you please drink more water. I mean, those aren't very romantic things to say, but they stir my heart. In my mind, in my heart, there has never been, there is not now and never will be another Annie.
(Soundbite of music)
INSKEEP: We'd like you to know that earlier this month the flagship StoryCorps booth, which is in New York City, was dedicated to Danny and Annie Perasa. If you'd like to see pictures from that dedication as well as wedding photos and additional stories, go to NPR.org.
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