RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Time now for a StoryCorps love story more than 70 years in the making. Joel Helfman grew up in the Bronx in the 1940s. He was 13 years old when a girl named Julia moved in across the street.
JOEL HELFMAN: I was playing stickball.
JULIA HELFMAN: I was reading a book.
JOEL HELFMAN: You caught the ball, and I came to retrieve it.
JULIA HELFMAN: You were the skinniest person I'd ever seen.
JOEL HELFMAN: And I thought to myself, what a hot babe (laughter).
JULIA HELFMAN: (Laughter) Did you really?
JOEL HELFMAN: And the rest is almost history.
JULIA HELFMAN: We became fast friends.
JOEL HELFMAN: And that's all we were. I mean...
JULIA HELFMAN: That's right. There was no hanky-panky. There was no writing my name next to yours. How come you never made a pass at me?
JOEL HELFMAN: You were really beautiful, but you were above fooling around.
I left home for Chicago when I was about 17 1/2.
JULIA HELFMAN: And a half, right.
JOEL HELFMAN: I wrote to you and said I was coming back to New York for a week, and I would love to see you.
JULIA HELFMAN: Right.
JOEL HELFMAN: Were you enthusiastic about it?
JULIA HELFMAN: No.
JOEL HELFMAN: No, OK.
JULIA HELFMAN: I said, well, he's been gone over a year, and I haven't even gotten a postcard. And my mother said he's such a nice boy. You always enjoyed being with him. So I thought, well, I'll listen to my mother.
JOEL HELFMAN: So I came back, and we saw each other every day. And then we were walking home in the park.
JULIA HELFMAN: Thursday night.
JOEL HELFMAN: And you stopped and said...
JULIA HELFMAN: I'll say what I said.
JOEL HELFMAN: Go ahead.
JULIA HELFMAN: I said, how much do you like me, a little or a lot? You said a whole lot.
JOEL HELFMAN: A whole lot.
JULIA HELFMAN: And I said I like you more than any other male except my Papa. And then I looked at you, and I said...
JOEL HELFMAN: What are we going to do about it?
JULIA HELFMAN: And what did you say?
JOEL HELFMAN: We could get married.
JULIA HELFMAN: And I said let's. We had never even kissed. We had never held hands. So you walk me up the five flights of stairs, and then you gave me a kiss on the lips. And that was enough for me.
I went into the apartment, and I said, Papa, I'm going to get married. He said no, you're not. You've got a brain. You're going to make something of yourself. And I said, Papa, there's just something about him that makes me feel I can do things. I know we can build a great life together. I just know it, Papa.
And my father looked at me, and he said I have never doubted your judgment. If this is what you want, I support you in it. And that was that.
JOEL HELFMAN: We're happy, right?
JULIA HELFMAN: Every day I look at you and I say to myself how was I smart enough to know that this young man would always keep me happy, always make me feel safe, always challenge me?
JOEL HELFMAN: And there is no one that really comes anywhere near close to you.
JULIA HELFMAN: Oh, my God, honey. We're both lucky. And I think this is done because what more can we say, unless I leap across this table and just hug and kiss you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: Julia and Joel Helfman for StoryCorps, still clearly over the moon for each other after seven decades of marriage, five children, 11 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Their conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress.
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