StoryCorps: Childhood Neighbors Celebrate 7 Decades Of Love Joel and Julia Helfman met in 1943. Married nearly 70 years, they're still utterly devoted. Says Julia: "How was I smart enough to know that this young man would always keep me happy?"

A Bronx Tale: Childhood Neighbors Celebrate 7 Decades Of Love

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/744434185/745521214" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

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.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.