Old friends reunited

Photo of Karen Mansfield
by Karen Mansfield
Staff Writer
Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter
Nellie Albani and Nina Marinelli have been friends for 75 years. The pair keep each other company in the Presbyterian SeniorCare Southmont nursing home, reminiscing about their friendship and laughing together. Order a Print

This Valentine’s Day, two friends who had lost touch are celebrating a friendship that has spanned three-quarters of a century.

Since Nellie Albani and Nina Marinelli met 75 years ago – as young brides on Madison Street in Cokeburg – the two have been close friends.

Life is unpredictable, though, and circumstances separated the pair in recent years.

But now, the longtime friends, both approaching 100 years old, find themselves reunited at Presbyterian SeniorCare Southmont in Washington, where they are residents.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Nina, 99, who was shocked and thrilled to see her friend after Nellie moved into the senior living community in December. “We always had a good time. We never fought, not one time. We had no reason to.”

Their friendship began when Nina, at age 24, moved to Cokeburg from Italy, where she had met and married her husband, Dominic, who had gone to the country to visit family. The Marinellis settled into a home across the street from Nellie, now 98, and her husband, Frank.

They were members of the Catholic Daughters at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church for years, and they often made spaghetti sauce and cooked for funerals together.

Nellie recalled one time in particular, when a neighbor passed away and the two of them got two chickens from Nellie’s parents’ farm, wrung their necks and “made the best fried chicken you ever want to eat.”

“You remember everybody said it was better than Kentucky Fried Chicken?” Nellie asked Nina. “Everybody said they didn’t need to go to Kentucky Fried Chicken anymore, it was so good.”

When Nellie turned 50, she obtained a driver’s license and bought a white Ford Falcon, and drove Nina, who never learned to drive, to stores and restaurants. In return, Nina, who once worked as a model for Miller’s Department Store in Charleroi, always treated her to lunch.

“I’d say, ‘Nellie, you drive, I’ll buy lunch,’” said Nina. “That was fair.”

They also crocheted together and spent time cooking and dancing at the Sons of Italy, where their husbands, both coal miners, were members.

The old friends have been catching up, recalling mostly happy times. But during their lives, the pair helped each other through some of their worst moments, and they have talked about that, too.

For Nina, that includes the deaths of two of her three children: Jimmy, who served in Vietnam and died when he was 20, and Donna Lee, who died unexpectedly at the age of 48.

Nina said that following Jimmy’s death, she went into a long period of mourning, until one day Nellie said to her, “When are you going to open up those blinds again? He’s not coming home.”

“She told me the truth. I needed to hear it,” said Nina.

Following the death of Donna Lee, a college professor, Nina gained custody of Donna Lee’s two children and raised them. Years later, she raised Donna Lee’s grandson.

In their later years, getting together became more difficult. Nineteen years ago, when she was 80, Nellie moved from her Cokeburg home to her daughter Ethel Hendershot’s house near Scenery Hill, and Nina kept busy with her grandchildren and a large garden until three years ago.

These days, the old friends spend much of their time together, often holding hands. Dina Stover, administrator at Southmont, said the staff enjoys hearing them laugh as they talk – often in Italian – about old times.

“It’s a small world, and it’s wonderful to see people reconnect. That friendship, that familiar face gives you comfort,” said Stover.

Nina and Nellie feel lucky to have renewed their friendship and look forward to facing whatever life holds for them, together.

“Having a good friend means a lot. I left my family, everybody I knew, to come over here when I was young. I had no one,” said Nina, who made many friends in the close-knit town and found a best friend in Nellie. “I’m so happy to see (Nellie) again. I’m really happy.”