Summer Love

This article I borrowed from the N.Y. Times.
Very touching and relevant.
Deadhead1155

3 Whirlwind Weeks to 10 Years Apart to Growing Old Together

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By WINNIE HU

JULY 4, 2015

Julio Rodriguez was a seasoned flirt. Tall and handsome, he persuaded women to call him just by handing them a card printed with “you’re beautiful” and his number on the back.

Then, one steamy summer night in 1988, Mr. Rodriguez found he was the one being flirted with. He was managing a supper club in the Bronx. She was one of the guests. “I’d like you to make me a drink,” she said. He offered to get a bartender. No, she insisted, she wanted him. Slipping a $20 tip on the bar, she asked what time he got off.

“That’s my line,” he said, pocketing the money.

The woman’s name was Dolores Batista. After work, he headed to her red brick rowhouse in Throgs Neck, where she was waiting with chicken fricassee. “Vavoom Mama,” he recalled thinking. “I like to eat and I like a good-looking babe.”

Twenty-seven years later, Mr. Rodriguez, now 71 and a chef and cookbook author, is the one who makes the chicken fricassee. On a recent summer night, he tended the fragrant stew as it simmered on the stovetop while Ms. Batista, now 68 and an insurance agent for Allstate, stayed out of his way.

She leaves the cooking to him. Whatever he makes for dinner, her response is always the same: “Oh, my favorite.”

“This is the meal that brought us together,” he said, scooping the fricassee onto piles of white rice.

Mr. Rodriguez, whose specialty is Caribbean cuisine, shows his love with food. The first time he picked up Ms. Batista at the airport, it was winter and he had flowers in one hand, and homemade chicken soup in the other. He dedicated his first cookbook, “Doll’s Kitchen: La Cocina De Dolly,” in 2007, to Ms. Batista, whom he calls Doll. The cover has a photo of her as a young girl.

Mr. Rodriguez, a chef and cookbook author, grows herbs and vegetables in pots on the front porch of the couple’s home.

DAMON WINTER / THE NEW YORK TIMES

They are not married, but might as well be. He refers to her as “my wife” and said he liked the way they fit together when they held hands. She wears a wedding ring he bought for her four years ago, even though she turned down his proposal.

“We’re so incompatible that I always thought, it’s not going to last,” she said. “But it has lasted, and now I think, ‘Why bother?’ What would change really?”

They were, and still are, an unlikely pair, like chocolate-covered bacon. She married young and raised a son, then divorced her husband of 16 years after they drifted apart. Mr. Rodriguez said he had never stayed with the same woman for more than six months. He had an ex-wife and dozens of ex-girlfriends, two of whom were the mothers of his three sons.

“Willie Nelson and him have the same song,” Ms. Batista said. “‘To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.’”

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“That’s what bachelors do,” Mr. Rodriguez replied.

At first, Ms. Batista thought he was charming, but their differences gave her pause. She broke off the romance after a three-week whirlwind of barbecues, salsa dancing and what he called “hot fun in the summer.” She told him she did not date musicians or nightclub managers because they were unreliable.

He was not used to being rejected. “I actually wanted to stay,” he said. “I wanted to create roots with somebody I liked.”

It took 10 years for them to get back together. This time, he made the first move. He had just bought a car and needed insurance, so he called her. She asked what he was doing for work. He had switched from nightclubs to real estate, clearing the first hurdle.

Mr. Rodriguez spooning out a bit of broth from a chicken fricassee he prepared. Ms. Batista made him the same dish the night they met. He does the cooking now.

DAMON WINTER / THE NEW YORK TIMES

She stopped by his office. “When I saw him, I thought he’s really looking cute still and we did have a good time together,” she said. “But I felt this was going to be trouble.”

She had one nonnegotiable condition: no other women.

He gave them all up and has not looked back. The pickup cards, the one-night stands, “that was B.D. — before Doll,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “I’ve been very faithful to my honey.”

There have been no more breaks. He moved into her house a year later, around 1999, and made it his own. He painted over the plain beige walls in marigold yellow. Mr. Rodriguez, who is also an accomplished artist, hung up his paintings of lighthouses, roosters and Caribbean shorelines. He planted cilantro, basil, chili peppers and Roma tomatoes in flower boxes on the front porch.

Mr. Rodriguez and Ms. Batista in their kitchen in the Bronx. Regardless of what he fixes for them to eat, her response is always the same: “Oh, my favorite.”

DAMON WINTER / THE NEW YORK TIMES

“They’re better together than apart, I think they both realize that,” said Ms. Batista’s son, Derek, 44, a personal trainer who lives with the couple. “It’s a union that just kind of works. Some people on the outside looking in would say, ‘I don’t know how they deal with each other.’ I see them every day. I see the little things — little things that Julio does or my mom does — little things that really are big.”

The differences are still there but not as sharp, dulled by years of give and take. He is a planner, she likes to be spontaneous. He has 36 friends saved in his phone contacts, she has more than that listed under the letter A alone. He can be too blunt, she said. She sugarcoats everything, he said.

At home, being tidy is important to him; to her not so much. They fuss over the refrigerator. For Mr. Rodriguez, who learned to cook while serving in the Navy, the water should always be in front of the milk because it gets used more often. The milk, in turn, goes in front of the juice. When Ms. Batista reaches in, he said, she messes up his order.

She rolled her eyes as he spoke. She brought up the time she had made hamburger patties for a barbecue. They were free-form and unacceptable to him.

“She made flowers, they were all different shapes and sizes,” said Mr. Rodriguez, who prefers to cut his patties with the rim of a water glass.

“Hamburger Nazi,” she said.

Underneath the daily annoyances is a bond that has grown stronger over time. Ms. Batista underwent treatment for breast cancer with Mr. Rodriguez at her side. Last year, when she moved to a new office in White Plains, he showed up to paint the basement and mow the lawn. And despite grumbling that she has too many friends, he makes a feast when they come over. He has been known to cover the kitchen table with 20 kinds of tapas.

Ms. Batista is quick to praise his cooking and his artwork. She helped him buy a used Jaguar sedan to replace his worn-out Lexus. He pays her back from his catering earnings, though she does not ask him to do so.

“I’m very spoiled,” she said, “but he’s spoiled too.”

Their friend, Carlos Aponte, 70, said he saw them as two strong personalities who clashed at times but who were willing to accommodate each other, even when it meant doing something that might not be comfortable.

“When Julio is frustrated and impatient, I see how tender and caring she is,” Mr. Aponte said. “And on his side, I see the love in the way he absolutely takes care of her.”

For Mr. Rodriquez, the home he has made with Ms. Batista has given him a stability he never had before. The youngest of 17 children of Puerto Rican farmers, he said his own parents split up when he was young. He treats Ms. Batista’s son as his own, cooking for him and once picking him up at 2 a.m. when his car had been towed. His three sons call Ms. Batista “Mom,” and pack into the house on holidays.

It is good they met when they did, both said, because they would not have been a couple when they were young. He was too flirtatious. She was not his type. He had a weakness then for women with long legs and black hair, he said, even if they were light on substance.

“She wasn’t the type of person I go after,” he said. “You don’t always get what you want. You get what you need.”

“And,” Ms. Batista reminded him, “I have other redeeming qualities.”

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