Almost 70 years ago, Constance Disotell saw a handsome young sailor with a shock of wavy black hair slide into a booth at a Hillyard ice cream parlor where her mother worked.
Although they’d never met, she knew who he was. Her friend had shown a picture of her handsome new beau, and there Roy Diluzio sat, having ice cream with a buddy.
“I walked up to the booth and said, ‘I know you!’ ” Constance recalled. “I was being a smart aleck. He looked up and said, ‘Well, I sure don’t know you!’ ”
But Ray Diluzio decided then and there that he definitely wanted to get to know the saucy 15-year-old beauty.
When her mother closed the ice cream shop, they found Ray waiting at the curb in his dad’s Model A Ford. “Would you like a ride home?” he asked.
Constance thought to herself, “Heck, it’s only three blocks!” But she said, “Well, my Mom’s with me …”
Ray replied, “That’s OK.” And he drove them both three blocks home.
Her mom went inside and they sat in the car and talked for a few minutes. “When do I get to see you again?” he asked.
It didn’t take long, because he didn’t have long. Ray had joined the Navy in 1942, at 17, and was home on a brief leave. “I had to convince my mother to sign for me,” he said. “But I didn’t want to get drafted and end up in the infantry.”
He and Constance enjoyed a few dates, enough to leave a lasting impression on them both. And the girl who carried his picture?
“She didn’t talk much to me after that,” Constance said.
Ray spent 19 months in the Mediterranean aboard the USS Hollis. “We were under a lot of fire, but we never got a direct hit,” he said. “We got credit for sinking one submarine.”
Although his letters home were heavily censored, he found a clever way to let his parents know where he was. His parents were born in Italy, so he wrote to his mom, “Things haven’t changed much since you were a kid here.” Amazingly, that made it past the censors.
In between assignments, Ray had a brief leave in San Diego. “His mom and his younger brother were going to see him and he asked me to come with them,” Constance said.
Her dad bought her a train ticket and off she went. Ray seized the opportunity and proposed. His offer of marriage surprised the high school junior.
“It was a shock,” Constance said. “I wasn’t thinking about getting married! I said, ‘Well, let me think it over.’ ”
She didn’t think long. The next day she told him, “All right, fine. I will!”
But when Ray pressed her to marry him before he shipped out, she said no. “I wanted to finish high school – that was uppermost.”
So, Ray departed for China aboard the USS Dixie and Constance returned home to graduate from Rogers High School.
In December 1945, Ray sent word that he’d soon be docking for good in Bremerton. Constance was thrilled and immediately wrote a letter to his commanding officer, requesting permission for Ray to get leave to take her to her senior prom. Permission was granted.
Ray left the Navy in May 1946, and on Oct. 26, the couple wed at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. “I didn’t have any money to buy a wedding dress,” Constance said. “So I wore a formal with cap sleeves, and wore long white gloves because you don’t go to church with bare arms.”
They lived with Ray’s sister and brother-in-law for the first year of their marriage. Daughter Carol arrived Sept. 20, 1947, and the small family set up house in an apartment in an old Army barracks in Hillyard.
Ray briefly worked for Great Northern Railway like his father before him, but when his dad offered to give him a corner lot on Market Street, Ray decided to start a small fruit stand. But he didn’t stop there. He soon expanded the produce stand into a grocery store with living quarters behind it.
While he labored over the construction, he worked additional jobs to support his family, and Constance ran the store. “He built it himself,” she said.
“No,” Ray gently corrected her. “We did it together.”
Their family grew with the birth of Ray Jr., who arrived on his dad’s birthday, Sept. 17, 1950.
“It was a lot of hard work, raising two kids in the grocery store,” Constance said. “I got tired. I said, ‘I’m leaving this place – you’d better sell it or something.’ ”
So after six years, they leased the store to someone else.
Ray worked in food sales for a variety of companies including Kraft Foods and Golden Grain. Their family was complete with the birth of Brad in 1958.
After living in Yakima and Seattle, the Diluzios moved back to Spokane when Ray retired at 51. Now, his connection to the food business comes through his raised garden beds that he tends with loving care.
The garden is one of their secrets to a happy marriage. “Sometimes, I stick myself in the kitchen and he goes out in the garden,” Constance said.
She looked across the kitchen table at the fellow she first spotted at another table so many years ago.
“We were young and dumb,” she said. “But you learn as you go.”
Ray grinned. “She’s been a wonderful wife.”