Service, with a smile: remembering ‘Aunt’ Margie
My “Aunt” Margie Pullia was beloved. It’s a fact. Everywhere I went this past week after her death, every person I spoke to who knew her, regardless of background, position or status all had good things to say about her. Many brought up specific memories of her service to the community, church, William B. Kessler Memorial Hospital, March of Dimes or other causes. They also universally praised her quick-wittedness.
I noticed that everyone who spoke of her, remembered her with a smile.
She certainly deserved it. Aunt Margie was a giving person who believed in her father, M.L. Ruberton’s, motto: give until it hurts. There really is no way to know how much she did for how many people. Part of why we’ll never know is because she rarely brought attention to herself. Even when winning awards like the Greater Hammonton Chamber of Commerce “Nice Going” Award or the Generosity Award from St. Joseph High School, she remained lowkey about it. She was the kind of person to downplay her own achievements (and occasionally those of others) with a joke or a little jab. They were always funny and right on the mark.
I’d like to tell you about one lowkey thing she would do for me and my wife Gina every now and again, because it became one of our fondest memories in Hammonton.
Aunt Margie often invited Gina and I to have lunch with her and usually her daughter Maryann “Mindy” McKeown at Aunt Margie’s house. We would sit in the dining room, just off the kitchen. She would heat up hot ham and cheese sandwiches wrapped in aluminum foil in her oven. Sounds simple, right? Those sandwiches were one of the most delicious meals we ever had—because they were always made with love. The sandwiches were a staple of our Falciani family parties.
The last time we had one of those lunches was on March 24. Gina and I were there, along with Margie and Mindy. In addition to those hot ham and cheese sandwiches wrapped in foil and homemade roasted red peppers on the dining room table, we had our usual free-ranging conversation. As always, we covered all the topics of the moment as well as the past, and there were a lot of laughs.
You never knew what would come up at those lunches. At the lunch we had before the one in March, Aunt Margie and I had a long discussion about her trip to Williamsport in 1949 as a teenager when she watched Hammonton win the Little League World Series. She knew I was a baseball fan and a student of local history, particularly of the 1949 Hammonton All-Stars.
With unbelievable detail she talked about how she walked to all the different games being played in Williamsport, and what a thrill it was when Hammonton won it all. You would think it had happened yesterday, not more than 70 years ago.
Do you know a lot of people who were at the 1949 Little League World Series when Hammonton won the championship? No, neither do I.
I never took hearing Aunt Margie’s memories for granted. And her sense of humor—her wit—was second to none. You had to make sure you were always listening around Aunt Margie. Some of those zingers might have been about you, even if you were sitting right there!
She used that wit to make her points in a humorous way. It’s amazing how those points stuck with you longer than when someone made a serious argument. It’s true what they say: If they’re laughing, they’re listening. People always listened to Aunt Margie.
Another note about those lunches: Aunt Margie would bring the whole neighborhood together, along with both sides of my immediate family. Her neighbors included her sister, my godmother Dottie Berenato (who passed away on March 6 of this year) and my Aunt Diane Donio. There were other guests who would drop in and out as well.
I feel privileged to have been invited to those lunches, which were a throwback to the era when my grandmother, Ida Bilazzo, would be joined by her sisters Gilda Ruberton (Margie and Dottie’s mother) and Juliet Falciani around my mother and father’s kitchen table on Tilton Street after church on Sundays.
Uncle Andy and Aunt Dottie Berenato and Uncle Paul and Aunt Margie Pullia also attended birthday celebrations for me and also my brothers when we were younger. They were close with my parents, Frank and Angela Donio.
Back then, families and friends were tightly-knit and people took time to have conversations with each other. You learned a lot that way—not just about the town, but about people.
Those feelings from long ago continued with those lunches at Aunt Margie’s house. It was fun to spend some time with family. We learned so much from this kind, funny, giving woman who was sharp well into her 80s. She continued to make a difference in our lives, just as she had in the lives of so many people in Hammonton and beyond its borders. Everyone who had the pleasure to know her will miss her terribly, but we all benefitted from the words her father taught her, words that appear attributed to M.L. Ruberton in the Greater Hammonton Chamber of Commerce Guide for 1998-1999, featured in a profile of Aunt Margie, who won the “Nice Going” Award in 1998. According to the guide, the saying from her father helped guide her in all her service, volunteerism and philanthropy:
“If you feel you are lucky, then help those who aren’t.”
And so Aunt Margie helped people, throughout her long life.
She made a positive difference, for so many.
Gabriel J. Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.