71 years later, as Riverside Park Home residents, Gino Rivetti, 98, and wife Lidia, 88, celebrate the momentous milestone of 70 years of marriage, Lidia remembers her first impression of her husband.
“I thought he was very elegant and attractive, but he smoked too much. He always had cigarettes in his pocket and one in his hand.”
They were married a year later in Cervignano, Italy, on November 4, 1950. Lidia’s parents were immigrating to Argentina at the time and asked her if she wanted to go with them, but she said: “I love you very much, but I’ll stay here to get married.”
The couple were married in a catholic church in the village where Lidia lived. This was just after World War 2, where Gino had served in the Navy.
She said it was a bitter-sweet time, as her parents and brother moved to Argentina three months after her wedding, but despite it all, she was very happy. The couple honeymooned in Venice, and remained in Italy where they started a family. Gino worked for SAICCI until 1955, when he was transferred to South Africa to open the first rayon pulp factory in Umkomaas, now known as SAPPI Saiccor.
When they arrived in South Africa, the couple already had two children – a son, Edie, aged five, and a daughter, Loretta, aged three.
They described the transition from Italy to South Africa as “overcoming fear of the unknown. “We had heard stories in Italy that lions roamed the streets. Not being able to speak the language was a big problem.”
The first thing Lidia remembers about arriving in Umkomaas, was “all the beautiful trees.” She used sign language at the butcher and other shops for the first four months.
“Everyone was friendly and accepting and it became a good joke.”
She also fondly remembers their first Christmas in Umkomaas, and being directed to the wrong church for midnight mass.
“I asked for directions to the local Catholic Church, but we were sent to the wrong church. Everyone was wearing hats, and we didn’t have hats. But church is church, and it turned out all fine,” she said.
They found the Catholic Church a few weeks later.
They purchased a home in Umkomaas and remained there until retirement. They moved to Pietermaritzburg in 2011, where they have been until now, residing at Riverside Park Home. They had two more daughters in South Africa – Carla and Miriam.
Unfortunately, their eldest son, Edie, died two years ago aged 67 – a great loss to the family. They have been blessed with nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Lidia feels grateful to South Africa for providing her family with a good life here.
“I want to say, Thank you, South Africa! I remain always, proudly South African,” she said.
The couple remembers some of their fondest memories of their life together as having their family and children around.
Reflecting on their life together, and achieving this amazing marriage milestone, they said they feel “very proud and very happy.”
They revealed that their secret to a long and happy marriage is “love, acceptance and family.”
Their 70th wedding anniversary celebration started with a wedding-themed photoshoot, recreating their original wedding photograph taken in Venice. This was followed by a surprise Italian-themed reception with the Riverside Park Home residents, complete with Italian food and music.