After nearly 59 years of marriage, Louis and Diane Zinnanti of South Chatham still sparkle in each other’s company.
“We’re very happy people,” Diane says.
Sitting in their living room with a visitor, they reminisce about their family, their love of collecting and various jobs they’ve held. They fill in the details of each other’s stories and laugh a lot. Today happens to be Diane’s 81st birthday. She and Lou, 84, have two birthday cards that they’ve been swapping back and forth for about 15 years.
“Why buy a new card every year when you’ve got a real nice card?” Lou asks.
“We’re insane,” Diane says. “Or are we cheap?”
Their 59th wedding anniversary is Aug. 25 but they’ve been together for at least 60 years if you count the time they spent dating.
And what’s their secret to a long, happy marriage?
“A lot of fighting,” Diane says, laughing again. “Making up. Forgiveness.” Disagreements are short lived. And they love entertaining. On a Friday afternoon they’re expecting some of the neighbors for a glass of wine. They go out to breakfast with friends.
“Doing things together,” Lou says. He lists digging for old bottles, attending the theater and singing karaoke as some things they both enjoy.
“We sing doo-wop together,” Diane says. On a more serious note, she adds that their Christian beliefs are also at the root of their happiness. “We think that that’s major in our life. The basis of everything we do.” The couple prays for a list of over 100 people each day.
Their son, Louis, and their daughter, Tana Miller, are both ministers who are married to ministers. Louis lives in Sharon while Tana lives in Vergennes, Vt.
They have six grandchildren, one of whom is also a minister. Another granddaughter, Angie Miller, a singer who has taken the stage name Zealyn, came in third place on “American Idol” in 2013.
“Every time she was on television we would have a party,” Diane says.
In 1991, the Zinnantis moved to the house they built here after Lou retired from his job in Albany, N.Y. as a physical education teacher. Diane was a nurse. When they arrived in Chatham, they took on new jobs — Diane worked as a deputy shellfish warden and walked Chatham’s 63 miles of shoreline with local fishermen. She also took up lobstering, and caught 575 lobsters over seven summers.
“I loved it,” she says. Next she worked for a local real estate agency passing out keys to newly-arriving renters on Saturdays, and also, for a time, cleaning houses between renters.
Lou, meanwhile, became Santa Claus. Around 2003 he grew a beard, and as the beard got thicker and turned white, people began telling Lou he looked like Santa. Diane, who says he also “acted like Santa,” made him a Santa jacket, and coupled it with red sweat pants and a Santa hat. Since then, he has been through three or four Santa suits.
It so happened that Lou was volunteering at the Chatham Transfer Station’s swap shop where lots of broken-down toys end up. Lou fixes and cleans the toys down in his basement workshop, underneath a red sign that says “Santa’s Workshop Open.” At one point he was spending $50 a month for batteries. Santa is nothing if not generous to children, and so it is with Lou. He has distributed the restored toys through South Chatham Community Church and through the police and fire department toy drives. One time when he was standing on Main Street in his Santa suit, a little girl grabbed his arm. When he gave her a teddy bear, she put it against her cheek, making Lou cry.
Lou leads the way down into the basement. There, Santa’s workshop is surrounded by a glorious display of the couple’s extensive collections. There are beer steins, videos, old tins, a bird house that sings about mockingbirds when the overhead light is switched on, baskets, mugs, framed circus posters, and even the 1913 lockers from Albany High School, which are covered with magnets. Everything is perfectly organized, and dusted.
“We collect everything,” Diane says.
The couple’s love of collecting began many years ago when a friend in Albany had an antique dump on her farm. The Zinnantis began digging there, finding old bottles.
“When I found something, I didn’t know what it was. I’d look it up in the library,” Lou says. As he learned about history, he collected reference books about his collections. And he has poked around with a metal detector for 40 years. Diane wears a ring that he found.
These days the pair divides their year between Chatham and West Palm Beach. In Florida, elderly ladies sit on Santa’s lap to have their pictures taken.
When the couple celebrated their 50th anniversary, their children hosted a surprise party at the Chatham VFW. Their son Louis even remarried them. Their New York cousins drove in, and they sat up all night talking and drinking beer in the motel that the clan had taken over. This year they plan a quieter celebration, going out to a special dinner at Brax Landing with their family.
“They are an amazing couple,” their daughter Tana says.