Mary and Antonio are the best to come into Ripon in years. They brought their hearts and their souls with them to share.
The Labaos are immigrants from the Azores in Portugal, coming to America from their home island in their teen years with parents looking for better lives for their sons and daughters. Mary and Tony had two children, a son, and a daughter.
Mary is the ultimate hostess and homemaker while Tony learned years ago how to make friends and how to sell just about anything while being sought after to fill management positions. Her grandmother and her aunt taught her how to do hair, crochet and how to cook.
They first met in their native land when they were preteens and didn’t come across each other again until they both arrived in the U.S, in Turlock and Oakdale, and attended a Portuguese dance in Turlock..“What are you doing here,?” a shocked Mary shouted at Tony? Their lives soon came together despite Mary’s dad who would manipulate the conversations in his living room until it was time for Tony to leave and go home.
Tony worked in the hay business for years and would be flown over hay fields in the region and beyond to locate the best potential crops. One day a pilot told him if they ever crashed he needed to unlock the door that he said would lock on impact when they hit the ground -- the cause in the deaths of many passengers unaware of that risk.
Since moving into their lovely home in Chesapeake Landing the couple has hosted a number of Mary’s dinners for their new neighbors and friends in the Ripon community on the corner of Windy Cove Lane and Sand Dune Way. Those new friends had nothing but praise for the couple who they quickly came to love and boast of her fine cooking.
Mary recalled that it is common for girls in Portugal to only go as far as the fourth grade in school and then was kept at home with their moms teaching them how to be the perfect housewives. I left school at nine, she recalled. They went to separate high schools in Oakdale and in Turlock. Without a doubt, Mary learned to be an extraordinary cook and hostess in her home. Many pictures of family members are crowded onto walls in their well-manicured Ripon home.
“The first time I saw him was when he came to our front door and when it was opened I was behind the door,” she laughed, noting that she was only 10 to 12 years old at the time. She moved to America in 1966 with Tony coming in 1967.
Tony said their families were friends in the old country with him entering the work world at 16, milking cows, first working for her dad’s dairy, and then having his own dairy before becoming a hay buyer. In the Azores he worked in a family clothing store. Both families had long known each other.
“We were blessed,” Tony said, “getting married at 19 when we were both right out of high school. We started young and grew up on each other,” he quipped. proudly.
Growing up in Portugal they had no phone, no car, no radio and no tv. The Portuguese government did not want their public watching television. They did, however, string a wire antenna in the bathroom near the ceiling to pickups distant radio signals.
As youth, they went from one very conservative extreme to another more liberal existence in the United States. They had a U.S. military base near their homes that proved to be a more modern influence in their grouping of nine islands. All of their brothers and sisters were born at home.
There was no future for them in Portugal, he noted. His dad died at 43 and his mom operated a preschool for area children. He and his siblings were aged 4,7,9 and 15. His mom moved to the states ahead of the family to make way for them.
Mary’s love of flowers can be seen around their home and on and near their front porch here in Ripon