GREENWICH VILLAGE — When Norma D'Amico stood in front of her friend's casket at the Greenwich Village Funeral home in December 2003, love was the furthest thing from her mind.
Surrounded by flowers, D'Amico, 85, was greeting her 82-year-old friend's loved ones when a woman she knew walked in with a silver-haired gentleman.
As she soon discovered, romance blooms in the most unexpected places.
D'Amico, a widow who had lost her second husband earlier that year, heard the stranger, Sonny Ruggiero, 80, talking about a Christmas party he had every year, and jumped into the conversation.
"He said, 'Everybody comes to my party,'" D'Amico, who has lived in the same two-bedroom apartment on Minetta Lane for the past 69 years, recalled. "So I said, 'You didn't invite me.' And he said, 'You're welcome to come.'
"Once I started to talk to him, I thought, 'Hmm, nice guy,'" she added.
Eight years later, she and Ruggiero are still an item — seeing each other nearly every day, enjoying a glass of Scotch and doing jigsaw puzzles together.
"My girlfriends who were widowed said, 'We go to the bar, we go here, we go there, but we've got to start hanging out at the funeral parlor,'" D'Amico said.
"Not everybody at the funeral home is dead," Ruggiero chimed in.
But the couple's mortuary meeting was almost not to be.
D'Amico got Ruggiero's phone number from their mutual friend and called him about a week later to say she would miss the party because she had come down with a cold. Ruggiero said he was sick too and that he would call her to let her know when he had rescheduled the festivities.
"I waited about a week or so and I never got a call," D'Amico said. "So, I called him up and said, 'Did you forget about me?'"
"[Ruggiero] said, 'No, no, I'm still not ready to have the party yet.' And we started to talk," D'Amico recalled.
They began eating lunch together at Greenwich House's Senior Center on the Square on Washington Square North and that April, Ruggiero, himself a widower for nine years who had once worked in lumber yards and printing shops, asked D'Amico out to dinner.
"We went to dinner [at the Bleecker Street Chinese restaurant Suzie's], and after dinner we came back here, for a nightcap," D'Amico said. "We did a little dancing and stuff like that, and that was the beginning."
After some waltzing and dancing the foxtrot, they decided they wanted to see more of each other, Ruggiero said.
"I really didn't expect to get involved with anybody," said Ruggiero.
"Neither did I," said D'Amico, who once worked in restaurants and as an accountant at St. Vincent's Hospital.
Their shared interests in dancing and music and mutual, calm demeanors help keep them together, Ruggiero said.
"To be perfectly honest, the generation nowadays, they're always looking to go out with somebody and have sex right away," Ruggiero said.
"You have to go out with somebody for a while to find out what are their good aspects and if you have the same compassion, helpfulness, love — of course — and consideration. I think those four things will keep you healthy," he added. "Make sure you're in love and that it's not just fascination."
The senior sweethearts — who will go back to Suzie's for dinner on Valentine's Day and say they have no plans to wed — said their macabre meeting is proof that no one can predict when Cupid's arrow will strike.
"Things can happen when you least expect them," Ruggeiro said.
"You never know," D'Amico added. "You never know."