The phone began ringing at Elizbeth Natoli's Greenbelt home shortly before 6:30 a.m. yesterday and throughout the day Natoli attempted to avoid it and the curious strangers who knocked on her door.
Any time someone knocked or peeped through a window, Natoli's next door neighbor would come outside and say no one was home except a housekeeper who was terribly hard of hearing.
It was all part of an elaborate plan conjured up by the 61-year-old widow who won $1 million in the Maryland lottery the prevous night and simply wanted to be left alone.
"I don't like it at all," she said yesterday evening, referring to publicity. "My heart has been palpitating, I feel weak and sometimes I wish none of this had happened at all."
To a shy but cheerful woman used to church on Sundays, occassional bingo games and daytime television, the $1 million she won is not worth intrusions on her privacy."It will make me and my family more comfortable as far as money is concerned," she said. "I won't have to rely solely on Social Security. But it hasn't done anything for my spirit yet."
Natoli's 65-year-old sister Mae Schossler, however, was overjoyed, so overjoyed that she gave her Geico Insurance employers notice yesterday of her intention to retire next July.
"I don't have to take in wash now that she's won the money," Schossler said, as Natoli giggled.
Smoking long brown cigarettes and sipping coffee, Natoli sat with several admiring relatives in her sister's home on quiet Ridge Road, where she lived since her husband died six years ago.
She said she got little sleep after winning the prize Tuesday night and remember praying that she would be able to continue living the simple and peaceful life she has grown accustomed to.
"I want to be able to walk down the street and say hello to friends without having people point at me and say 'there's the woman with the million bucks'."
"I asked the lottery officials several times if my great-niece could sit on the stage for me because I'm not an emotional person," Natoli said.
"And when she won the only thing she could say was 'Mae, Mae, Mae' trying to console me because I was crying," Schossler said.
Penny Schossler, Natoli's daughter-in-law, reminded Natoli of the experience of the lottery's first winner six years ago, an employe of a donut shop who was forced to quit his job because of harrassment and constant inquiries from strangers. Natoli shook her head slowly and rubbed her arthritic arms.
"The first thing I thought of when I won was how much I wished my husband were alive to share this with me," she said. She said she didn't plan to move away from Greenbelt and hoped to share her winnings with her son, sister, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Father William O'Donnell of nearby St. Hugh's Church said Natoli was a pleasant and devout member of the congregation. "It couldn't have happened to a finer or better person," he said.
Natoli said she tried to go to church yesterday to talk to Father O'Donnell about her experiences after winning the lottery. "I got to within two blocks of the church," she said. "But my heart felt bad and my legs were weak."