NORTH SALEM, N.Y. – Maria-Angela Catena Cavallaro sat surrounded by family, friends, fellow residents and staff of the Salem Hills Nursing Home as the candles were lit to celebrate her 105th birthday, her 82nd year in the United States.
Cavallaro arrived in the U.S. from Sicily in 1930, the young bride of Italian-born American citizen, Carmello Cavallaro, a shoemaker. They raised a family of two sons and a daughter before she was widowed, 30 years later.
“She never remarried,” explained her daughter-in-law Concetta Cavallaro. “But she was very social. She loved to cook. She made her own bread. She made pasta by hand. She made manicotti.”
She was a great cook, her grandsons, Frank and Carl, agreed. “Lasagna, gnocchi, hand-rolled pasta – she never used a recipe. And she was a great hostess. She’d always have people over and entertain.”
“She had her own garden,” said Frank. “She grew tomatoes, zucchini, broccoli, string beans and cucumbers. She walked a lot, too.”
Concetta added, “And she did a lot of crocheting.”
“She was always active and she always had a positive outlook. In fact, she was pretty strong-willed,” Frank continued. “She never smoked. She lived a simple, clean life. She always had a glass of red wine with dinner, but never more than one.” He was not sure whether her longevity was due to the daily glass of wine or its limit to a single serving.
Along with the birthday cake, balloons and the crowd of well-wishers at the party, there was live entertainment. The youngest guest was Cavallaro’s great-grandson, Chase, not quite 2 years old.
“She’s always treated me like her own daughter,” said Chase’s grandmother, Concetta. “She’s a great mother-in-law.”