When Marietta Capizzi immigrated to the United States from Sicily at the age of 18, Woodrow Wilson was president and World War I had ended just the year before.
That was 1919. Saturday, Capizzi, born Jan. 29, 1901, celebrated her 110th birthday with family and other well-wishers at the Sunrise Senior Living complex in Glen Cove, where she has lived since she was 105. Before that, she lived in Valley Stream, where she moved about 30 years ago. Earlier, she lived in Brooklyn.
To be sure, the years have taken their toll. She needs a wheelchair and has to be helped out of it. She uses an earphone set with an amplifier because she has trouble hearing.
But her sense of playfulness is intact. When a reporter said she wanted to interview her for a story, Capizzi smiled and said, "Not too hard a question." And when her son, Peter, helped her up to get closer to blow out the candles on her birthday cake, her finger accidentally landed in some frosting; she quickly licked it off, smiling all the while.
"She's always been a happy lady," said Peter Capizzi, 79, who lives in Old Brookville. "It's remarkable that you can sit and have a conversation with her."
He said he never remembered his mother being sick except for colds, and she still has her own teeth.
The secret to long life? "Well, I guess everybody knows you eat a lot of spaghetti and meatballs. And drink homemade wine," she said. For breakfast, though, she usually has some orange juice, a slice of toast and coffee with cream.
Dressed in a bright red suit jacket with a black skirt, she recounted many memories of her life. She sailed to the United States to visit her sister in 1919, but stayed after she was persuaded to marry a family friend, Frank Capizzi. Their marriage lasted 73 years until he died, about 15 years ago at the age of 99, Peter Capizzi said.
When younger aides at the assisted-living complex ask her advice for a happy marriage, she often tells them, "Whoever you are with, treat them good," said Richard Cupelli, the complex's executive director.
The Capizzis had two sons. Anthony died about five years ago at the age of 82.
Marietta Capizzi was primarily a housewife all her life but helped her husband run a candy store and later did work as a seamstress, Peter Capizzi said. She has five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. She was the youngest of 18, but only nine made it past childhood and Marietta is the sole survivor.
An embodiment of the saying "You're only as young as you feel," she said Saturday: "I'm still a young girl. I feel good for my age."