“Life started when I was 8,” Madeline Tomasicchio said after celebrating her 101st birthday Oct. 25..
“I was asleep before then,” she said, and then she grinned and chuckled.
She didn’t explain the joke, but that sense of humor is probably one of the keys to her long life.
Another key to her long life — she always had a mind of her own and she was ready to fight if anybody tried to bother her.
Tomasicchio was born in New York City to Italian immigrant parents and is the oldest of their six children — she had two brothers and three sisters. Her youngest and only living sibling, Olga Pagano, turns 91 on Oct. 28.
Her parents died in their 50s — mother Filomena at 55 and father Michele at 53.
She started working at 14 to help support her family. Much of that work was done in a factory that made dresses and women’s housecoats. She came by her sewing talent naturally. Her mother was a wonderful seamstress and could cut patterns from newspaper.
Working to help her family forced her to put her dream of becoming a teacher on hold. Unfortunately, that dream was never realized — at least in formal fashion. Living for 101 years — even if life didn’t start until she was eight — has certainly let her teach any number of people any number of things over the years.
Tomasicchio married at the age of 19 and had four children. She survived the Spanish flu, the Great Depression and two world wars.
She has very fond memories of her childhood and her wonderful parents. She smiled as she recalled how wonderful her parents looked when they dressed up. Her mother was very beautiful and her father would wear a derby.
She shares a story about her father having a “laughing” record — when the children (along with visiting friends) were getting rowdy, he would gather them in a circle and put on the record — that started with the “hehehe” laughter and ended with belly laughs — and soon everyone was in exuberant high spirits.
“My father was very strict,” she said. “I remember his telling me ‘Never disgrace me coming home pregnant,’ and I had to tell him I was not that kind of girl.”
He kept a tight leash on her, though. One time she and a boy from an upstairs apartment slipped away and were kissing under a nearby bridge.
“I looked over and there was my father.” She said she ran all the way home and locked herself in her bedroom. Her father came home and started pounding on her door until her mother told him she was alright, then he went upstairs and asked the boy’s father if his son was going to marry her since they’d been kissing.
That strict upbringing didn’t dampen her spirits. She loved to dance and even took ballroom dancing lessons. A neighbor had a big place and had a party there about every Saturday, something she never missed. There was always music in the house and her children all started dancing at an early age.
After her parents died, she was the matriarch of the whole family and filled the role of mediator whenever trouble was brewing.
Tomasicchio lived in the Catskill Mountains of New York for 50 years before she moved to Payson, at the age of 95, to live with her daughter, JoAnn Marlin. She has three other children: Joseph Tomasicchio of Sedona, Phyllis Altieri of Auburndale, Fla. and Louise Halpern of Raleigh, N.C.
Her daughter JoAnn put together a celebration for Tomasicchio’s birthday, and had both her sisters visiting for the event.
Tomasicchio said the party was great.
“She is a true blessing to everyone who has the privilege of knowing her. She has endured the trials of life with a positive attitude, is everyone’s champion, pursues excellence, and is a caring, loving person to whom she comes in contact.
“Madeline is entertaining, has a wonderful sense of humor and loves to share stories with the residents and caregivers at the Frontier House where she now resides,” writes JoAnn.
Tomasicchio’s mother raised her children with the saying, “Do good and forget about it; do bad and think about it.”
That motto is something Tomasicchio has tried to live all 101 years of her life.