Article by Roger Newcomb | Owl Staff
Roger Newcomb has learned many things about life and living from 99 year-old “Cassetti.”
“How old are you?,” asked Aurora upon meeting me for the first time at her son’s house. “Who me? I’m fifty,” I answered. This exceptionally cognizant, ninety-nine-year-old woman, as she’s cleaning the top of a staircase, stops wiping, stands up straight, turns to look down at me and says in a thick Staten Island accent,” You look like you’re ninety with that f*ck’in beard!” That was the only thing that needed to be spoken from this woman’s mouth to make me fall absolutely in love with her!
Since that moment, I have been blessed and am so appreciative of the fact that many more words of candor, wisdom, and grace have been spoken from the mouth of this very gifted person. It’s been a rather wonderful play for the two of us to discover just how deep our sense of humor lies within ourselves, towards each other, and the world surrounding us.
“After all of the years that I have lived, I find that there are only two things that a person needs to be concerned about. Number one: Love. To love yourself and others, and number two: treat people the way you want to be treated,” said the elderly siren as she continued to ponder one of life’s greatest questions. “Oh! Ya look like you’re ninety-nine with that f*ck’in hairdo,” I retorted.
Aurora looked at me with surprise and with a smile covered in smirk, responded, “I’m older than you. You’re not allowed to say that!”
Aurora Angelica Laura Cassetti Cosgrove. At least that’s what she said it was when I asked her what her full name was.
“Actually, it’s Aurora Cassetti on my birth certificate,” she had remarked after pondering the question further. I had already heard her being referred to as “Laura,” so I inquired further as to where that particular name came from.
“No one could say the name “Aurora” back in those days,” this wonderful magnet of a human being commented. “I had just come from living in Paris to Staten Island, and my English was severely broken as a result of my mother only speaking a combination of Italian, Latin, and French around the house.”
Most people would hear how she pronounced her name and often asked what an Aurora was, so the name “Laura” was born out of the lack of others being able to properly pronounce her given name.
I was recently invited into Aurora’s life as a result of her two children, both of whom live locally, needing help to take care of their aging and increasingly memory lapsing mother. I could not have foreseen what a delight and privilege I was going to experience in being able to be in the presence of this marvelous woman.
Angelica Albertelli, Aurora’s mother, was a supreme example of what a human can be after being raised in an influential and very educated Milanese family. Her Northern Italian upbringing resulted in her being able to speak five languages as she ran a general store owned by both her and her husband while raising four children at the height of the Great Depression.
In 1922, when Aurora was just three months old, Angelica told her husband that she was not going to raise her children in the United States, so after extending an invite to her husband to join them, Angelica moved to Paris, France with two boys and a nearly newborn baby girl.
Mr. Cassetti decided to remain stateside, choosing to work hard on building a life in New York City, and his decision would eventually result in his wife returning with the children. She returned some eight or nine years later, and, in a “New York Minute,” they added another baby girl to the family count.
“It better be more than nice, or I’m jumping on the first boat back to Europe,” the elegant Mrs. Albertelli had emphatically requested of her fellow Northern Italian born and raised husband. Before she had made the journey back across the “pond” with her three young children, Mrs. Albertelli wanted to make absolutely sure that Mr. Cassetti’s vision of a newly purchased general store was going to be up to her expectations. The building would also be the home of the eventual “neighborhood stars.”
Angelica never changed her name to Cassetti.
“Albertelli’s are more dignified and have a richer history than Cassetti’s, and anybody from south of Rome is not Italian,” the matriarch would exclaim as a result of being victimized and identified with the new wave of Italian immigrants.
Aurora was born and raised in New York City, and I had a feeling that I was about to have quite the experience with an example of what I believe are some of the best humans on this planet.
I’ve wondered many things about the life of Aurora, and one of the things I asked the first year of the World War II generation born New Yorker was about being eighteen years old during the summer of 1940 with the participation of the United States’ engagement in the conflict quickly impending.
“Honey, I was too busy chasing boys and dancing to worry about some war going on!”
She will often downplay her own patriotism when it comes to the United States, but one can find vintage photographs of her and her best friend, Betty, adorned in U.S.O. outfits while volunteering throughout the entirety of the U.S.A.’s involvement. Framed photographs and picture albums can be found everywhere in the D.C. house that Aurora and her husband purchased for themselves and their three children sometime in the early sixties, indicating a long life filled with love and the acceptance of many people that includes family, past housemates, and friends from all over the world.
One of our conversations about life and the witnessing of loved ones passing away before our eyes had her notice my concern with “who’s going to go next in my life,” and she hysterically responded with, “Oh honey, when you get to be my age, they’re all next!”
“No one knew what to call me or what to do with a small, broken English speaking girl like me, so one of the teachers at my school would address me as “Cassetti,” and he promptly requested my presence to the baseball field, where there were all boys, and I got to prove my worth as a player by playing shortstop.”
Everyone that I have met, as a result of knowing this wonderful human being, refers to her as “Laura.”
Her name is Aurora.
I call her “Cassetti.”