Much has changed since Anna Mario lived in her first-floor Brooklyn apartment back in the 1920s.
In those days, people were friendlier, they said hello to each other, and they were more attached to their friends and neighbors, according to the 108-year-old, who now lives in St. James Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
“People are more independent now. They don’t help each other, they think they are better than you,” Mario said. “I don’t want to be better than anyone, I want to be what I am and I’m happy,” she said.
A positive outlook has always played a part in her life, according to Mario’s daughter Elaine Campanella of Hauppauge.
“She’s got a good attitude,” Campanella said. “She believes that anything you do, you do with happiness. She says if you smile, the world smiles back at you.”
One of seven children, Mario was born in New York City in 1907. She worked in the garment industry as a machine operator in a factory that made pajamas.
“I worked most of my life and I loved every minute of it,” she said. “We made the most beautiful nightgowns.”
Mario’s husband passed away in 1975, but she stayed in Brooklyn until 1990 when she moved out to Port Jefferson Station. Campanella said her mother remained active after the move, taking bus trips to Atlantic City and participating in senior clubs, even becoming president of one.
According to Campanella, no one in Mario’s family has lived past 100 years old, let alone 108. Mario’s father died when he was 80 and her mother at 62.
Campanella doesn’t think there is a secret to her mother’s longevity, but she did say she always cooked well and she rarely took medication except for the occasional dose of Tums. Her faith always remained important to her.
“If anyone was in trouble or sick she would say a prayer and say it was in God’s hands,” Campanella said.
She said her mother always lived a simple life, never shying away from crises but always handling it as best she could.
“She always tells everyone that if you have a problem, you deal with it. If there is nothing you can do, then you move on.”
Mario lived on her own until she was 106 years old, doing all of her own cooking and cleaning. Heart problems that year put her in the nursing home, where she has been ever since.
“I have a nice life here,” Mario said of the nursing home. “Everyone is friendly and I have a nice time. If I can’t be home, this is the place to be. They make me feel at home.”
She occasionally leaves the nursing home to join her family for holidays and special events, she said.
According to Lori Sorrentino, recreational therapist at St. James, Mario keeps busy practicing tai chi, socializing with friends, dancing in her wheelchair at facility dance events and playing Bingo, one of her favorite pastimes.
Sorrentino called Mario “very spunky,” adding that she has had a great attitude since coming to the facility over a year ago.
“She is very funny and very inspirational. She is just full of life and age does not stop her,” Sorrentino said. “She always says that its good friends and family that keep her going.”
Mario’s family includes four grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews. Campanella said her mother hates to see the younger generation glued to iPods and cell phones.
“It’s just not social — she sees it as detachment,” Campanella said. “It hurts her.”
At her 108th birthday celebration last month, Mario made a toast to her family, urging them to avoid that detachment.
“She made everyone cry when she said how much she wanted the family to stay together,” Campanella said. “Family is what she loves about life. That is her philosophy.”