Former Lynn seamstress celebrates 110th birthday milestone

LYNN – Ten years ago, when Marietta “Mary” Schiazza of Lynn was a mere 100 years old, Italian passport officials halted her as she attempted to enter their country.As Schiazza’s daughter, Dahlia Dunn recalls, an airport border official held the passport in the air and loudly exclaimed, “This cannot be your mother’s passport. It states she is 100 years old. This women is not 100!”Seconds later, the official’s hand gestures had attracted a gaggle of co-workers who surrounded Schiazza, offering smiles and wishing her a wonderful visit. It was the perfect compliment for any woman.”They were so glad to meet her,” said Dunn, who visits her mother several times a week at the Jesmond Nursing Home in Nahant, where Schiazza has lived since last fall. “Everywhere we went, word had traveled that my mother was 100. We went to her home in Villa Tucci in northern Italy. The people gave us fruits and vegetables. They all wanted to meet her. It was like traveling with a celebrity.”Over the past decade, in addition to Europe, Schiazza traveled to upstate New York, twice to Florida, and to the Bahamas. Sound of mind and body, she has been plagued only by hearing loss. But her globe-trotting days ended last October when she fell at home and shattered a few bones.”She never complains,” said Tony Dunn, a North Shore labor advocate and Schiazza’s grandson. “She had five broken ribs and we didn’t even know it until she was checked out by a doctor.”During an interview earlier this month at the nursing home, Schiazza fielded questions by reading them off a whiteboard scrawled with dry-erase markers. There were the standard ones about longevity, which she attributes to hard work and hard play. And bowling, which she embraced late in life and enjoyed weekly for more than two decades at the Lucky Strike, stopping only when she reached her late 90s. Her bowling friends continue to visit.Schiazza was born March 20, 1897, the same year Thomas Edison patented his first movie camera, Brooklyn became part of New York City, Grant’s Tomb was dedicated, W. B. Purvis patented the electric railway switch, and Spain granted Puerto Rico autonomy.At age 22, unmarried and known as Marietta DiScipio, she arrived at the U.S. immigration center on Ellis Island in New York Harbor in 1919. She had left behind a boyfriend in the old country, whose story emerged when she was asked to recall a treasured memory or favorite year, no easy task given the scope of time.As she has told it, they were in love but her parents disapproved of him, so they would meet in a barn just outside Villa Tucci.”The barn is still there. Like a lot of the others, it’s falling down and still has bullet holes from the war,” said Schiazza’s daughter. “When we passed by, my mother pointed and said, ?This is where I used to hide and meet my boyfriend.’ “Once settled in Lynn, the young woman met another Italian immigrant, Antonio Schiazza, who had been born in the village of Creechio near Villa Tucci. They married and had four children. She worked as a seamstress, primarily at Tom’s Tuxedo on Union Street, while her husband was a tailor for the former Besse-Rolfe clothing store at the corner of Oxford and Market streets. Antonio Schiazza died over 40 years ago.Although skilled with needle and thread, Schiazza spent countless days in her lush and sprawling garden at her Carter Road home, and in her kitchen where relatives and friends dined on her homemade pasta and soups.”She has always had a lot of energy,” said Tony Dunn. “She energizes the other patients here. When she starts walking down the hall, you can’t keep up with her.”Later this month, friends and relatives plan to gather at Dahlia Dunn’s apartment in the King’s Beach Towers on Eastern Avenue for a 110th birthday celebration. Schiazza is looking forward to the party. After all, she’s the guest of honor.

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