By Muriel J. Smith |
They were all there – the sons and daughter and their spouses, the grandchildren and their spouses, the great-grandchildren, the cousins and other family members from across the country from Hawaii and California to other parts of New Jersey. And they all had a wonderful time. But if the truth be known, it was the 100-year-old Salvatore Librizzi whose birthday all were celebrating who had the most fun.
Librizzi, tall and distinguished-looking, delighted everyone with his stories of the last 10 decades – a life filled with good humor, hard work, loving family and a talent for making other people happy – at the gathering of more than 75 friends and relatives on Oct. 6 at the Little Silver home of his daughter Nina and her husband, Ron Riccio.
Now living in Little Silver, Librizzi came to the United States in 1936 with his mother and two sisters, to join his father and brother already in their new homeland escaping the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini and making a home for the family on Monument Street in Jersey City.
Librizzi was 17 and already had a trade; he had learned barbering at his godfather’s shop in Sicily, opting for that rather than the tailor apprenticeship his mother originally suggested. “I didn’t want to sit in a shop and watch a tailor sew for a couple hours after sitting a couple of hours in a classroom,” he explained solemnly. Watching his godfather and meeting all the customers in the barbershop was much more fun.
Once in the United States, Librizzi went to work immediately cutting hair in Ralph Morelli’s barbershop. But he also helped out in his father’s produce market in downtown Jersey City, and perhaps that’s where his affection for great fruits and vegetables and his great ability to cook grew and developed. Today, he can name all the flowers in his garden, and can tell you how to season freshly picked zucchini with garlic and oil and make enough to keep some in the freezer for further meals.
It was eight months after the attack on Pearl Harbor when Librizzi, who had tried to enlist in the Navy earlier but was told to go home because he was an immigrant, was drafted in the Army. Less than six months later, he was a United States citizen.
After four years in the Army, serving with the 795th Military Police Battalion throughout Europe and the South Pacific, Librizzi returned home to Jersey City and met his wife at a church dance. He had attended after walking 2 miles from the Sicilian Club “because nobody was there.”
Francesca came from “uptown” in Jersey City but the two fell quickly in love, married in 1948, and raised their children while he continued to make his living as a barber. He and his brother Dominic opened Librizzi Barber Shop at the corner of Ege and West Side avenues and had a successful 55 years of tonsorial work until he retired.
Life has changed over the past century, Librizzi is quick to point out, and it isn’t as easy or as much fun as it used to be. Where in his youth he could walk safely along any street in Jersey City, it isn’t so any more, he said. “It’s narcotics. Too much of that. And kids don’t listen to their parents. It’s a shame. So much has been destroyed.”
But even with the changes, life is certainly wonderful in the United States, according to Librizzi. He still enjoys gardening, likes several TV shows he watches regularly, including “Jeopardy,” and walks 2 miles a day, once in the morning, once in the afternoon.
He loves fishing, was a great crabber and loves the beach. He said he and Francesca had a wonderful loving 68 years together until her death three years ago following a long illness in which Librizzi was her primary helpmate and caregiver. His children – Sal and his wife Eva who live in Manasquan, Joe and his wife Mary Ann in Howell, and Nina and Ron – visit often, as do grandchildren and great grands.
So, to what does this charming centenarian credit with his long and healthy life? Well, he explained with a grin, he doesn’t ever drink wine, the result of helping his father for many years making wine in the family basement. The aroma of the fermenting liquid was definitely not to his liking and turned him off any alcohol. He admits to a cigarette or two or three a day a while back, but said he never smoked much. His favorite beverage is Coca-Cola, and he has some coffee, but not much.
Perhaps his longevity is the result of the good genes he inherited. Or, “Maybe it’s just from being nice, being kind, and loving everybody,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes. “God’s been good to me, so I want to be good to God.”
This article was first published in the Oct. 25-31, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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