By John Burton
Rumson woman recalls a century of living
RUMSON – Rose Rimali has seen a lot. From the Italy of a century ago as a baby and the hardscrabble life of immigrant New York City to her later life and now living with her daughter and son-in-law in their Rumson home, Rimali is amazed at the path her life has taken.
Rimali marked a milestone on Saturday, June 1, that few get to see – the celebration of her 100th birthday.
“I feel pretty good,” she said, acknowledging her back occasionally bothers her and she relies on a walker to get around.
She credited the fact that she never smoked and drinks “a half a glass of wine every day,” as factors contributing to her longevity. Her love of wine comes naturally; her father, an Italian immigrant, made his own.
Rimali’s father came to America in 1911 from the Messina region of Sicily to settle and establish himself in the United States before eventually bringing his family over.
Her father, a gardener in his native country, worked in hotels and “did any odd jobs,” in New York City, Rimali said. “Whatever he could.”
Her family lived in Greenwich Village when her mother and siblings first arrived in New York when Rimali was an infant, and then moved on to the Bronx. There, her parents and their seven children “use to live in a three-room apartment.”
The apartment had a coal stove and a gas meter that needed to be fed with coins to work. “We had to go to 23rd Street to take a bath,” a fair distance from the family home, she said, recalling how the family had to use a public bathhouse at that time.
It was tough times back then. “There were a lot of families struggling like we were,” she said.
Rimali remembered being a young girl and going with her older brother to the movies – silent in those days – during which a pianist would accompany the movie, adding to the excitement.
It was a time when a horse and carriage was the most common type of transportation.
“When a car did pass, we would run outside to see it,” she said. “It was amazing.”
As a young girl, Rimali remembered seeing a man being shot in their neighborhood, clutching his chest and weaving before falling. She remembered telling her mother about it later, thinking the man was dancing.
At 22, she married Lou Rimali, someone she had known for years. “We waited three years to get married because times were so bad,” she said. The couple started their life together and had two daughters. Rimali worked as a dressmaker and her husband worked as a “cutter” in the same factory, cutting cloth for the garments that were to be made.
When Rimali was eight months pregnant, her brother approached them about starting a business, asking if they were interested in opening a small store in the Bronx.
Rose and Lou Rimali invested their life savings in the venture. “We had saved $900,” she said. “To me that was a big deal.”
The store, located in the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx, started out as a modest shop selling housewares and notions. Eventually it grew into a small but established area department store called Crosby’s.
The Rimali family operated the store for 37 years, until Lou Rimali was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Her husband died when he was 67, and Rimali eventually went to live with her daughter and son-in-law, Lori and Bob Slavin, in their North Ward Avenue home.
With her siblings all gone and her parents dying relatively young, Rimali’s long life seemed to surprise her.
“I was the sickly one,” growing up, she said. “When I was in my 90s I thought any day now,” would be her last, she joked.
She doesn’t get to do much cooking anymore, but “she keeps her nose in the kitchen” as others work, son-in-law Bob Slavin acknowledged.
Rimali’s daughter confided that her mother still can make killer meatballs – though she won’t divulge the recipe. The centenarian also still takes out the sewing machine – the one her mother bought for her many years ago – and does some work with it.
Rimali has four grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and will have a great-great-grandchild expected to be born this month. Life is good, even with a few aches and pains, she said.
It’s been a long way and a long time since that little Bronx apartment, as Rimali looks out at on this home, with a built-in swimming pool, neatly manicured lawn and a view of the Shrewsbury River, Sea Bright and the Atlantic Ocean.
“Are you kidding?” she responded when asked how she liked living there, recalling how she would have to make a meal on 50 cents. “When we were children and we saw this,” she said as she pointed to the yard and home, “we would have thought we were in paradise.”