Wareham’s elder: 101-year-old looks back on century and beyond

Jan 9, 2023

101-year-old Vera Caporiccio has been alive for 41% of American history. 

When she was born on Jan. 2, 1922, Warren G. Harding was President of the United States. Only 1% of American households had both electricity and indoor plumbing. The U.S. population was a third of what it is today. Prohibition, the Jazz Age and the Roaring ‘20s were well underway. Radio was in its infancy. The movies were silent — but on the day of Caporiccio’s 101st birthday party, her Swift Avenue home was anything but. 

So many people came to see her that the celebration had to take place over two days. 

“It feels good,” Caporiccio said, sitting in her living room. “I really can’t believe it.” 

She received dozens of cards from her three children, 10 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.

“I was a gift for everyone who knew me,” she said, reading from one of the cards. “Says so right here.” 

Two of “Nana Gigi”’s great grandchildren, 4-year-old Isabella and 2-year-old Juliana, joined her in the living room. 

“There they are,” she said. “Look at them. They’re beautiful. They’re running all over the place.”

Caporiccio beat Covid-19 twice — the first time she had it, she didn’t know she was sick. She bowled with the Mount Trinity Bowling League until she was 96. She attributes her long life to bowling, her diet of fresh vegetables, never smoking, drinking or “fool[ing] around,” and always maintaining her sense of humor.

She still enjoys swimming in her backyard pool. She also enjoys watching Hallmark movies and playing bingo. She keeps her nails painted a vibrant pink. She is an avid fan of the Boston Red Sox, especially David Ortiz, who she calls her “teddy bear.” She attended Red Sox practice games until she was in her late 90s. 

“C’mon, old gal, you can do it,” she said as she walked to her favorite chair and took a seat. “Wowie…” 

“The matriarch,” as her family calls her, has consistently given one piece of advice throughout her life: “Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Cry, and you cry alone.” 

Caporiccio bought her Swifts Beach cottage as a summer home in 1960. She expanded the house and moved in year-round with her 72-year-old son Jim in 2019. 

“She’s always been good to me,” Jim said. “She’s the most optimistic person I’ve ever met.”

Her favorite thing about Wareham was, and still is, the people. 

The walls and tables of her home are covered in 11 decades of family pictures. Old photo albums pack the shelves. Her drawers are stuffed with photos, letters and postcards. Caporiccio has a picture of her caregiver, Shai Gonsalves, on her windowsill.

“She’s the sweetest patient I’ve ever had,” Gonsalves said. 

Caporiccio was one of eight children, born at home in Boston’s North End. Her father was a shoemaker and her mother took care of infants, some of whom slept in her father’s shoeboxes. Her earliest memories are of her mother’s Italian cooking. Pasta was served on every holiday.

“She used to make ravioli,” Caporiccio remembered. “Those were yummy, yummy in the tummy, believe me.”

Caporiccio enjoys Italian food to this day. She serves her own meatballs every Sunday, and taught all of her granddaughters how to make them.

“She makes the best meatballs,” said her daughter-in-law Faith, who considers Vera to be her “best friend.” “She had to hide them in the oven, because everybody would be eating them as soon as she cooked them.”

In the 1930s, Vera and her family moved to a big house in Belmont with goats, chickens and a garden. The extra space made living with seven siblings more bearable, and the farm kept them fed during the Great Depression. In 1940, she graduated from Belmont High School, where she also played on the softball team. During World War II, she was an air raid warden, making sure that all homes were blacked out during drills.

“I had to make sure people were okay,” she said. “That was my job.”

She owned a car with a rumble seat, and gave it to her brother Joe when he came home from Europe after the war. Three of her brothers fought in World War II, and all survived. 

“We were lucky,” she said. “I cried a lot, I missed them.”

After the war, she got a job at Cappy’s Dairy Barn, a restaurant serving ice cream and sandwiches. She took a liking to her boss Attilio, a handsome football player. He asked her out, and for her father’s blessing, which he received. They married in 1949 and would stay that way for 63 years, until Attilio’s death in 2012 at age 92. 

“It was a beautiful day,” Vera said of their wedding. 

The two went into the restaurant business. They owned the Union Market Station in Watertown, a three-building complex where Vera would cook her Italian recipes.

“They’d be lined out of the door waiting to get in,” Jim said. 

The Caporiccios were friends with Rocky Marciano. The boxer’s father used to babysit Jim’s younger brother, and his mother lived on Swift Avenue. This gave the family an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Marciano’s training camp.

“It was a great experience,” Vera said.

After over a century of life, surrounded by thousands of photographic mementoes, Vera said that she has learned nothing more important than living well.

“I just try to live good,” she said. “That’s about the only way you can.”