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At a young 90 years of age, Carmela Maria Leone Favorito has seen it all. Born in San Nicola, Italy in 1931, the third of eight children, a devastating earthquake caused her family to lose everything right before her birth. For the first year of her life, her family took shelter in a cave. Growing up, Carmela’s life was clearly one of hardship, but through it all, Carmela never lost sight of what was important to her: hard work, loyalty, and family.

Carmela’s Story, a memoir written painstakingly by Carmela with the help of family members, chronicles Carmela’s life from when she was a young girl in Italy until she was in her mid-70’s. Today she is just as vibrant as ever and is a much-beloved resident at Cohen Florence Levine Estates Assisted Living in Chelsea.

Carmela met her husband Ciriaco (Jerry) when she was 19 and he was 30. It was an arranged marriage. He was living in the United States; Carmela in Italy. Corresponding only through letters, Jerry arrived in Italy in 1950, accompanied by his mother, to meet Carmela. Jerry and Carmela married and both returned to East Boston to start their life together.

When Carmela first arrived in this country, she was amazed at the running water and electricity. In Italy, she washed her clothes in the creek. Pursuing the “American Dream,” the couple managed to buy a house in Boston at 442 Saratoga Street, with $900 down and a 20-year mortgage. This is the house that Carmela lived in for most of her adult life, moving to 454 Saratoga Street in 2012. Being Italian, Carmela loved to cook for her family, making such specialties as spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, and chicken cacciatore. Homemade meatball sub sandwiches, however, were her most popular entrée.

Although Carmela didn’t speak any English when she moved to Boston, her husband insisted that no Italian be spoken in the house. As he put it, “We already know Italian, let’s learn English.” Carmela and Jerry had four children: Emilio, John and twins Gerald and Marie. Raising her family kept Carmela busy, but she also worked in a variety of waitressing and catering jobs. Although her marriage ultimately didn’t work out and Carmela and Jerry divorced, Carmela still has warm feelings about their years together. After going to school at night to improve her English, Carmela ultimately landed an office job at John Hancock. She worked there for 13 years, often averaging 55-60 hours a week. Her efforts did not go unnoticed; Carmela was promoted and received numerous awards, raises and recognition from her supervisors and co-workers.

Carmela’s children’s education was of paramount importance to her. Emilio received a full scholarship from Harvard and then attended Suffolk Law School; John received a full scholarship from University of Massachusetts Amherst; Jerry and Marie received full scholarships to University of Massachusetts Boston. Carmela was, and still is, so incredibly proud of her children. Tragically, Gerry passed away when he was only 36.

In 2004 Carmela decided, after much deliberation, to finally go back to Italy. Notably, her desire to make the trip was prompted by Lorenzo Teri, who was her first love growing up. Their relationship was rekindled when the two exchanged letters and phone calls in 2000. However, their meeting was not meant to be as Lorenzo passed away in his sleep days prior to Carmela’s visit. Still, Carmela was determined to make the trip and traveled with seven family members to the place where it all began. Her visit to San Nicola was emotional yet valuable. Incredibly, she recognized people she had not seen in 50 years. For Carmela, experiencing this sense of closure gives her story a “happy ending.”

When asked what she enjoyed the most about life at the Chelsea assisted living, Carmela was quick to respond: “I like that I always have friends to talk to, whether it be the residents or the staff. Everyone here is so friendly,” remarked Carmela. “I wanted to live independently, but still have a bit of support.” Carmela added with a laugh, “It’s a pleasure to have people cook for me now!”

“Carmela is such a wonderful addition to our assisted living family,” stated Jennifer Fazekas, Director of Marketing for Cohen Florence Levine Estates. “She is so gregarious, always telling stories and making the residents and staff smile. People just light up when they see Carmela.”

As far as the secret to her longevity, Carmela believes exercise is an important reason why she remains in such good health. “I enjoy walking and exercising. I love to keep busy.” She maintains that she eats right and does not overindulge.

It took Carmela four years to write Carmela’s Story, which John’s wife Robin helped transcribe sentence by sentence. It was a labor of love — a chronicle of one women’s remarkable journey into the land of opportunity and her abiding her love of family. In the book, Carmela’s granddaughter Julia Favorito summed up what makes her grandmother so special. “My Nona is my hero because she is kind, strong, caring, popular, loving, and friendly. She always makes the best of things. I love her with all my heart.”