1913—It was the year Woodrow Wilson became president, the year Grand Central Terminal opened, and the year Frances Abbracciamento was born. Having just celebrated her 107th birthday, the Breezy Point centenarian can say she lived through the years of the Spanish Flu, World War I, World War II, The Great Depression, Hurricane Sandy and most recently, she became a coronavirus survivor, but it is her big heart, her hard work, her positive attitude and inner strength that far exceed her impressive age.
On May 9, a parade of fire trucks from Breezy Point and Coney Island, and cars full of family, neighbors and friends, drove by the home of Abbracciamento as she celebrated her 107th birthday. Drive-by celebrations are becoming part of the new normal in the age of coronavirus but this was certainly the first to celebrate someone who is 107! And she just recovered from the coronavirus herself! It was a chance for everyone to celebrate that accomplishment and the many that the beloved Breezy Point centenarian has had throughout her long life.
On May 9, 1913, Frances entered the world, born to immigrants from Sicily, who Abbracciamento, with a mind still sharp as a tack, called, “wonderful parents,” during an interview with The Rockaway Times. Her father, a bootmaker, and her mother, a crafts teacher, eventually opened a grocery store in Brooklyn. Opening New York businesses would become something Abbracciamento carried on into her adult life. In 1941, at age 26, Abbracciamento married the love of her life, Sal Abbracciamento. She can still recall the details of their honeymoon in Florida and Cuba, where Sal could watch some of their favorite ballplayers from the Brooklyn Dodgers, train for the upcoming season.
“The moment we met, we fell in love. He was the most wonderful man, a wonderful husband and a devoted father," Abbracciamento said of her late husband. “What did he call you?” Francesca Abbracciamento, Frances’ eldest granddaughter prompted. “A pain in the neck most of the time,” Frances quipped.
The couple had four children. That four has branched into a family tree of nine grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren, “and two more on the way,” Abbracciamento said.
While attending Brooklyn College, Abbracciamento worked as a milliner, a hat sales clerk at Namm’s Department Store. In the ‘80s she worked as a postmistress at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. However, most of her career, she spent her time helping her family run some of the most well-known restaurants in New York City. In the late 1930s, Sal had opened his first restaurant, Sal Abbracciamento on Liberty Avenue in Brooklyn. It was the first of many family-owned restaurants for the Abbracciamentos, including the famous Abbracciamento on the Pier on Canarsie Pier in Brooklyn. The legacy still continues with Frank Abbracciamento’s recently opened restaurant in Lynbrook, which Frances says she still helps her son with as an adviser. “I’m not retired,” she said.
The Abbracciamento name became a big staple in Brooklyn, not only for the restaurants, but for the family’s service to the community. The couple led several philanthropic efforts, which are still recognized today, with P.S. 108 in Brooklyn named the Sal Abbracciamento school. Frances went on to serve Brooklyn even further as a state committeewoman, a democratic district leader and the School Board President in Brooklyn’s District 19.
However, the Abbracciamento name also became a staple in Breezy Point. After being invited down to the beach town by their friends, the Ferraras, in 1966, the Abbracciamentos realized what a special place Breezy was. “They invited us down for the day and we loved the place. A week later we bought a place of our own on Pelham Walk,” Abbracciamento said. Unfortunately, Sal Abbracciamento only got to enjoy their new summer home for two months. He died in 1966.
Abbracciamento’s love for her husband never died, and neither did her love for Breezy Point. It was the place where she and her family opened the Bay Terrace restaurant, which stood where Kennedy’s now stands, and eventually Abbracciamento had a year-round home built in the community, where she still lives today. “I love Breezy Point,” she said of the place where she’s affectionately known as, “Mrs. A” to neighbors and friends.
Mrs. A mostly lives alone, with the exception of an aide, Dorothy. “She’s been such a wonderful source for me. She’s like one of my daughters,” Abbracciamento said, adding that while Dorothy helps her, she still gives her the sense of independence. After all, Frances still calls the shots, even while being more physically limited. She still remains active in the kitchen by telling Dorothy or her family how to cook a family recipe, recalling every detail down to the last seasoning. As a lover of gardening, she makes sure Dorothy waters her plants, something Frances was doing by herself up until she took a fall at age 102, breaking her hip and shoulder.
Despite those small mishaps, Frances Abbracciamento remains a woman of good health. At 107, she doesn’t even wear glasses—something that comes in handy as she actively reads books and newspapers on her Kindle and constantly stays in touch with her many friends and family members through texting and FaceTime on her iPhone. Between recalling details of her long life, Abbracciamento took breaks to check her texts, sharing one from a family member of a photo of one of her many great-grandchildren, Enzo.
When Abbracciamento became ill in March, it was a scare for the whole family. It wasn’t until April that they learned she had the virus now impacting people across the globe. Through a few rough weeks, the family feared the worst for their matriarch, who rode out the virus at home. But Frances bounced back. “I don’t have the virus,” she proudly said the day before her 107th birthday.
Even Abbracciamento herself is surprised by her age. “It’s mind boggling,” she said. For the blessing, she credits the love of her family, and God. “It’s because of the love of my kids, my family and the children who love me and I love back. I’m so blessed for everything God had given to me and I’m so thankful. I’ve had a wonderful life and I have no regrets of anything.” She also holds some philosophies to carry her through. “You have to be HIP—have Honesty, Integrity and Principle” and “Always look ahead, never behind.”
Before her birthday, Abbracciamento offered some more of her secrets to longevity and some of her birthday wishes—”To love, to forgive, to forget, to bless, and to wish people well and not bad,” she said. “I wish everybody had everything in the world that they wanted and to not suffer in any way, for children to grow up strong and educated and fulfilling their dreams, and for all of my grandchildren to be who they want to be. I just want to see happiness and joy.”
By Katie McFaddenBLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS