Renata, 103: “Embrace Old Age With Serenity”
To celebrate Service95’s 100th issue, we interviewed a group of very special people – all over 100 years old – inviting them to share their wisdom. Here, 103-year-old Renata shares her story…
Born near Verona in Italy on 29 March 1920, Renata, 103, is a great-great-grandma who still likes to go to church regularly, cook whenever she feels up to it, and knit for her family and fellow churchgoers for hours on end (she’s partial to a long game of cards, too). She lives in Rome with her only son, Giancarlo, and his wife Mariella, who take care of her.
Renata spent much of her life in Libya, where her parents settled the whole family – Renata plus her two brothers and two sisters – in the late 1930s. Behind the move was Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who, during that decade, sent some 20,000 farmers to the North African country in an effort to turn it into a full-fledged Italian colony.
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For much of her early twenties, Renata worked on her family farm, tending the land and helping out whenever needed. Then, just as World War II was coming to a close, she married. Her husband, Antonio, whom she had met through shared connections, was two decades her senior, but the age gap didn’t matter to Renata: he was kind, handsome and had a good job as a mechanic in Tripoli. She couldn’t ask for more. In 1947, their son Giancarlo was born.
A little over two decades later, in 1970, as Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi expelled all Italians from the country (which had, by then, gained independence) the three left Libya behind and moved back to Italy. They relocated first to Brescia and then, in 1972, to Rome.
Renata has been there ever since. After her husband died in 1990, she moved in with Amalia, the mother of her daughter-in-law, until she too passed away in 2009. The pair were like two peas in a pod. They were friends, had the same grandchildren, and would easily spend hours playing Canasta [a card game] together. In 2018, aged 98, Giancarlo and Mariella asked Renata to live with them, although “she was managing quite well on her own,” Giancarlo says. She has two grandchildren, six great-grand-children, and one great-great-grandchild. She loves them all equally.
What has been the happiest moment of your life so far?
The birth of my son, Giancarlo.
What brings you joy on a daily basis?
Being with my family.
Have you had a lifelong hobby?
I love knitting. Always have!
How would you describe yourself in three words?
A sharp great-great-grandmother.
Why do you think you have had such a long life?
God gave me this gift. That’s all I know.
What is the wildest thing you have done?
Not so much wild as surprising: getting through the war with my spirit intact. We went through some very hard times, yet I still found ways to stay positive.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about ageing?
That you get dumb or senile. I’m perfectly well.
What advice would you give your younger self?
To embrace old age with serenity.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your life?
Moving countries twice and having to start from scratch both times.
If you could go back, would you change anything?
No. Considering everything, I feel good, and have had lots of great gratifications. I’m happy with how things have gone.
Marianna Cerini is a freelance writer for publications including Condé Nast Traveler, BBC Travel, CNN Style and Fortune