Can a house help someone live longer? Eleanor DelSanto believes it can.
The lifelong Barrington resident loves her home on County Road. She loves the handsome trim work that surrounds the interior doorways and she loves the curving front staircase. She loves the fireplace, and the kitchen and her bedroom. The two-story cottage was built 146 years ago on the stretch of road between the Warren River Bridge and the Barrington River Bridge. It has been her home since 1940, and Mrs. DelSanto, who will turn 100 years old this month, takes on a completely serious tone when she says that she could not live somewhere else.
“Staying on my own is keeping me alive,” she says. “I love this house. I couldn’t live anywhere else.”
She holds a few other secrets to long-life, although she is quick to share the tips with anyone who is interested.
Happiness. Mrs. DelSanto says she has always been happy. She can recall growing up in town with her parents and her five siblings and always being happy. “Getting a good start. That may have been part of it,” she says. “I’ve had a good life. We had nice parents. There was always a lot of love for the six children.”
She remembers her father’s backyard vegetable garden and rows of fruit trees and what seemed like miles of grape vines. The family had pigs and chickens, too, and she can still remember how they would slaughter a pig in the fall.
The fresh, home-grown food, deserve some of the credit for her 100 years also, she says. Big meals with the entire family were routine for the DelSantos and continued to be when Eleanor married and had four children of her own.
Her daughter, Carol Araujo, says her mother is a fantastic cook and a perfect hostess and showed off her skills every night, not just on Sundays. She would cook a main dish and sides and then whip up a dessert after the family finished with the meal. Boston cream pie and upside-down chocolate pudding cake and homemade doughnuts. “Oh, those doughnuts were good,” Ms. Araujo adds. Every night was something different, something delicious. She says her mother would shine on the holidays and special events.
Years ago, the DelSantos would can fruits and vegetables all summer long. She can recall how her mother would add a slice of lemon to each jar of canned pears and how sweet those pears would taste in the dead of winter, long after the growing season had ceased.
“We worked hard canning every year,” she says. “But I loved it. I loved being a mother and being a wife. I loved being a home-maker. I was always here.”
Mrs. DelSanto says her world was centered in that house on County Road — in the kitchen and dining room and in the backyard that ran up against the old train tracks. She says her children would wait for the trains to roll by. They would run out through the back door when they heard the train whistle and they would place small trinkets on the tracks, waiting to see what a penny looked like after it was flattened by the heavy steel wheels.
Mrs. DelSanto now has 15 grandchildren (including WPRI meteorologist TJ DelSanto) and 15 great-grandchildren.
“Family is most important to me,” she says. “I had friends, but didn’t get too close to them. I was always too busy making a good life for my children and my grandchildren.”
Mrs. DelSanto says that perhaps it has been her family that has made such a significant difference in her life. The DelSantos have always been close and still are — she says Carol is one of the reasons why she is able to stay living in her own home.
My daughter’s been very good to me,” she says.
There was a time shortly after Mrs. DelSanto turned 90 and gave up her driver’s license when Carol noticed her mother was spending a lot of time by herself, alone. So Ms. Araujo started signing up her mother for programs at the senior center. At 91, she started taking a painting class.
“I love it,” she says. “I love doing it.”
Mrs. DelSanto spends much of her time these days solving word puzzles or painting with watercolors. She has painted pictures of the town hall, the statehouse, the oldest home in Barrington and countless other subjects. She has a painting of her late husband’s first car. In the background she included two people sitting on a park bench looking out across Narragansett Bay.
“That’s my husband and I,” she says, adding quickly that she wanted to add more green to the trees in the painting, but that her teacher, Judy Keeley, told her to keep them as they are.
“It’s not perfect,” she says, “but it’s good.”
Mrs. DelSanto says she used to go out to breakfast every morning with her husband before he died. That was 20 years ago. Now she has some of her meals brought to her by the folks at Meals on Wheels. Although, every now and again someone will take her out to breakfast — she likes Alex’s in Seekonk.
“French toast, bacon and coffee,” she offers when asked what she orders. “There’s nothing like a nice big breakfast.”
Mrs. DelSanto says she has never smoked or drank, and does not like to sit idle. She says she spends much of her time solving word puzzles, and is looking forward to her birthday party this month at the Wharf Tavern in Warren.
“I feel wonderful.”