Fedela DiBenedetto Decker
Well, Fedela finally died last week (April 25, 2019), an occasion of great happiness for her and great sadness for those who knew and loved her.
She was 101 years old and had had enough. She was tired. Tired of living, tired of missing her husband Charlie, tired of missing her brothers and a sister who had all quit this world before she did.
And she was tired of needing a walker, then a wheelchair these last few years. She had been, after all, a most active and athletic person for much of her life, someone who golfed well into her 90s, someone who beat her great nephew Sean at tennis when she was in her 60s and he was on the high school tennis team.
In the end, she had to argue with her body to let her go. True, she had grown frail and weary, she was nearly deaf, and she was just skin and bones - but even so, her body said, hold on there. This heart is still strong, this mind is still capable and we’re not ready to quit just because you want to.
In fact, her long life is a bit of empirical evidence that good genes can trump bad habits. Fedela smoked from the age of 11 until she was 72. She didn’t quit for health reasons - she never had a single problem from the cigarettes - but for financial ones. “These cigarettes are just too damn expensive now,” she announced one day. “I’m not spending the money anymore.” And that was that.
In truth, she was frugal to a fault most of her life. She had to be. Her parents were both dead by the time she was barely sixteen years old during the Great Depression. There were six kids in the family and she was the oldest girl after Clem, the first-born, who was married and lived in the Bronx.
So there they were, five kids living on their own in a house on Main Street in Washingtonville. An aunt and uncle in Yonkers offered to take in the two youngest - Tony and Rose - but Fedela and her brother Alex said they’d like to keep the family together. Let us try, they told the aunt and uncle.
And so they did. They both quit high school, and Alex took over his father’s barber shop while Fedela took over the household.
Money was pretty tight. Each morning Fedela would go down the street to the barber shop after Alex had done a few haircuts and shaves. He’d turn over what little money he’d managed to earn - maybe a quarter, maybe a dollar - and she’d walk to the market and buy whatever her money would pay for. Sometimes it was no more than a soup bone, but she made do. And there were always dandelion greens in the yard for salad.
So she was frugal out of necessity, but she was also generous out of love - with her time and with whatever money she and Charlie had to spare when times got easier. It wasn’t unusual for her niece Beth to arrive home after work to find a pot of soup simmering on the stove and Fedela washing the windows, using old newsprint to give them a final shine and get rid of the streaks.
Fedela lived most of her life in Washingtonville. She and Charlie eventually retired to Largo, Florida, where they made a wide circle of friends and did a lot of golfing. Her cremains will be interred beside those of her sweet Charlie in Largo.
Fedela was pre-deceased by her husband Charlie Decker, and four of her siblings - sister Clem DeSalvo and brothers Alex, Joe and Tony DiBenedetto - and a nephew, Rik Werkman.
She is survived by her sister, Rose Werkman of Blooming Grove; nieces Beth (Bob) Quinn of Goshen, Kris Jaroka of Campbell Hall, Barbara Dentato of Eastchester and Joan DeSalvo of Yonkers; nephew Lou DeSalvo (Ellen) of Kansas; step-daughter Carol Beairsto of Middletown; and several great and great-great nieces and nephews.
At Fedela’s request, there will be no visitation. Interment will be private. She felt a fancy funeral would be a poor use of money. She was, after all, quite frugal. And very well loved.