Palma Gervasi is One of Shore’s Newest — And Oldest — Residents

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Palma Gervasi sits in her living room at Community Senior Living in Onancock on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. Photo by Carol Vaughn.

By Carol Vaughn —

A New York City native is one of the Eastern Shore’s newest residents, at age 101.
Palma Gervasi, who will be 102 in August, recently moved to Commonwealth Senior Living at the Eastern Shore, in Onancock.

Gervasi, a vivacious centenarian who still drives a car, came to live on the Eastern Shore after her younger daughter, Diana, with whom she had been living in Pawling, N.Y., purchased a house on Chincoteague, with plans to retire there.

Gervasi was born in August 1920. She was born and raised in the Bronx, into an Italian family.

“It was all country. They used to come up from downtown in the Chevy or the carriage to go to the country. We were the country,” she said, adding, “It was beautiful.”

Growing up in the Bronx was “terrific — you could walk any time of night or day without even thinking of anything happening as a kid. My mother never had to worry,” according to Gervasi, who had three siblings.

Gervasi remained living in the same area after she married and raised her two daughters, Palma Ann and Diana, there.

Her children attended the same school she had gone to for part of their schooling.
Gervasi’s mother immigrated to the United States from Italy with her parents at age 8.
Her father, Michael Briglio, a well-known flautist, was born in this country, on Mulberry Street in New York City’s Little Italy.

“He was quite famous in his time,” including playing under Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, Gervasi said.

Later, he arranged the musicians for popular Broadway shows.

Gervasi enjoyed seeing the shows, especially musical comedies.

Her favorite music is the big band music popular in the 1940s and 1950s.

“The bands were phenomenal. … My husband loved to dance,” she said.

Her father also at one point also had a farm in New Jersey.

“He loved to plant. … That was his hobby,” she said.

Her mother’s father also was a musician, a trumpeter, who was in charge of the military bands at West Point at one time.

Among Gervasi’s outstanding memories are big Sunday dinners, when “everybody gathered, usually at my home” but sometimes at her husband’s family’s home.

The food on the table typically was Italian, especially for the holidays.

“That kept the family together,” she said.

Her own birthday dinner choice every year was gnocchi and a special chocolate cake recipe.
Her daughter, who Gervasi said is a gourmet cook, is continuing some of the family food traditions, including welcoming company frequently and baking a variety of cookies for Christmas.

A Santa Claus figurine and a birthday card from a friend sent to her on her 100th birthday are among treasured items displayed in Palma Gervasi’s new home at Commonwealth Senior Living in Onancock. Photo by Carol Vaughn.

“In my neighborhood, there were three Italian families … and down the hill were Jewish, German, and my mother, God bless her, she had to go swap recipes. So her Jewish friend, they used to come in the kitchen and they used to make all the Jewish goodies,” she said.
There also were two Black families in the neighborhood.

Gervasi recalled that everyone got along well.

“It was everybody — and no one ever thought different of anyone. Today it’s such an issue,” she said, adding, “I lived in a nice time.”

Gervasi married in 1943 and accompanied her husband, who was in the military, to posts in Washington state and Kansas before he shipped overseas to Europe during World War II.
The two grew up near each other and enjoyed parish-sponsored activities, such as dances and the like.

“I knew him ever since I was 13. He was the next-door kid,” she said.

They were married 59 years before he died.

After raising her daughters, Gervasi went to college in her fifties, at the same time as her daughters.

She worked then evaluating the credentials of foreign students for the City University of New York.

Gervasi is keenly aware she is part of what is called “the greatest generation.”

“I saw a lot coming up — a lot of different inventions. The telephone, T.V., going up to the moon, just in one generation,” Gervasi said.

While moving south meant Gervasi has left behind some relatives, she has a grandson in Washington, D.C. and a granddaughter living in Chincoteague.

Now, after a lifetime during which she has witnessed everything from the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, and World War II to the moon landing, the invention of computers and the internet, and more, Gervasi is settling in to her new home, just in time for the holidays.

Welcome to the Eastern Shore, Palma.

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