Wanda Capellaro was born in Renton on Nov. 6, 1918, in a house next to the cows.
“You could hear the cows moo! ‘Welcome Wanda,’ they were saying,” she said.
Now on Nov. 6, Wanda will celebrate her 100th birthday with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchild. And she spent all 100 years laughing, cooking, eating, drinking and moving throughout Renton.
She was raised in Earlington flats, below Talbot Hill. When they built the Grand Coulee dam, her parents and she were moved to where Interstate 405 is now, and then moved again to Talbot Hill when interstate construction began in the 1960s. The whole family had a few acres, all neighboring each other, and when moving they always purchased land near each other.
Wanda always spoke Italian at home, and her family grew all their food and raised livestock. She remembers her mom used to make the best cheese. Her parents came here from Venice, Italy, to Canada and then to the U.S. Wanda said they came in “under the fence.”
Wanda said she was a worrywart all her life, always needing to know everyone was okay. One night she drove her Model A car around to find her father, searching the roads and found him in a pasture. He’d fallen in a creek, crossed a barb-wired fence and was covered in blood and water.
“And when he got home, boy did he catch hell from my mom. She called him every name under the roof,” Wanda said.
According to the Renton Historical Society and Museum Quarterly, territorial censuses for 1880 and 1889 show only two Italians living in Renton; by 1910 there were 267 Italians.
Growing up in Renton, it wasn’t much of a city, Wanda said. There was one Italian-owned Businello grocery store, where they let them charge credit if they didn’t have the money. They had to drive to get their mail from the post office since they didn’t deliver to their area. The office had a candy store with a blind counter employee that memorized where each candy was and could tell if you were trying to trick him by saying a dollar bill was $5.
“Everything was different,” Wanda said. “Change with the times.”
She attended Henry Ford Elementary School, Renton Junior High and then Renton High School, until 11th grade.
Wanda and her brother would go out and get in skunk cabbage fights, coming home wet, yellow and smelly.
“Everything was a little bit of fun,” Wanda said.
When she was about 11 years old she would walk with her future sister-in-law, Rose, to go pick peas, and later on, her kids did the same. She said she would pick other peas and beans but not strawberries so she wouldn’t have to sit and stand all day.
Wanda learned how to drive in a 1929 Buick, but it had an opposite shift. She had to go up a big hill to get to her friends’ house, and as she was driving past they’d jump in her car, their old-fashioned Italian parents yelling after them in fear of Wanda’s driving skills, who didn’t have a license at the time.
Her late husband Albert Capellaro would come around the house to hang out with her brothers, and she gave him no attention. Later, when he started to only hang with her, they “started going steady.”
After quitting high school, she was “in the doghouse” with her parents and had to get a job. She worked for the Barei family at their meat market and grocery store as a butcher for around three years but did a little of everything. She received a dollar a day.
“I worked seven days a week, made $30 a month and I gave my mom and dad $20 and it helped pay for the light bill,” Wanda said. “And I tried to start a bank account but didn’t get much money in there.”
Wanda married Al in 1939, and they had their first child, Larry, in ‘41. They had three kids, Larry, Janice and Jim. She remembers being pregnant with Jim and picking dandelions for dandelion wine. Family members found some of her over 50-year-old dandelion wine fermenting in her basement and served it at her 99th birthday. Wanda was surprised it was still good and not vinegary.
“This Talbot Hill area, the whole hill was Italian,” Her eldest son Larry said. “Half the time when I was growing up nobody spoke English. And I remember all the swear words. But (Wanda) can still read, write and speak Italian.”
“Nobody speaks Italian anymore, I’m the only one left,” Wanda said.
Her son Jim remembers other Italians waiting for grape trucks at the corner of Rainier Avenue and South Grady Way, to get wine.
Wanda, Al and other friends would take drives to Mount Rainer. Uphill the old Model A cars had drive backward to make it up. Wanda said she remembers packing with lots of wine, homemade cheese and bread. They would also do big neighborhood picnics with food and wine, and hunt mushrooms. Once they snuck into Fort Lewis because all the good mushrooms were there and then ran as fast as they could.
“Can you imagine doing that for mushrooms? You’re crazy when you’re young,” Wanda said.
Her father-in-law brought her kids a pet lamb, and Wanda ended up bottle-feeding it. As it grew older, it would follow her all around and lay on the porch.
“When they slaughtered the lamb, I didn’t eat it. They said it was delicious and it made me cry, my poor lamby pie,” Wanda said.
She didn’t work again until her kids were grown up. She worked for the Barei family again, this time as a bartender at Barei’s Tavern in the summers. There were more customers thanks to the horse track Long Acres, which is now Emerald Downs. Al later owned two racing horses there.
Al Cappellaro then worked at Boeing for 30 years. He eventually rose to a high-level position as a department head for pre-flight preparation before planes were delivered. This authority offered him some professional privileges.
For example, during WWII, Al would bring home prisoners of war from Italy that were being held at Boeing field to join their big 2 p.m. Sunday Italian dinners. Other’s were mad the family was treating prisoners so good.
They also fed train-hoppers who would be traveling by, a thing Wanda’s parents did too.
At 99, days before her 100th birthday, she said she doesn’t have a life secret but that she did what came naturally every day.
“All I know is cook, cook, cook,” Wanda said of her 100 years. “Olive oil, always with a salad. Garlic.”
For young people, she offers this advice: “Keep out of trouble, if you can.”
“Oh boy, what a life,” Wanda said with a giddy laugh.