Bowling and bourré have kept 100-year-old Lena Larocca Mosca young

Published 9:50 am Friday, February 3, 2023

A visit with Lena Larocca Mosca and two of her five daughters is a reminder that Lake Charles was once home to a thriving Italian community. Mosca’s grandparents immigrated to New Orleans along with hundreds of thousands others and eventually made their way to Lake Charles, probably around the late 1880s. This was during a period of heavy recruitment in Sicily by the Louisiana Sugar Planters Association.

Mosca recently celebrated her 100th birthday, joining that less than two percent of the country’s population, a centenarian with the complexion, hair and stately posture of someone much, much younger.

Memories of her growing up years include grandparents telling her how they traveled “bunched up” on the lower deck of a ship. It is the Italians who introduced new fruits and vegetables to the state’s largesse and expanded the truck farming industry here.

This farm fresh produce was instrumental in helping a boy win Mosca’s heart. Ben Mosca (April 1914-April 1993) got his future wife’s attention by throwing peas at her when she wasn’t looking. It was on Railroad Avenue, where rows of truck farm stands sold items such as strawberries, okra and cheese. Ben and Lena married in 1941. She was 17, and thinking back on so many great memories, she called that time in her life the happiest even though times were tough. Money was tight. In addition to supporting Lena, Ben was responsible for supporting his mother, a widow. Lena pitched in, waiting tables at The Aragon, “an old cafe on Ryan Street.” and the Hob Knob, owned by the family that later opened Joseph’s Pizza.

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It has been said that an active lifestyle can add years to a person’s life. Perhaps that’s Mosca’s secret. She was active in church and raised her family in a time when neighborhood rosaries were popular.

“All the neighbors took turns and they would say a rosary at the different houses,” Mosca’s daughter Lucille Gothreaux said.

When asked if she cooked, the tone in Mosca’s response was incredulous. “Did I cook?”

The Sicilians grew good things to eat. The women cooked, and those foods have left the sweet mark of tomato sauce and pasta on not only Louisiana cuisine, but on cuisine throughout the world.

Mosca’s pasta sauce took three days to make, and her meatballs were legendary (among the family at least.). On holidays, her five daughters and their husbands, six grandchildren, nine great grandchildren and four great, great grandchildren gather for the holidays and make fig cakes and Sfincione, a traditional Sicilian focaccia topped with oregano flavored tomato sauce. Like pizza, it can be topped. The family didn’t dine out a lot, but when they did it was never at an Italian restaurant. No restaurant could match what they were accustomed to being served at home.

Mosca has always been an early riser and up until recently, she cared for her large yard, weeding her way around it when it had many more plants than it has now.

She bowled all over the United States and was secretary of the Big Top League. Her daughters joined a league as soon as they were able, and one of them bowled for the LSU bowling team.

“She loved bowling,” Gothreaux said. “I remember when she broke her collarbone and taught herself to bowl with her left hand.”

Playing bourré and visiting the casinos constituted grand entertainment for Mosca, and she especially enjoyed the trip to Las Vegas with her daughter Lucille.

“That’s because everyone asked her if we were sisters,” Lucille said. “That happened a lot when we were together.”

When asked about her wins at the tables, Mosca shrugged her shoulders demurely, lifted her chin slightly and said, “You win some, you lose some.”

The nurturing and care of her daughters – she repeatedly called them her good girls – was a constant theme during the interview. If she ever wanted a boy, she didn’t say so and today those girls are a definite, “win.”

They also have great memories of their mother. She dressed them to the nines, hats and all, to go downtown or to church. She made many of their dresses. When Lucille was frightened – today she is a great grandmother – she would hide herself in her Nonna Ursula Larocca’s full, ankle-length skirts, the fashion of the times. Mosca had a vivid memory of her doing so.

Each daughter takes a turn staying a night with their mother on weekdays. On Sunday, they all get together.

Janice Hall has been Mosca’s caregiver for two years. She said she’s never seen anyone more appreciative of even the smallest gesture. Making the transition from a mother who cared for her girls and led an active lifestyle, to a woman who needs a hand has taken some getting used to, but Mosca takes it in stride, happy to be here, appreciative. Sometimes, her memories fail her. But when they do, her girls spark the best ones.