EDISON – When Amy Aaroe was 8 years old, she asked her mother an inquisitive question after realizing people pass away.
Her mom, Emma Aaroe, told her daughter not to worry about her.
“I’m going to live to 103,” Emma Aaroe told her daughter.
This year, she is close to reaching the age she told her daughter. On Dec. 27, Emma Aaroe celebrated her 100th birthday with a small celebration in her room at Whispering Knoll Assisted Living facility in Edison with cupcakes and birthday cards.
Because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the family was not able to get together. The Whispering Knoll staff shared the milestone celebration through videos and pictures with the family.
“It’s sad this year of all years, we can’t really see her,” Amy Aaroe said, noting her mom suffers from severe dementia.
Emma Aaroe was born in Paterson. She was a preemie, born two months early at three pounds. She was the first child born to Edwin and Emma Earley. She became the eldest of four siblings.
“[My mom’s] grandmother created an incubator out of a laundry basket,” Amy Aaroe said of how her mother survived an early birth.
In 1929, the family moved to Woodbridge and lived in a home near St. James Catholic Church on Grenville Street. It was a rough time: Emma Aaroe’s father was a World War I veteran who served in France, and there was baggage from the Depression in 1929. When the family moved to Woodbridge, Edwin Earley took on various jobs.
Despite rough times, Emma Aaroe shared stories of wonderful times growing up in Woodbridge, from walking to school No. 1, which is Mawbey Street School, and School No. 11, which is Ross Street School, and spending time with girlfriends.
“She said School No. 11 was her favorite because it was built the same year she was born,” Amy Aaroe recalled her mother sharing. “Life was tough, but my mom’s mother made sure the family never went hungry and they stayed safe and warm.”
After high school, Emma Aaroe learned secretarial skills and got a job at Prudential Insurance in Newark. She rode the bus from Perth Amboy to work.
“There she met and got to know my father, Don,” Amy Aaroe said. “He worked in a mailroom in New York City. He was two years older than her.”
Amy Aaroe said her mother’s family did not have a phone, so her father left a message in chalk of what time he would pick her up for their date on Main Street near the train station.
After going steady, Donald “Don” Aaroe joined the U.S. Navy in 1941 during World War II.
“When he was stationed in the South Pacific, they did not see each other for three-and-a-half years,” Amy Aaroe said. “My dad wrote letters to my mom and had sent an engagement ring from San Francisco. In a letter, he wrote when he got home they would get married and he would build a house for them to live there forever. Her response was ‘I’ll be on the dock in a white satin veil.’ ”
Donald and Emma Aaroe married Oct. 27, 1945. Amy Aaroe said she learned this from stories from her mom. She said her parents unfortunately had burned their letters because they felt it was just between them and too personal to share.
Just as he promised in his letters, Don Aaroe built a Cape Cod-style house on Elmwood Avenue for Emma which is where they raised their children, Amy and Chris. Don Aaroe worked with his father as a carpenter and in 1963 he was hired as supervisor of new construction by the Woodbridge Board of Education and retired in 1983 as supervisor of Building and Grounds. Emma Aaroe was a stay-at-home mom.
Don and Emma Aaroe lived in the house together until Don passed away in 2009 at the age of 91. Emma stayed in the house until she moved to Whispering Knoll in 2018.
“My mom and dad lived a good, good life together. They loved one another dearly,” Amy Aaroe said. “They traveled to many places in the United States and overseas and were members of First Presbyterian Church of Woodbridge.”
Amy Aaroe said her mother’s dementia is heartbreaking. She said the last time the family – who includes her daughter and her brother Chris, his wife, their daughter, as well as two grandchildren – were together for Christmas, her mother wasn’t able to recognize who they were.
“She knows we are people who love her,” she said. “There are two generations she doesn’t remember at all … it’s very sad.”
The Aaroes’ history growing up and living in Woodbridge Township is preserved through an oral history interview in 2009 through the township’s oral history project.