Finding the perfect hairdresser can sometimes be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
That’s the case for Teresa Romano, whose hairdresser Mario Cacchillo has been cutting her hair for almost 50 years.
“I didn’t expect to have a hairdresser this long,” she admitted. Teresa, who will turn 100 on Sept. 1 although the government recognizes Sept. 2. Romano learned as an adult registering for a passport that her birthday was actually listed as September 2nd. As she was born in her house on Wine Street in East Greenwich in 1918, her birth was not officially registered until a day after the fact.
She and her husband, John, are no strangers to many Rhode Islanders.
Sometime in 1969, when Teresa’s regular hairdresser at the Naval Air Station in Quonset was unavailable to give her a haircut a friend promised to fix her up with an equally skilled stylist. Teresa was reluctant but then pleasantly surprised.
“This is it,” Romano recalls thinking as soon as Cacchillo’s hands touched her hair. After the haircut, she was amazed to find that he cut her hair exactly as her old stylist had done. She immediately recognized his talent, and found herself returning to him whenever she needed a haircut.
Now it’s almost like he is a part of the family.
"My whole family loves Mario," she said. "He's a very kind person. I've never heard of anybody who doesn't like him." She says they have a lot of fun when she comes in for her haircut once a month on a Wednesday.
Mario Cacchillo immigrated to the United States from Italy, and joined the Army during the Vietnam War. He was sent to boot camp in South Carolina for training. However, when it was known that Cacchillo had experience cutting hair, he was sent to Arlington National Cemetery to give haircuts to members of the Honor Guard unit. As a hairdresser for women, he had never cut men’s hair before - but that didn’t deter him.
“They needed a haircut every week,” said Cacchillo of the Honor Guard members. He eventually picked up the technique; he recalls observing other barbers when receiving his own haircut and suddenly understanding what he’d been doing wrong.
Originally the owner of his own salon in Warwick, Cacchillo is now semi-retired and works at the Arthur Company Salon on Warwick Avenue. He describes his line of work as “hard work, but enjoyable.”
After that first haircut, Cacchillo discovered that the Romano family has roots in the same Italian village he immigrated from: Amorosi, Italy. Perhaps it was fate that he would become her hairdresser. Though born in East Greenwich, Teresa still has strong cultural ties to Italy. She describes the section of East Greenwich where she grew ups and the restaurant is still located as culturally diverse, with many French, Swedish, Irish and Italian families.
The Romano family was in the restaurant business for more than 60 years. Pal’s, the family restaurant, was founded by Gioacchino Palermo, Teresa’s father and converted from a grocery store. She recalled how her father questioned why beer distributors provided neon signs to other restaurants but not Palermo’s as it was then called. When Gioacchino learned the name had to be limited to four letters, the name was abbreviated to Pal’s.
Pal’s was very successful. As Romano puts it, “Old customers stayed, and new ones came.” The Romano family was an important part of the community during the time they owned the restaurant.
The restaurant was popular with members of the Navy during the war, Romano recalls. She remembers her mother, Fortuna Palermo, laundering the white caps that sailors often left behind; this earned her the nickname of Mother Ann among the Navy men.
Fortuna had to be persuaded to close the restaurant at any given time. One year, when she was prepared to close on Christmas for once, the brass at Davisville called Fortuna. She was told Seabee Base wives and visiting families wouldn’t have a place to eat Christmas dinner. The restaurant stayed open.
Thersa recalls that her mother also worked at a mill across from Pal’s for a dollar a day; the Palermo children were raised with a strong sense of the importance of money. Teresa’s first job paid $12 a week; as a teenager, she was able to do as she wished with the money only after she set aside a dollar for savings and another dollar, if she chose, for the church.
Romano said that many couples got married as a result of meeting through Pal’s.
“We left with a good reputation,” said Thersa. She said that many customers have thanked her family for their work and for providing them with a place to eat and socialize for many years.
John Romano, Teresa’s husband, had a successful career in the Navy as an officer.
“We had a wonderful life in the Navy,” she said.
John Romano served in the state legislature, starting in 1972. He served as a state representative for two years and as a senator for 11. He began his service in the Navy in 1942. When he retired from the military, he had attained the rank of captain. He turned 95 years of age this past Monday, August 27th.
While Teresa was initially opposed to her husband having a career in politics, she said she “warmed up to it” over time.
While canvassing, John remembers running into many people in the community who knew his wife from Pal’s.
A fan of President Trump, Teresa believes politics should be about progress, instead of the scandals that plague modern times.
Romano believes Donald Trump has the right idea when it comes to how politics should be handled. "He's a businessman," she cited as reasoning. She believes his policies are what America needs right now.
“W-O-R-K is a good word,” she said, quoting her mother.
Teresa had plenty to say about the role Pal’s played in the lives of those in the Rhode Island community; however, she was short and sweet speaking of her own life. “I just want to be happy, not to impress anybody. I’ve been blessed with two good kids and a good husband.”
Still a loyal customer to this day, Teresa continues to check in monthly for her regular haircut from Mario Cacchillo: 50 years and counting.
That’s certainly a lot of hair - and a lot of time for two prominent members of the community to develop such a unique friendship.