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95-year-old Alice misses her independence – she recalls fondly day trips to Coney Island and the road trips she took to nearly all 50 states after retiring. But a debilitating spinal condition and metal rod in her knee now leave her in constant pain. Even with the assistance of a wheeling walker, Alice struggles to make it to the end of her block.
Alice moved to New York City as a child. Her parents uprooted the family from Virginia seeking opportunity and a future free from discrimination. But their dreams – and Alice’s childhood – were cut short. Her father died when she was only twelve and her mother passed away just three years later.
Orphaned and without any family locally, Alice assumed the role of parent to her five younger siblings. She scrimped and saved to help her brothers and sisters graduate from a private Catholic high school, an opportunity she did not have. Raising five young children, Alice became adept at making and mending clothes. She found work at Macy’s creating elegant hats and pocketbooks. To this day, Alice prides herself on her ability to crochet, knit and sew.
As the years passed, she found love and built a new life for herself. A devoted mother, she worried when classmates picked on her son for being a bookworm. Yet she was secretly pleased, she says, to see him following her example of “reading everything I could get my hands on.”
Widowed in 1975, Alice joined her grown son in the mountains of Colorado after she retired. He bought her a small home in a picturesque town where she volunteered at the local hospital. She was the first person you’d see at the front desk, greeting and talking with people from all walks of life. “If I could, I’d still be volunteering,” she confides.
If I could, I’d still be volunteering.
When Alice wasn’t volunteering, she was traveling. She has wonderful memories of Hawaii’s golden beaches and made plans to take a cruise. Unfortunately, that trip never happened. After experiencing difficulty breathing, Alice made an appointment with her doctor. She listened to his verdict in shock: the high altitude in Colorado was damaging her lungs and she would have to move.
With a heavy heart, Alice returned to New York City ten years ago, settling in Brooklyn. Most days she focuses on the positive. “I’m so glad I have my mind,” she says gratefully. And Alice still treasures the newspapers and books she devours, striving to keep her mind active even as her body declines. But she agonizes over the loss of her shy, brainy son. Soon after she left Colorado, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and deteriorated quickly. He is no longer able to talk on the phone, so Alice has only her cherished memories to hold onto.
Thinking back, Alice says she made 300 true friends over the years. Now there are only two with whom she talks. One is 90 years old and lives in North Carolina. The other is 92 years old and lives in Virginia. With all five of her siblings also deceased, Alice relies on regular visits from Citymeals volunteers to alleviate her isolation.