Now 87, Arlene vividly remembers her days growing up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn during the Depression. Her mother made the family’s clothes only using brown or navy cloth. “They were the best colors for hiding dirt,” she laughs. One year, her mother and father scrimped together enough money to send Arlene to summer camp upstate. When Arlene came back to the city, she hated being indoors. She would wait impatiently for the school day to end so she could sit in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and read. “I had the perfect spot where no one could find me. It was so peaceful.”
Arlene’s father eventually found work in the garment industry and went on to open his own shop. With the extra money he set aside, he would take Arlene and her sister to The Metropolitan Opera, exposing them to the culture they’d missed in the family’s frugal years.
The library around the block became a refuge for her and she enjoyed being surrounded by people who loved reading as much as her.
Just as Arlene was graduating from high school, her father was diagnosed with cancer. Arlene remembers how he refused to have surgery, because it came during his busiest season. By the time he could take leave, it was too late and he passed shortly after.
Determined to work as hard as her father to honor his memory, Arlene landed a job with Hearst. She threw herself into an advertising career, eventually holding positions with Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan magazines. It was while working at Hearst that Arlene met her husband. They were married more than fifty years, and Arlene now tries to hold on to their happiest memories. Still, the day that her husband fell remains painful. “He was never the same after that,” she explains, through tears.
Arlene cared for her husband day and night. Sitting at his bedside, they would reminisce about their trip to Paris. Within the year, her husband passed away. The library around the block became a refuge for her and she enjoyed being surrounded by people who loved reading as much as her.
One dangerously hot summer day, Arlene was walking to the library when she fainted just outside the doors. A woman nearby, named Judy, helped her inside and gave her water. The fall left Arlene reliant on a walker, and she began receiving home-delivered meals from Citymeals. Unable to get out like she once did, Arlene expressed interest in the Friendly Visiting program, which matches volunteers with isolated seniors in need of companionship. By a stroke of luck, the Citymeals volunteer she was paired with was Judy.
Arlene and Judy have since formed a close bond through their weekly visits. The two relate on a very personal level, having both lost people dear to them. With Judy, and a home-delivered meal, Arlene has a friend she can count on and the comfort of knowing someone will always check on her.