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Clarice – having reached the grand age of 106 – is one of our oldest meal recipients.
She lives in a small but tidy apartment in Brooklyn. It’s just big enough that an upright piano can fit in her living room. A cloth placed on top of the keys keeps them safe from dust and she makes sure to play it several times a week.
When asked about living past her hundredth birthday, Clarice whispers softly, “It feels okay.” Yet there is evidence others believe it to be quite special. Framed certificates from the government and people of Barbados hang on her walls, including one that names the modest woman a “National Treasure.”
Born on that tiny Caribbean island, Clarice was raised by her aunt after her parents left to find work in America. Sadly, this meant she never got to know her father as he passed away before she first visited in 1950. While that trip was only meant to be a short holiday, her mother asked her to stay on permanently. Clarice had married as a young woman, but the couple had no children. So Clarice leapt at the chance to reinvent her life, leaving both husband and Barbados behind to become a citizen of the United States.
Although already in her forties, she attended night classes at Erasmus Hall High School and went on to become a nurse’s aide. She found a job at Cumberland Hospital, and spent most of her time there working with babies in the postnatal unit. Clarice was known to everyone in the hospital as the one person who could always help soothe crying infants. New mothers would constantly ask for advice on how she quieted their little ones.
God saved me for a purpose.
Clarice had five siblings, but only two of her sisters are still alive. One is 98 years old and lives up in Canada. She calls Clarice a few times a week to check in on her. Their other sister lives in the area, but at 94 years old the trip is now too long for her to come visit.
Nowadays, Clarice prefers to stay inside her apartment. About ten years ago, she was walking to the local bank to cash her social security check when she was hit by a truck — the tires ran over both her legs. One had to be amputated below the knee, and the other was broken in several places. Her medical team didn’t think she would make it. After six months in the hospital, she was able to leave. Despite being bound to a wheelchair since that time, Clarice continues to count her blessings.