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At 85 years old, Frances has lived in Brooklyn her whole life. In fact, she’s only been to Manhattan a handful of times. Frances doesn’t see a reason to — she has everything she needs right here.
Frances was born and raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant. “The neighborhood was mostly Italian and Irish back then,” she says. Her family—mother, stepfather, siblings, two uncles and her grandfather — all lived together on Classon Avenue. Frances was one of nine children. It was a crowded house, but one filled with love. And though they weren’t well off, they never went hungry.
Frances was 19 years old when she met her future husband, Frank, and his brother at the McCarren Park Pool. Actually, it was Frank’s brother who initially asked her out on a date. But on the day they were supposed to meet up, he got a bad sunburn and had to cancel. So, Frank called Frances and suggested they go out instead. The rest was history. Luckily, there were no hard feelings on Frank’s brother’s part.
After they were married, Frances got a job as a bookkeeper for a dry cleaner in Greenpoint. It was a small, family-owned business, the kind where she knew all the customers’ names. She worked there for nearly six decades before she retired.
Frank and Frances went on to have two sons. Sadly, both are gone now. One passed away five years ago, within months of Frank’s death from cancer. Her other son had a drug problem and though he’d willingly gotten treatment and gotten sober, he relapsed and overdosed. All three losses hit Frances hard. And not a day goes by when she doesn’t think of her boys.
Now, Frances lives alone in the same apartment in Greenpoint she’s called home for the past 24 years. It’s a ground-floor unit owned by her niece. The walls are covered with photographs. Most of the people in them are gone now, Frances remarks, tears in her eyes.
Only two of Frances’s sisters are still alive, the youngest also lives in Brooklyn and visits from time to time. Frances is still close with her daughter-in-law, who usually takes her to doctor’s appointments. Recent knee trouble has made it harder for her to stop by with the grandchildren as often as Frances would like.
Instead, a nephew calls Frances each morning and evening to check in on her. They always chat about baseball. While some people have their favorite soap opera or talk show, Frances has baseball. “The ball game is my show,” she says. She’s a diehard Yankees fan. When she still had a car and could drive, she loved to go to their games.
Though Frances considers herself to be in good health, she rarely goes out these days. She tires easily and needs a cane to keep her balance. She has a wheeling walker but refuses to use it. It sits in the corner, its seat piled high with magazines and half-finished crossword puzzles. She’s been receiving deliveries from Citymeals for the past seven years. Her whole life, she’s always been a “good eater,” and enjoys whatever’s on the menu. But her appetite is not what it once was. She often splits the meals in two, eating half for lunch and half for dinner.
I can't move from here. I could never.
Now, Frances spends most of her time “doing the Brooklyn thing,” as she says — people-watching from her stoop. Seeing others pass by, going about their lives, keeps Frances from feeling too lonely. When the weather is nice, she can sit out there for hours. As far as Frances is concerned, the neighborhood hasn’t changed much. Most of the neighbors know her. Even those who don’t know her name recognize her familiar face. They usually stop to give her a quick hello and a wave. “I can’t move from here,” Frances says. “I could never.”