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At 101, Josephine was born before Prohibition. She lived a hardscrabble childhood in rural Florida. Just seven years old, her mother died suddenly and she was taken in by her grandmother, a warm-hearted but stern woman who instilled in Josephine a tireless work ethic. Still a child herself, Josephine took odd jobs cleaning homes and caring for the children of local families. “I was taught to work, and children did what they were told,” she recalls with a sense of pride.
Josephine loved caring for children, but she craved life in the big city, a place full of music and vibrant people. At 15, she secured a job as a live-in nanny for a wealthy family in Yonkers and made her way to New York City.
After Josephine tucked the children into bed, she would listen to a Cab Calloway record on her small gramophone and dream of dancing in the city’s trendy nightclubs. Josephine eventually settled in Harlem while continuing to work as a nanny. Even in her thirties, children cheered, “Hi Granny!,” while hugging her legs affectionately.
I had my church friends and my boogie-woogie friends!
I was a devil on the dance floor.
In her free time she got to dance — just as she’d dreamed. “I had my church friends and my boogie-woogie friends! I was a devil on the dance floor,” she laughs. A photo of Josephine standing outside the Savoy Ballroom in a black lace dress, black velvet gloves and matching cloche hat hangs near her front door, a reminder of more youthful times. “We all was young once upon a time.”
In 1960, Josephine met a dashing man with strong, sturdy shoulders named Henry. They were the closest of friends for nearly a decade before deciding to marry. The couple adopted a baby girl named Cynthia. For Josephine, who had spent so many years taking care of children, it was a joy to have a child of her own to love and nurture. She still gushes about Cynthia, who is now an aging grandmother herself, unable to look after her mother.
In their fifty years together, Josephine and Henry shared countless memories, but she will never forget the day six years ago when Henry was diagnosed with colon cancer. They tried to stay optimistic, convincing each other he would get better — but almost in an instant, he was gone. “We finished dinner and went to bed like we always did. But he never woke up.”
She gives the best hugs!
Today, Josephine has no one with whom to share stories from her ten decades of life. And with her isolation, Josephine must confront the hard realities of aging: failing eyesight, knees that never stop aching and expensive medications which have drained her already meager savings. With her wheeling walker in disrepair and no money for an electric scooter, Josephine is trapped in her home. Thankfully, Citymeals provides a lifeline to the outside world. She beams when her meal deliverer Angie arrives. “She gives the best hugs!”