Born during the Great Depression, 86-year-old Julie credits her grandmother with instilling a strong work ethic. A landlord, she often sent Julie to collect rent after school. “I was a toughie!” she jokes. By the time she was eighteen, Julie was working as a secretary at the Fashion Institute of Technology – a job she held for nearly 30 years. Dazzled by the fashion shows, Julie also loved the sales afterward when she could buy discounted shoes she could never afford otherwise.
Julie spent her weekends dancing with friends at the Palladium. Everyone was dancing the mambo. On one of her nights out Julie met her future husband Vincent. He tripped over himself at first, but Julie taught him the steps and soon they took over the dance floor together. The young couple fell in love and married quickly. Within a year, they welcomed their beautiful daughter Michelle into the world, raising her in a small apartment on the Lower East Side.
After work, Julie would rush home to spend the waning daylight hours playing with Michelle in Tompkins Square Park. And when she got older, Julie would take her to the same fashion show sales. Using what little money she had saved, Julie would always buy Michelle her favorite dress.
Married only a short time, Julie’s husband Vincent died suddenly of a heart attack. Julie was devastated but told herself to stay strong even while raising her daughter alone. In those years, mother and daughter were inseparable, the only family either of them had.
That’s why Julie will never forget the day Michelle received a fatal diagnosis of breast cancer. For three months, Michelle endured unbearable pain. Every day, Julie sat by Michelle’s side trying to offer solace. Once strong and independent, she could barely whisper the words to tell her mother “I love you.”
Reliant on a walker, Julie no longer has the energy to stand and sauté okra and garlic, a recipe passed down from her grandmother.
There are no pictures on the walls of Julie’s apartment. But a small table beside the recliner where she passes most of her time is filled with pictures of Michelle. Each reminds Julie of a happy memory that keeps her going even as her own health has begun to decline.
High blood pressure and arthritic knees have taken their toll. Reliant on a walker, Julie no longer has the energy to stand and sauté okra and garlic, a recipe passed down from her grandmother. And two years ago, Julie suffered a heart attack. After a long hospital stay, she was so happy to be back in the comfort of a familiar place. Julie wasn’t sure she’d be able to stay in the Bronx apartment she’d called home for nearly four decades.
Julie always looks forward to seeing her meal deliverer. She gives him the daily paper and, for a few minutes, they discuss current news and events. “He’s got such energy!” she laughs.