100% of your donation will be used for the preparation and delivery of meals, thanks to our partnership with the New York City Department for the Aging, along with gifts from our board of directors and others designated for administrative expenses.Donate Now
Enter 94-year-old Lynne’s apartment and you’ll find it brimming with photographs and mementos from a long career in show business. From Broadway’s dazzling lights to tiny cabarets, Lynne has spent nearly all her life entertaining her fellow New Yorkers.
Only a few years ago, Lynne was still performing. She regaled audiences with stories, songs and even a little backstage gossip. “I’ve retired three times,” she laughs. It wasn’t the applause or brushes with fame that kept Lynne working so long. It was the camaraderie, the sense of belonging.
The only child of hardworking immigrant parents, Lynne learned to keep busy from an early age. When a relative gave her a black Steinway piano at age five, she instantly took to it, learning to play folk songs from her parents’ native Russia. Today, that same magnificent piano sits unused in her apartment, collecting dust.
Though her hands are too twisted with arthritis to play, just hitting a few keys brings her back to singing in the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel or performing in Broadway shows like A Family Affair.
“My mantra is gratitude attitude.”
Lynne has lived in the same apartment since 1977. The only extended period Lynne spent outside New York was during college, when she studied in Madison, Wisconsin. Taking classes in the music department was enlivened by the cheerful presence of a certain clarinetist named Ralph. It wasn’t long before the pair fell in love.
Eloping together at 17, Lynne and Ralph were deliriously happy. Their joy was only heightened when Lynne learned she was pregnant.The couple named their son Tony, and raised him on West End Street in a cozy apartment that was perfect for three. But Lynne and Ralph hadn’t realized how hard it would be to start a career in entertainment with a young child to care for.
The frantic schedule put pressure on all three of them, and Lynne and Ralph found themselves amicably parting ways. But of course both parents shared their love of the stage with Tony. He grew up spending weekends at concerts and school nights at home on a makeshift stage, acting out his own stories.
When Tony moved to Los Angeles to work in the film industry, Lynne knew she’d miss him terribly. Still, she watched proudly while he built a career in entertainment. With her only child on the other side of the country, Lynne took comfort in her show business friends. Together, they caught “invitation only” performances in out of the way venues.
Still, she missed Tony. He had a surprise for Lynne though: He was going to be a father. When Fiore was born, Lynne couldn’t wait to visit. Despite the ache in her heart upon heading home, Lynne never considered joining Tony and Fiore out West. “I would never leave New York,” she insists. It has been home for too long.
“I would never leave New York."
Now that Fiore is older, she is following her grandmother’s path to the theater, landing the leading role in “In the Heights” at her school. Last spring, Tony planned to fly to New York to accompany Lynne out to Los Angeles so she could watch Fiore perform in the musical.
Lynne filled with pride at the idea of Fiore carrying on the family legacy. After all, Lynne was the one who taught Fiore to play the piano on her old Steinway. But the pandemic forced them to cancel the trip. Lynne had been looking forward to the show for months, eagerly helping Fiore memorize her songs over the phone. Learning that it wasn’t safe to fly left Lynne deeply disappointed.
At her age, Lynne’s not sure how much time she has left. So it felt like Covid had stolen something precious from her — an opportunity that may not come again. Cut off from her family, Lynne has never felt more alone. Lynne has also become aware that Tony is getting older himself. She refuses to be a burden on him or anyone else. He calls her loyally each week and Lynne, ever the creative, shares new lyrics to a song she’s working on or a story she’s refining.
Before the pandemic, a younger friend would sometimes come by in a car to help Lynne out of her apartment and to a show. While painstakingly slow with her cane, often stopping to catch her breath with an inhaler, Lynne was able to enjoy these small pleasures.
With Covid-19, that respite is gone too. Lynne’s friends have left the city, and she knows it’s not safe to see anyone. The isolation feels suffocating. Shopping and cooking are out of the question too. Lynne struggles to balance herself in front of the refrigerator, and she finds herself forgetting items simmering on the stove.
Even with these challenges, Lynne insists the worst part of the pandemic is the loneliness. Though Lynne’s doctor suggested Citymeals because she wasn’t getting enough nourishment, it’s the few moments of human contact that have come to mean so much.