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For 88-year-old Margaret, the Brooklyn apartment she’s called home for her entire life is central to her sense of self. The notches measuring height on the kitchen wall remind her of her loving parents. The walnut banister reminds Margaret of her daily chore to polish the wood until it shone.
Glancing out to the backyard, the small grassy space has just enough room for a worn table and a few mismatched chairs. Still, Margaret’s memories come to life as she recalls countless barbecues and festive gatherings. Where once she would have eagerly looked forward to celebrating her birthday, Margaret now has no one left with whom to light the candles.
Looking around, Margaret’s home is filled with artefacts from her nine decades. Above a small mantle hangs a painting of Margaret’s great-grandmother, who was once enslaved. The paint is faded in spots, but Margaret says she draws inspiration from this link with her past.
Margaret met Ernest at a family party and was immediately swept up in a whirlwind romance, but marriage proved difficult. Ernest’s worked as a long-distance truck driver and raising children was tough with him so frequently away. But Margaret cared for her brood with great tenderness, saving coins to make long-distance calls to her husband.
When Ernest wasn’t working, the couple managed to find time to go dancing and eat soul food in Harlem. Ernest always ordered candied yams and collard greens. Margaret hums for a moment, transported to a popular dance hall where they played Cuban music, her favorite.
Reliant on an oxygen tank, Margaret is relieved she no longer needs to cook for herself.
Margaret’s voice quavers as she relates how devastated she was when she had to bury two of her children far too young. The sadness nearly swallowed her. Clinging to Ernest, Margaret managed to put the deaths behind her. She was so excited on her 50th anniversary with Ernest, cleaning the apartment and planning a special dinner.
Her joy turned to shock and grief when Ernest collapsed in front of her, having a massive heart attack. Although Margaret called the paramedics, Ernest died before they reached the hospital.
Now, Margaret’s remaining children are elderly themselves, they live far away and are managing health issues of their own. Without her family nearby, Margaret feels adrift. Reliant on an oxygen tank and partially paralyzed from a stroke, she is relieved she no longer needs to cook for herself thanks to regular Citymeals deliveries.