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At 84 years old, some of Susan’s first memories are of World War II. “The war was always there,” she explains. “It was always present in my mind.”
Every night, Susan and her brothers crowded around a crackling radio to listen to the war bulletins. The distant conflict left a lasting impression on Susan. By the time she was a teenager, Susan, always curious and bookish, had decided to go to college and study American history.
When Susan moved to New York City in 1960, she found an apartment in the historic Cherokee and instantly fell in love with the building’s rich history. Once used as housing for people with tuberculosis, many original details remain including open courtyards and Guastavino-tiled stairwells. After 60 years in the same place, Susan can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Over the years, Susan held several jobs. Her first was in publishing, but even with her degree, she struggled to advance beyond working as a secretary. “Publishing was very discriminatory back then,” she recalls.
For a while, Susan solicited and edited manuscripts at the Asia Society before returning to school and becoming a teacher at P.S. 43 in the South Bronx. It was a tumultuous time – the Vietnam War was raging and poverty was rampant – but Susan was determined to share her love of history with her students.
“Today, I can hardly do anything.”
Normally quick to share a story from her past, Susan is too modest to share much from her teaching years. When Susan finally retired, she was excited to spend more time reading and roller skating, her favorite way to exercise. She returned to a childhood hobby too, taking up painting once again.
The walls of Susan’s cramped studio are covered in her work. One features a man selling eyeglasses to a young girl, an ode to her grandfather. She’s especially fond of eight landscapes depicting her beloved New York in different seasons.
“I can’t do anything like that anymore,” admitting that her painting days are long past. A knee replacement several years ago left Susan exhausted and struggling to navigate even a flight of stairs. That’s when her doctor recommended Citymeals.
Susan’s other knee – radiating with pain constantly – still needs surgery but she is putting it off. “Today, I can hardly do anything,” she admits.
Even before Covid-19, Susan had become more isolated. Her two brothers passed years ago while a niece lives in California. She texts Susan often, sending videos of her young children, which always leave Susan smiling – and melancholy that she can no longer travel. Instead, the radio or television keep her company.
When her meals arrive, Susan always spends a few minutes chatting with her deliverer – from a safe distance.
Reflecting on the pandemic, Susan turns to history. “Compared to World War II, this is totally different,” she explains. “During the war, food was rationed.” Thankfully, with Citymeals, Susan doesn’t have to worry about getting enough to eat.
Susan’s life feels bookended by crises. The war shaped her childhood and gave her a lifelong interest in history while the Coronavirus defines her old age, trapping her indoors alone. It is a solitude only broken by visits from her friendly meal deliverer.