Thelma

Food has always had a special place in 87-year-old Thelma’s heart. Not even a teenager, she had already taught herself how to roast a chicken and make dumplings. For a sweet treat, she would walk to a nearby plum grove to enjoy a few pieces of fresh fruit straight from the trees. 

It wasn’t just cooking Thelma loved, it was being surrounded by nature amongst the farms and pastures of the South Carolina countryside. In the mornings, Thelma collected eggs from the family’s chickens while her brothers were tasked with milking the cows. “Everything was homemade,” Thelma says with a wide grin. “That was living!”

Meanwhile, Thelma’s parents had grown tired of their hardscrabble life, struggling to make ends meet. Uprooting the family to New York City, nine-year-old Thelma felt disoriented. She can still recall visiting a grocery store for the first time. Compared to back home, she thought the vegetables had no smell. But once she discovered Nedick’s orange soda and hot dogs, Thelma decided she liked the city after all.

After high school, Thelma found work as a nursing assistant in a veterans’ hospital. It was there she realized her deep appreciation for the elderly patients. “I always liked old people. Maybe that’s why I like myself now!” she jokes. 

What began as a job to pay the bills became a career for Thelma. Over five decades, she provided in-home care to countless aging New Yorkers. Today, she holds on to notes of gratitude from those she cared for — their words still bringing comfort to Thelma years later. Instilled with a strong work ethic, Thelma cared for her patients well into her 70s when knee pain became unbearable. She knew she would miss them, lamenting, “I love working.”

To live to be 87, wow! I’m so blessed.

Although Thelma considered moving back to South Carolina when she retired, the city had become her true home and she chose to stay in the Harlem apartment she has lived in for over 65 years. 

At 87 years old, Thelma’s days of cooking are behind her. It’s too difficult to prepare a meal while leaning on her walker. And she faces her advanced years and declining health alone. Asthma has made it difficult to take more than a few steps while glaucoma makes navigating her apartment impossible. To avoid falling, Thelma passes most of her time in a soft, tattered chair. 

Still, she tries to stay positive. “To live to be 87, wow! I’m so blessed.”

Regular deliveries from Citymeals have helped her tremendously, both the nutritious meal and the warm check-in. Spending so much time alone can wear on even the most buoyant person, so Thelma eagerly anticipates these visits.

“When you’re older, you appreciate these things,” she explains.