86 AND THE CITY

On November 6, 1927 a little girl was born – me – to impoverished Orthodox Jewish parents who needed a boy.  They already had a girl.  One girl is enough, but you take what you get.  They got me.

I grew up to be a bigger, noisier me–opinionated and truculent. They wanted me to marry early. Instead, I insisted on going to college, Brooklyn College, because it was free.

My parents never understood me nor I them, but we loved each other in our chaotic way.  We differed on almost everything.  We fought about almost everything.  In the end, I like to think they were moderately proud of me.

I celebrated the exact anniversary of 86 with my eldest child.  The Indian dinner was her idea – we had lived in India long ago and loved the cuisine.  She was getting out of work in a neighborhood with many good Indian restaurants.

“Come meet me,” she said.

“But it’s dark and I’m blind,” I protested.

“Take a taxi,” she said.  She’s a wiseguy.

I am a Depression child, congenitally unable to take taxis.  Stingy.  What the uncharitable call “cheap.”

“Come,” she said. “Meet me on 28th Street.  Take the #6 train at Union Square. Ask people for help.”

Off I went. Blind and careful.  New Yorkers are kind to white-haired, distressed ladies wandering in the dark.  I made it, to Union Square, to the #6 train, to 28th Street – and there was my daughter.  Triumphant.  “See!” she said.

“No,” I said, “but I came anyway.”  We went through the unfamiliar streets – I do not know the east side of my city at all – to a Chettinaad restaurant, Anjappar, which has an unfamiliar cuisine –  and how we overate, treating ourselves to southern Indian delicacies.  We had mutton sukka vartival  and and dosa stuffed with potato curry and wonderfully spicy chicken and eggplant.  Lassi washed it down.

Then, we went to Spice Corner to buy Indian sweets, and then we strolled along from 29th and Lexington Avenue to 23rd  Street and Sixth Avenue.  Only then did I succumb to the corruption of a cab – I wasn’t up to subway wandering by then. But in spite of the extravagant taxi ride, it was an absolutely grand NEW YORK BIRTHDAY.  I wonder where I’ll celebrate 87?

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About blogginggrandma

I'm 86. Legally blind. But a force to be reckoned with!
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20 Responses to 86 AND THE CITY

  1. Kathleen says:

    Thank you for this. Kathleen

  2. Sandy says:

    A delightful piece, and much more generous to yourself than the self-defeating article published in today’s Times. I’m pleased that I found this.

  3. Kitty says:

    I just read your piece in the Times and loved it. I am also extremely reluctant to accept help when I need it an then all but ungracious when I get it – and I’m only 46. Then I saw your name and that your daughter is a doctor – is she by chance a knitter/memoirist as well? I’m glad I found your blog. Thank you for it.

  4. John says:

    A friend of mine is 90 or so. He lives alone in Florida, in a small apartment, with no family in the same state, and rarely ventures out, because he says he is quite financially limited. He is a vet of WWII and flew 35 combat missions over Europe as a gunner on a bomber. I met him shortly after I bought a plane he had built some 20 years ago, when he was in his 70’s.
    While I have known of Bob for only a few years, I was struck by the isolation of his situation. A situation has arisen now where I actually would like to get his opinion on airplanes, and realized that for me to send him photos, or correspondence of any kind, I would have to use the US postal service. Bob has no email, no computer, no cell phone. But, like I said, he rarely leaves his apartment. Isolated.
    I recently sent Bob a laptop and asked him to look into wi fi in his building. He already has an email account (he just got the computer yesterday). He will be able to skype with family members soon. And soon he will find that, if interested, there is an entire community of airplane builders who still know of him, of his reputation, accomplishments, and abilities, who would love to get his opinion on various things.
    I realize getting older is difficult. My own grandmother was mentally as sharp as always, up to 101. She was independent to the end. She did it with amazing dignity. And she was privileged; she had resources, mostly family, that she could rely upon. Like you, her family members are in the medical profession.
    Sounds like you are lucky. You are a gifted writer. You are up to date. You are intelligent. You have people who make you get up and get out of the house. You have people who call you. You are loved.
    That’s all I want for Bob.

    Happy Birthday and best wishes for many more.

  5. Mirah Riben says:

    I, too, came here via your NY Time piece. I, too, admire your honesty and your abilities.

    The Times article gave me fixed feelings. I am approaching 70 and have severe crippling rheumatoid arthritis (RA) among other health issues. I have permanent deformed hands despite having had multiple surgeries, including a total knee replacement and get around thanks to leg braces. I live alone. Like ALL of us, I fear being a burden on any of my three grown children or their spouses. In order to alleviate that possibility, I purchased Long Term Health Insurance while I was still working. This will eliminate or greatly reduce being a financial burden.

    Nearly two years ago I moved to a gated retirement community that has an alarm system with emergency buttons and 24-hour nurse on call. The community also provides buses to local supermarkets, and shopping malls for those who no longer drive. Other buses take us to doctor visits etc. I use this service to go the hospital every 28 days for an IV infusion for my RA in addition to the weekly self-injections of methotrexate – low dose chemo. And if I were unable to get out, our county Meals on Wheels would provide two meals a day. Not gourmet by any means, but I’d be grateful to have whatever they brought me.

    As I am currently able to drive, I have on occasion driven an 86-year-old friend of mine to her appointment for her macular degeneration (MD) injections. She, fortunately, has no reaction whatsoever to her injections and is grateful as they seem to be helping her. Another friend of mine who just turned 96 is also legally blind as a result of MD. She has a cane that helps her feel for curbs so we won’t fall. The cane also helps others know that she is fragile. Something you might consider to help navigate subways.

    You are an intelligent woman. You are very aware of your behavior and your childhood experiences that have formed who you are. We cannot undo or change our childhoods. We cannot undo the recordings from our parents that live in our heads. But we can CONTROL how we REACT to those negative messages. We can CHOOSE to play victim or take control of ourselves and our behavior.

    I suggest that you stop using your childhood experiences as an EXCUSE for your admitted lack of gratitude. I encourage you, Ms. Klass, to utilize the obvious skills you have and look up “gratitude.” Gratitude is an attitude and it is a CHOICE.

    I understand not wanting to a burden. I truly do. There are few seniors who do not understand that.

    You HAVE children and you have children who live near enough to help, and who DO! Your cup is way more than half full! Many seniors are less fortunate. I encourage you to take some time and do some volunteer work for the less fortunate. Perhaps that would help you acquire some gratitude and appreciation for just how much you have and help you focus on that.

    If you cannot do this yourself, I encourage you to seek out psychotherapy to assist you….or find a spiritual practice like mindful meditation that focuses on developing gratitude and loving kindness. It is quite obvious that what you are doing now is not working. You are not happy with your ingratitude. Get help and change it!

  6. Fran LaReau says:

    I also read your column in today’s Times. Thank you from a sixty-six year (and very indelpendent) old woman who today was very cranky with her wonderful oldest daughter. Today I am feeling old! I am fairly healthy, have my own business and friends that I love. I can drive. I can see. I can walk. Not much in the way of assets (typical Boomer). Thank you for being so articulate in your anger against age but also your love of life. You have inspired me today. Keep writing. I will be listening.

  7. Naomi Rand says:

    Happy birthday, great piece in the Times as well…glad to find you writing and being unfailingly honest after all this time. Your former colleague, Naomi Rand

  8. vicky says:

    I have learned over the years from my mother, who sounds a lot like you, that pride can get in the way of so many things. It builds walls around you. It may be what you need to protect yourself but it is also preventing the love, good will and grace from getting through. I hope that my mother will find a way to let that pride take a back seat and let her children in a little closer so we can all enjoy what is likely to be her last year together. I wish the same for you.

  9. Aw it made me cry. Partially because I understand. I partially think it’s a Jewish thing. Your taught to feel bad because your a burden. Your taught to feel bad cause you couldn’t do it all. Taught to turn out lights because money doesn’t grow in trees.

  10. Bob Cronin says:

    I read your NYT article on resenting dependency. I appreciate it. I have always valued my independence and reveled in the knowledge that I could tell anyone to put their condescending offerings of aid to put it where the sun doesn’t shine. I guess I have always been angry at the world for its unfairness – the pecking order where I got pecked but pecked no one. Anger promotes integrity – it puts the self in self righteousness. It is I – who is angry – I am justified by the eternal principles of justice, This self I hold so dearly and guard so jealously – is what I have left. I will preserve it . It will never be dependent on the solicitude of others for its existence.

    • Bob,

      I can so very easily feel exactly like you do…but when i do, I find it leads to loneliness. A loneliness that is very different from self-selected aloneness.

      I believe the answer lies in BALANCE! Independence is a very good thing. Our nation is built on it. But no man is an island and when we use our desire to be independent as a weapon, or in meanness, and push people away, then it is no longer serving us, we have become victims of it.

      We can maintain our independence and be GRATEFUL for kindness! It’s a tricky balance but one I believe worth working toward lest we be miserable, cranky, grumpy – and very LONELY – old farts!!

      Having a crippling disease, I have dealt with these issues long before becoming old. My hands are twisted and often people will offer help when i can do something myself and i find myself getting annoyed. I have to stop myself and remember to be thankful. Or, someone will ask if I can walk to a location because of the braces on my legs, and in my head I am thinking – in both instances – IF I NEED YOUR HELP, I’LL ASK FOR IT! But I have to stop remember how awkward is it to be on the side of the equation. there is a blind woman in my congregation and a man who uses a wheel chair. I know the awkwardness of want to to help but wondering what is right to offer. So I work on being kind to those who don’t always offer to help me in the way i’d prefer.

  11. Mirah Riben says:

    To develop more gratitude try these Daily Affirmations:

    When you first open eyes in the morning say the words: I am grateful to be alive to experience another day. I AM NO LONGER A CHILD. I AM A STRONG, CAPABLE, DESERVING, GRATEFUL WOMAN. I am ABLE TO ACCEPT acts of kindness with grace and GRATITUDE.

    At your computer, say: I am grateful to have a computer, to know how to use it, and to be able to see well enough to do so. If you use voice activated software, be grateful for that!

    Express gratitude for every morsel of food you eat, for your the home you live in and every creature comfort you have from heat to lights etc. (SOOO many people do NOT have even clean drinking water!)

    And when your kids offer help, and thoughts of being a burden pop into your heard, say NO to those thoughts and repeat your affirmation: I AM NO LONGER A CHILD. I AM A STRONG, CAPABLE, DESERVING, GRATEFUL WOMAN. I am ABLE TO ACCEPT offers of kindness with grace and GRATITUDE.

    Hang this message on your bathroom mirror and say it OFTEN throughout the day: I AM NO LONGER A CHILD. I AM A STRONG, CAPABLE, DESERVING, GRATEFUL WOMAN. I am ABLE TO ACCEPT offers of kindness with grace and GRATITUDE.

    If you keep doing this, you will record over the negative messages in your head from your childhood. It works!

    Another way to help develop gratitude is to use the words “THANK YOU” as often as possible. Say “thank you” to the doorman of your building going in and out. Say ‘thank you” to the person who holds the elevator or train door for you. say “thank you” to your hairdresser or cab driver, you butcher! Give them holiday gifts to express your thanks and appreciation.

    In addition, you can do some empty chair therapy and talk to your parents. FORGIVE THEM! Let them know that you understand they did the best they could and you forgive them and no longer hold them responsible TODAY for what they did or didn’t do or said or didn’t say when you were a child! Work on that forgiveness. It may work better for you in the form of a letter, since you are a writer. Work on really feeling the forgiveness in you soul. Read up on forgiveness and understand it does not absolve them – it is for YOU – to help you LET GO of your past.

    Tell your parents that you are NO LONGER A CHILD. Tell them you are A STRONG, CAPABLE, DESERVING, GRATEFUL WOMAN and that you are ABLE TO ACCEPT acts of kindness with grace and GRATITUDE. Just as you accept the kindness of their raising you to the best of their ability.

    YOU ARE no longer a child. You ARE a capable, strong, deserving woman and you ARE able to accept acts of kindness with grace and gratitude.

    Daily Affirmations are used to help people overcome powerful addictions. They are known to work and make a difference. Another technique that works to change lifelong patters is to “Act As If,” until the “as if” becomes reality. For you, this means practicing “thank you” as a reply when your children show you kindness and offer you can rides. Just say, “thank you” like we do when we get an uncomfortable compliment, or a holiday gift we hate. Even if you are unable to attend an invitation, say “thank you, I appreciate the offer but cannot make it.” “Thank you, i appreciate being asked but I have a conflict.”

    You CAN do this! YOU and ONLY YOU have the power to BE the woman you are CAPABLE of being! You are no longer a child. Stop playing victim by repeating the “story” of your childhood that made you feel lesser and REPLACE it with who you are TODAY! YOU hold the key to the chains that bind you. be the woman you WANT to be!

  12. Jennifer A. Duffell says:

    This is my first time to read your blog. I read your blog because the NY Times headlined you as ungrateful and I consider that a hopeful beginning. I have two blind children and I would like to know why is it that you cannot do your own laundry. Why do you struggle to maintain independence. You just sound much too unapologetic to allow family to do so much for you. I guess the problem is that no one has introduced you to the alternative skills of blindness. I guess going blind as an adult is much harder than going blind as a child, but I am unwilling to accept that either situation requires dependence. The first thing you should do is get a white cane from the National Federation of the Blind at freecane.nfb.org. If the link does not work you can reach the NFB by phone at 410-659-9314. The second thing you need to do is to ask an independent blind individual how to do your own laundry. My blind boys, ages 13 and 15, do their own laundry and a whole lot more because we are members of the NFB and when we do not know how to do something we ask.

  13. Rae says:

    You may think of yourself as disabled, and I’m sure that’s one truth, but your writing is beautiful and in this day and age, that makes you more abaled than most. I’ll be spending the afternoon reading the rest of your blog and I’m looking forward to your future posts. Thank you thank you for your writing!

  14. Mary says:

    Yes, I too am here because of the NY Times article. Spent a good part of yesterday enjoying your blogs. I find them to be honest, uplifting, full of joy and gratitude. In contrast to some of your readers I am more inclined to ask advice than give it! Specifically, do you make a deliberate choice to dwell on the positive in others? My motivation to write is largely fueled by a desire to create scathing descriptions of people in authority. Perhaps the scathing can be tempered by amusement…

  15. Donna lee says:

    I celebrated my birthday this past week as well. I am now 56 (yes,a baby to you!). I am fortunate to have fulfilling work and a loving family and hope to be as mentallly clear as you remain as I continue to age. I wanted to teach English but wandered into social work and there I stay.

    I think if the creative writing teacher I had in college had been more like you, I may have stuck with it and not dropped the course.

  16. g says:

    I read your op ed in the NY Times, and saw that you took some hits by commenters. Your column resonated with me because I have an 87 year old mother who is both resistant to being a burden, and also rather burdensome in her way. Then I came here and see that you took the subway, changed trains, and walked to an Indian restaurant – adventurous, taking chances, independent. Cranky? maybe. A burden? Oh, no doubt, as we all shall be someday. But oh, I how pleased I am that you are still hungry for life’s experiences. I wish my mother could enjoy her life as you can.

  17. Jan Scherrer says:

    I landed here via your piece in the NYT and I loved them both. You’ll get no scolding from me for being yourself. Making nice is overrated and my guess is that if a man had written exactly what you wrote in the NYT blog, there would have been less scolding and more offers to bring you a casserole and some wine. I love finding fellow smart women and I’m glad I found you and your blog. Thanks!

  18. You are undoubtedly the mama of Perri Klass! I enjoyed your piece in the NYT, and I will now follow your delightful blog.
    Joan

  19. Katherine Hale says:

    Thanks for sharing what sounds like a delightful birthday.. At 65 and as a child of children of the Depression, I share your taxi policy. Good for you for taking the #6 train to celebrate with your daughter. I’m enjoying your blog.
    Katherine

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