By Stephanie Giunta
I was invited to join my grandmother, Josephine Eichner, at her Seniors Club at Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai on February 7, her 90th birthday. I am 32 and got laid off a few months ago, and although I lacked the eligibility due to my age, I attended as an honorary guest. After hearing about the Tuesday club for 20+ years, I was grateful to have the free time to attend, albeit plagued with the nagging reason as to why I was available.
I held her hand as we walked up the ramp into the building, kneeing the automatic handicap button to open the door. I walked into a sea full of people, whose wrinkles told the stories of their lives. They scattered about prepping the coffee stations, collecting dollars for the 50/50 raffle, and decorating the tables. Our table, #2, was adorned with a vase of flowers and balloons in honor of Grandma’s big day. My first impression: feeling so touched that her friends had thought of her.
Amused is putting it lightly. I was more so in awe. These men and women had made it. They had long marriages, bore children, and had grand and even great grandchildren. They survived successes, failures, peaks, and valleys. They frequented doctor’s offices, and had battled health problems. They kissed their friends and spouses goodbye as they were given eternal life. They had survived all of their worst days to date, and yet here they were — still living.
When the meeting started and they sang “God Bless America,” I could have fallen off of my chair if I was sitting down. It brought tears to my eyes, and I was riddled with such pure joy and admiration. “Cute” isn’t the right word to describe it, since many refer to anything an older person does as “cute.” I think it was more of a genuine appreciation of these people, and knowing they knew what was important: camaraderie, love of self, and love of country. Appreciation for the small, yet impactful things in life. I can’t quite put the feeling into words, but it was something that struck me, and I’ll never forget it.
I got to meet Liz, the woman whose chain emails I have been receiving for decades. I always opened them up because I didn’t want bad luck for 10 years. Sharon, who was lovingly referred to as “Grumpy” because she’s always so happy. She makes cookies for my daughter, although we had never met. Marie and Bob, who I’ve heard stories about for quite some time. They used to accompany my grandparents on double dates to The Heritage Diner. And Jutta. She doesn’t know it, but her name has been used quite a bit in some of our family’s games.
They walked a little slower, but laughed a little louder. Some were nervous that there weren’t enough slices of cake to go around. Others complained that tea service wasn’t put out. Me — I just sat in silence at points and soaked it all in. I found it fascinating that they were worried about tea and cake, something so simplistic, whereas I was worried about the fate of my career. We were just in completely different phases of life and it was refreshing to gain a contrasting perspective.
The most rewarding part of the day was seeing my grandmother in action. It is truly beautiful to see someone you deeply admire in a social setting, when you’ve never really witnessed it outside of family functions. She was a shining light who worked the room. Conversations were filled with “Happy birthdays” and “You’re not 90!s” and just simply checking in on each other. Her snowy hair and pink lips bounced from table to table, bearing hugs and cashing in on inside jokes. The woman is 57 years my senior and I think she has a better social life than I do!
And as we capped out the day with BINGO, among covert mumblings about health insurance, next week’s entertainment, and the weather, I was so grateful to be where I was — spending the day with one of the people I love most in this world. Relishing on the roast beef sandwich on rye that she packed for me as if it were a NY strip steak; cutting into the Tiramisu that her friends presented her with; enjoying something so bubblegum, and feeling a bit sad when it had come to an end. I was also disappointed that Harriet won three games and I won zero.
I wish I could look at my life through a senior’s eyes and know that there are plenty of happy and sad times to come, but that they will make me who I am. That each laugh line and wrinkle I collect will signify a pit stop on my journey. That life is a gift and living is a privilege, and at the end of the day, being a good person is all that matters. Age is but a number and friendship has no timetable.
And as I held Grandma’s hand on the way out, I whispered, “I can’t wait to come back.”