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Larry on Barrow Street

Larry on Barrow Street

Larry on Barrow Street.

(Working title)

My Uncle was a New Yorker through and through. He had the walk; slightly bent forward, looking down, chin in chest. He had the clothing, European, dark colors, an odd collection of hats. He wore caps with different film companies logos across the front, a black beret angled to one side, and a Mongolian sheep herder’s hat he sometimes wore in the winter. He had the attitude – arrogant. If you mentioned another city to him, he would wave his hand as if swatting a fly and walk away. To my uncle, New York was the only place to live and in particular, the West Village. He lived there the last fifty years of his life and he died in his village apartment, exactly as he wanted.

2007 was the year my aunt died. I started flying back and forth to New York to spend time with Larry, my maternal uncle. Within the next three years he had a stroke, suffered from dementia, cancer and died. During that time I got a chance to renew my relationship with both him and his city.

I was an off-again on-again New Yorker. My parents moved from Long Island (which to my uncle was not New York) to California, when I was a teenager. I moved to the “city” in my twenties, moving back to California shortly after my thirtieth birthday and returning for sporadic visits over the years. I am now in my sixties. I love New York but after years in California, getting comfortable with the easier life style, the pleasant weather, the beaches, the mountains, the near proximity of wildlife and nature, I didn’t think I could ever live in New York again.

My Uncle Larry was a big man, 6’2”, with a big presence. Even my Aunt was 6’1” and had a size 14 shoe. Nothing about my uncle or his life was small, except for his 600 square foot apartment. It was a standard one bedroom, West Village dwelling on the corner of Barrow and West Houston. To any New Yorker this is prime real estate. Larry and Gretel (my aunt) moved in in the early 60’s, witnessing the end of the beatnik era, the beginning of the hippy era, the drug-filled seventies and the early eighties that saw the apartment neglected and crime-filled. The decline and decay of the apartment continued right up to the nineties when the tenets formed a co-op. The building complex, four, massive, brick structures built in the thirties and occupying three city blocks from Barrow, to West Houston, to Morton, were renovated. Rents and fees rose to almost what they are now. My uncle was on rent-control. He paid $700 a month until he died. Well, he didn’t actually pay, I did, but that’s another story.

By 2007 the apartment building was well-cared for and a sought after place to live in. It cost anywhere from eight-hundred thousand to a million to buy into the co-op, not including the monthly association fees. To most people, it was worth it and there was seldom an empty apartment until this current recession.

The co-op and the management company renovated the apartments as they became available. The laundry room was cleaned and maintained, the communal areas between the four buildings were made into a private park with trees, flowers and sitting areas. During summer months it was ablaze with color. You could see it through the locked iron gate on West Houston as well as through the apartment windows that circled the courtyard. Even the hallways and the stairways were brought back to life while keeping the original hardware and architectural details like the black and white floors tiles in the entry and unadorned industrial iron staircase that bridged the first floor with the basement. There wasn’t an elevator and there weren’t any frills, but to most New Yorkers, moving into these buildings was akin to going to heaven.

In 2007, my uncle was still active and working as a location manager for a very sought after movie location in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He was still ornery and still gave off the impression of being in control. One night, as I was driving home from work he called to tell me he and my aunt wouldn’t be arriving in California the next day as planned. He hesitated before mentioning she was in the hospital. They had gone to the United Airlines ticket office in Rockefeller Center but that particular office was closed. Annoyed and tired, she walked back to the car to tell him they would have to go to the airport when she slipped on the ice-packed sidewalk and broke her hip. When he called, she had been in the hospital for two days. She had gone in for an emergency operation, been given a sedative and never woke up. I said I would catch the first plane I could get on, and he said, “No,” and hung up.

I booked my ticket that night and flew out the next day. I arrived at Newark Airport late in the evening, grabbed a cab and came through the Holland Tunnel. I had been living near the beach in Los Angeles, California. I always thought that area was congested, but it was nothing to the onslaught of lights, traffic and activity I experienced in that forty minute drive to New York City.

By the time I arrived in Manhattan, the sleepiness I felt on the plane was gone. I knew it wouldn’t come back any time soon. I paid the driver, got out and looked around. I don’t remember how long it had been since I’d been back to New York, but it was culture shock. I needed time to take it all in and adjust. The extreme cold and wind whipped my face. The smell of garlic and onion soup from the French eatery on the corner enticed an appetite. The not so glamorous smells from the street assailed me. There was an array of different colored lights from all the restaurants and a neon sign flashing “Psychic Readings” in one of the store front windows. I wheeled my bag across the street and walked a half block past Larry’s building not yet ready to go upstairs. The dry cleaners on the corner and the watch repair were closed. The Greek deli was open and a dark haired man in a heavy overcoat leaned half in and half out of the door lighting a cigarette away from the wind. I hardly see anyone smoke in California. I almost forgot about the smell.

This had been my city. This is where I thought I would live for the rest of my life. This is how I identified myself. It is how I still dress, “New York black”, somewhat formal. My accent is still recognizable, especially when I’m tired. I aspire to the speed and work ethic of the city. I am “New York”, but not a New Yorker. In that moment, standing on the corner of West Houston and Barrow, looking up at my uncle’s apartment, I felt completely disoriented. I didn’t know who I was or where I fit in.

I was a teenager going to my aunt and uncle’s apartment for the first time on my seventeenth birthday. I was a twenty year old stopping by to have a glass of wine and meet interesting “Village people”. I was a thirty year old visiting my family to tell my grandmother I was moving back to California. I was a mature woman in her late fifties, long divorced, living alone in California and coming back because the two people who meant the most to me were old and fragile and my time with them was short.

On that trip, the first of what would be a series of frequent visits over the next three years, it was February and it was cold. I wore layers of clothing and still couldn’t feel warm, yet there was no place I would have rather been. My Aunt and Uncle were the two people in my life that had always accepted me unconditionally. When I had shared my angst with them over the years, they never judged, and they never scolded. On one occasion my aunt might say “Quit the bullshit,” or on another, “You’re gonna be ok.” And on another, “Don’t take shit from anyone. Stand up for your self.”

After high school, I moved to New York, to get away from my parents. I was shy, frightened, wore long bangs that covered my face and spoke quietly, never looking anyone in the eye. One evening, during a conversation, I mumbled my answers. My aunt lifted me up by the shoulders until I was eye level and in her booming operatic voice said, “If you’re going to say something say it with conviction.”

To the rest of the family, Larry and Gretel were considered different: “Village people”, “avant garde”, “eccentric”, “the black sheep”, “uninhibited”, sometimes even “crazy”. I was given similar classifications which I, as did my aunt and uncle, wore proudly.

I always felt they were there for me when I needed them. I was glad to be there for them.

I also loved New York. I loved the night time that never gets dark, the old tree roots pushing through cement. I loved the sounds – the traffic noises muffled by the closeness of the buildings, a couple arguing, a woman singing opera, a diesel truck rolling to a stop while the pressure is released from the brakes. I loved the big, heavy front doors of my uncle’s building and the buzzer that often didn’t work. I felt at home when I heard my Uncle’s voice, distorted by the faulty intercom system, sounding like a cross between a barking Pekinese and a husky sailor. As odd as this seems there was something I even loved about dragging my suitcase up three flights of stairs and listening to its sound echo all the way up the stairwell. I must also admit that after my aunt’s death and as my uncle’s health failed and my caring for him got more complicated, it was all these same things I hated.

That night, like many nights that first year, I would drop my suitcase in the apartment and my uncle and I would go downstairs to the local diner. It was a place he frequented often and the waitresses knew him well. They called him honey and doll and waited patiently as he read the menu he knew by heart. They listened as he complained about everything. During the next year and a half, we went there often until he could no longer walk.

The food was awful. They had cherry pie filled with canned cherries that were so sweet you could imagine your teeth rotting. The coffee, watered-down dishwater was undrinkable and the temperature of the room was close to boiling. I could never figure out why but after a short time, I loved that diner as much as my uncle did. As he got sicker, I would go alone and it was the waiter and waitresses that would gather around asking for news of his condition. They took the place of family members I no longer had. The pie and coffee never got better, but the BLT was good and the eggs were a comfort food.

My aunt was in Beth Israel Hospital on 1st and 16th. Larry and I walked there and home every day during the two weeks she was in a comma. One night, on the way back we found a polish restaurant around 1st avenue and 12th street.  We stopped for dinner. The restaurant was small. There were four tables and a counter with scotch blue vinyl stools. The woman who waited on us, maybe the owner, was large and busty, smelled of soap and water and spoke with a heavy Polish accent. The food, according to my uncle was “the real thing.” My grandmother was Russian and my grandfather Polish and German. My uncle knew Polish food. He had all the right names and with every order the waitress would smile proudly. The specialty was soup with dumplings, potatoes, carrots and a generous chunk of bread and butter on the side. I have always been on the thin side and still, always concerned about my weight. At home, I would never have eaten such a big meal, but in New York, worried about my aunt and trying to get warm, it was the best medicine I could think of.

All through dinner my uncle spoke about his mother (my Grandmother), how she would cook similar soups and how he enjoyed eating them. He spoke about his father (my grandfather) who was a baker and a poet. I asked him about my mother. He told me she was “a wild one.” I asked him what that meant, but he would only shake his head and continue eating. I asked that question a dozen times and never got much more of an explanation. Once sitting with Larry’s first cousin, I asked him what my mother was like. “She was wild,” he said and shook his head. “What does that mean?” I almost begged for an answer. He shrugged and couldn’t or wouldn’t say more.

My mother was a dancer when she was young, maybe that made her wild. She was a young adult during World War II. Maybe all those men in uniforms made her wild.  I believe she had a flame in her belly, but years of denial and submission to my father, made her angry and crippled. My experience of her was that she squashed her wildness. It surprised me to hear others speak of it as something that wasn’t to be spoken of. I drove her crazy because she must have seen in me what she denied for herself. I knew she thought I was wild. I was wild because I traveled on my own. I was wild because I didn’t marry until I was 36. I was wild because I was an artist. I still don’t know how she was wild.

That night in the Polish restaurant, as my uncle and I ate, and talked, there was a shift in our relationship. We were no longer uncle and niece, we were now peers. He too had seen me as a wild child, now I was an adult. There is such a strange chasm between how we see ourselves and the way others see us. The only thing we can do is be true to what we know. Nothing else matters.

That night was the beginning of a new relationship with my uncle. It continued to change over the next couple of years, growing deeper as we learned more about each other, until I became his caretaker. That was another deepening of our relationship that neither of us expected or would have asked for. In retrospect, it was priceless.

As we ate, we spoke about my aunt, still not sure if she would come out of the comma. He didn’t understand what happened and why she wasn’t waking up. “I don’t get it,” he said. Did the hospital do something to her? Do you think they did something?”

”It happens,” I told him.

Larry was eighty-five and Gretel was eighty-three. Those numbers meant nothing to him. He had never thought of either of them as old. Only after she died did he entertain the thought of being old and dying. Without her, he had no reason for living.

I have already mentioned that my uncle’s apartment was small, 600 square feet, one bedroom. I didn’t mention that my uncle was a hoarder and the apartment was filled with boxes of old records, photographs, stuffed toys my aunt loved, her costumes and clothes from the 60‘s. Nothing was ever thrown away. My Aunt had been an actress, mostly off-Broadway, and one Broadway production of Agamemnon. She had worked for Joseph Papp in his well-known production of “Mac the Knife”. The apartment was filled with theatrical memorabilia, old Playbills, a well-known Mac the Knife poster, a box of theatrical make-up, cheap costume jewelry, wigs, hats, and head coverings of all kinds.

There were book shelves in the hall and over the couch, filled to capacity. Sometimes while sitting on the couch a book would fall, setting off an avalanche of falling books. There were paintings by my Aunt’s father leaning against the walls, sculptures made by her mother, an airplane made out of rulers, knick knacks from the thirties and forties, along with all of my deceased grandmother’s belongings. The first painting I ever made was leaning against the piano next to forty years of collected sheet music. The round, claw foot, wood table my Aunt had bought for $24 at a swap meet in the sixties was a catch-all for groceries, mail, the daily paper and a white metal bread box painted with red cherries and covered in rust from years of neglect. Larry left a banana in the bread box and after weeks it rotted into liquid and seeped into the wood table staining it permanently. I could never completely get that sickly-sweet, pungent smell out of the room.

“Do you know how much she paid for that table?” Larry asked me often and even more often as the dementia took over. One of the signs of the onset of dementia is repeating the same question over and over again. A common sign is repeatedly asking “What time is it?” His stories had always been a bit of a big fish story but as his memory failed, his stories about the past became more elaborate. The present faded.

In the bedroom was a collection of masks from Africa, Bali and a couple of local kitschy painted, porcelain faces. Forty years of bookkeeping was piled between the bed and the window. He kept every piece of paper since 1961. There was an old neglected wood chest on the right side of the room and a metal military chest under the bed. There were photos, letters, a collection of lighters and ash trays, some with names of famous hotels. My uncle had been a committed smoker for many years, only quitting in the 1980s. Throat cancer finally caught up with him in his last year, but not before the dementia had taken over his mind. I’m not sure which one finally claimed his body. It didn’t matter in the end.

There was a pull-out bed in the living room but absolutely no room to pull it out. If I even tried I would come up against the 1890’s farm house rocker whose seat had decayed from age and was made somewhat functional by piling old pillows on a stack of newspapers and wrapping it all together with string. Next to it was a child’s rocker, also broken. Larry said the rocker was handmade by Gretel’s family and carried east on a covered wagon.

On the living room floor was a massive, filthy air-conditioner that had been in the window for twenty years. When the building management insisted it be bolted to the outside wall my uncle refused. The house maintenance man took it down and Larry wouldn’t let him take it out of the apartment. There were two of these big, dirty units, one in the living room right in front of the couch and the other was in the kitchen blocking the path to the window.

Unable to sleep at my uncle’s, I stayed at the Incentra Village Inn, a charming, historic Victorian town house built in 1846. The stairways were tight and getting my bags up or down the two or three flights of stairs was a challenge, but the rooms were quaint, and historically furnished. The beds were good, some of the rooms had cooking facilities and it was a place to chill out before I would meet up with my uncle again. I stayed there every time I came to town.

Over time, when my uncle’s health failed and he no long could remember what he owned, I was able give things away. Before that he would stop me. “Don’t touch anything,” he would yell. “What are you doing?” he would demand. Or he would tell me to mind my own business.

As he got sicker, when he slept or was in the hospital, I carried bag after bag to the local thrift store, seven blocks away. Several times over the next couple of years, when I would stop into the store, it was completely filled with things from his apartment. It felt strange  to see personal items being handled by strangers and sold. I have always had collections, but after disposing, of first my parent’s belongings, and then my Aunt and Uncle’s, I decided to live simply. I no longer keep anything I’m not using.

By the time I made enough room in the apartment to pull out the hide-a-bed, the dementia had taken hold of my uncle’s mind.  He no longer could be alone and I hired two full time care givers, one for the week days, one for week-ends. They slept on the pull-out couch. I continued my residency in the guest house.

I loved it at the Inn. I would wake up at five in the morning and walk the seven blocks back to my uncle’s apartment as the city was waking up. The store owners rolled-up the aluminum siding or slid back the iron gates on the front of their stores. The florist brought out cans of fresh flowers and the trucks made their deliveries. I would stop into Starbucks and pick-up a Chai-Tea and a New York times. I felt as if I lived there. It became a sense of pride to hear, “Oh you’re so New York.”

My uncle never had any children and he always loved me, but other than the ten years I lived in New York City, we had been three thousand miles apart. The time we spent together, during those last years, gave us a chance to know each other in ways that hadn’t been possible. We were now both adults and equals. Later on, when he became dependent, it changed our relationship again. Before the dementia, we talked for hours, sometimes in one of the village restaurants, sometimes in the living room sitting on the chairs, crowded between the boxes.

We looked at his photography, a passion I share. We talked about family, and about personal struggles. He heard me talk to a co-worker on the phone and asked, “Are you struggling with that?” I answered, “Yes. Sometimes I can be very arrogant.” He got quiet for a moment and then replied, “It’s in the family.” I knew exactly what he meant.

It was hard for him to talk about the war, even though he kept memorabilia, like books, German medals and photos. Every once in-a-while he would share a story. He told me about a German Doctor he met when the U.S. occupied Germany. Larry told this doctor he had German roots. The doctor, knowing my uncle was Jewish, spit on the floor and said, “Nien, judisch. (NO, Jewish). It was a strange story and I don’t know why he told it, but it must have bothered him after all these years. Most of the time, when asked about the war, Larry would wave me away. “It’s over,” he would say. “Forget about it.”

My uncle never regretted anything he did or didn’t do. The only thing I ever heard him say was, “I wonder why I didn’t do that?”

When Gretel died we had her body cremated and made room for her ashes on the bookshelf. My Aunt and Uncle had only two close friends, one was in Minnesota and the other lived in New York. We didn’t have a funeral for Gretel. Eddie, the New Yorker, came by and the three of us went to a local restaurant. We celebrated Gretel’s life by telling stories. Larry went home that night, quieter than usual. We sat together for a while before going to bed, but there wasn’t much to say except he kept asking me what I thought happened. “Did the hospital make a mistake?”

“No, It just happens,” I said again.

Early on, when Larry was still working, we would have breakfast together every morning before he went to Brooklyn. That went on until he no longer remembered to go to work. The dementia took everything.

For most of the first and part of the second year, Larry and I would explore the city. We went to the Metropolitan Museum and had trouble finding a parking spot. We went to the Museum of Natural History and spent most of the time in the garden beneath the old oak trees. We walked from the village to the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue. He wanted to see what an Apple computer was. The crowds frightened him, but the technology excited him. “Wow,” he said, “I should learn how to do this.” He never did.

We explored the South Street Seaport, Chinatown, and went to the Opera. We saw an unknown opera based on one of Dostoevsky’s stories. It wasn’t great but we both delighted in being there. I never knew he loved the opera until I saw his reaction when he walked into the Metropolitan Opera House. “I haven’t been here in so long. I don’t know why I haven’t been here.” he said, teary eyed. “Thank you,” he added as if I gave him the best gift he could ever think of.

During that first winter we walked around Rockefeller Center admiring the elegant beauty of the Art Deco building and stopped to watch the skaters. The following year we never got to see the tallest Christmas tree being lit because he was too weak. We couldn’t watch it on television, the TV was busted. I went alone and came back with stories and pictures I took with his iPhone. We went to the New Leaf restaurant in Fort Tyron Park, had lunch and a drink at the bar. I have a picture of him at the Cloisters. It had been a little over a year since my aunt died. In that picture, he looked very old. His skin was thin with a bluish cast and he had developed purple black spots on his arms. I remember holding his hands, seeking the strength I knew from him and finding only brittle and fragile bones. Not long after that he stopped taking walks. My uncle was fading before my eyes, but New York was blooming. It was spring and the Apple trees were blossoming all over the city.

The summer of 2008 came and I spent two weeks every month in New York until September when I had to stay in California for work. I came back in October before I flew to Germany and stopped again two weeks later on my way home. In those two weeks I noticed another big decline in my uncle’s health. He was weaker, his legs would give out for no apparent reason and his was rapidly losing weight. We no longer went far from home and he had given up work completely. Mostly, we went to restaurants right in the area, and sometimes to St. Luke’s which was across the street from the diner. The local church and rectory has a lush community garden. One day we sat in the garden for four hours talking about the trees. “Look at them, kid,” he would said, his eyes glowing. “Can you see how beautiful they are? And then, looking down at his hands and speaking slowly, he said, “Gretel loved this place. I don’t know why she had to die. She loved this place so much.” I didn’t know if he was talking about the earth or the church garden.

I flew back to California and returned for Thanksgiving. I only stayed a couple of days but noticed his decline was increasing with each visit.  We ate at the diner or I cooked. He was fading fast and I was still not sure what was wrong with him.

December 2008, while at the dinner, I noticed a shimmering bright red balloon caught in the tree branches that extended far above the church garden wall. “Look at that,” I said. He looked up, nodded and down again, at his slice of pie. Our conversations ceased and I had to be content with being with him and sharing his silence.

Illness and impending death puts a lot of things into perspective and focuses your attention on the immediate. Larry’s health was failing. He needed medical attention and flatly refused. I needed to hire someone to look after him, but the apartment was still too cluttered. No one would walk in, no less spend time there. It had to be cleaned and cleared. Larry still wouldn’t let go of anything. Then I discovered he hadn’t paid any of his bills.  He hadn’t paid rent in so long I couldn’t believe they hadn’t thrown him out, but he was still too stubborn to hand over full control to me. I had to do what I could on his schedule, a little bit at a time. He finally gave me power of attorney. We signed most of the necessary legal papers and put my name on a couple of accounts. I was fighting time. Every postponement meant he would not be able to sign at all.

Just before Christmas, as I was running errands, he wandered out of the apartment and ended up in Brooklyn. While looking for a restaurant that had long been torn down, he fell. Someone called an ambulance. They took him to a near-by Brooklyn hospital. I had no idea where he was and finally had to call the police. The detectives were great, but the fear of not knowing what happened to him, was excruciating. I called every hospital in Manhattan but only a few in Brooklyn. I missed the one he was in.

It took two days before the hospital contacted me. When I arrived to pick him up he was on a gurney in a long outer hallway, with two dozen other patients waiting to be admitted. He was still in the same bloody clothes and the nurse on duty told me they were about to release him. Aware that having him in the hospital meant he was being cared for, I insisted they admit him for observation.

While he was in the hospital, I hired a care giver from Russia, Venera, because she reminded me of my grandmother. She was lively, maternal, eager to care for Larry and willing to take on the job even as the apartment was still being cleaned. She and I brought Larry home the day before New Year’s Eve.

It is interesting how a place and an experience can become so intertwined. When my uncle was mobile, New York was rich with experience – exotic foods, smells, museums, conversations and people that we met or observed in the street. When my uncle’s health failed and we were restricted to the apartment, the city took on a whole new feel. It became cold, lonely and hard to navigate. The weather was in the low teens when it wasn’t snowing and the streets often packed with ice. I still made daily trips to the thrift store or the grocery, but other than that stayed in. I fell on the ice a couple of times and cursed out New York. Inside, the apartment was getting more livable and cozy. I bought a new rug, bright colored dishes, new chairs and a lamp.

We celebrated New Year’s Eve sitting on his couch admiring the newly renovated apartment, the freshly painted walls, a picture hanging, curtains on the windows, space to move from room to room and a beautiful green rug.

“Look at that floor.” He declared in child-like glee. He hadn’t seen the now decayed parquet wood floor in years. Seeing it again brought him such joy. Hoarding is an illness. The person’s fears are irrational. You can’t throw things out suddenly. It will push the person over the edge. The fear is not about the things. Most often, they don’t even know what they have. Much of my Uncle’s belongings were in boxes. Still, I had to clean up slowly, in a way that wouldn’t threaten him. I started with things in drawers and closets and then packed up items in the center of the room as his memory failed. I took to creative lying. When he asked me what I was getting rid of, I said, “just dirt”. I introduced him to the newly cleaned apartment as if it had always been clean.

I spent all of 2009 with my uncle, but through the course of the year, the man I knew had vanished and the person left, was skeletal (he lost over 100 pounds), mentally diminished and in a constant state of medical crisis.

By New Year’s 2009, we had six months left together. I flew back and forth every three weeks and called daily. I made up emails with pictures of the place I lived and the things I did during the day. Genera read them to him. We called in hospice and they sent over an older man who read the newspaper to him and a young girl who sang him songs. She was lovely, but couldn’t sing. I rolled my eyes and Larry laughed, shooing me away. I downloaded opera on my IPod and played it for him. As weak as he was, the music never failed to move him to tears. I learned to love that music through him. I learned to love so many things that would have simply bored me before. I enjoyed the sunshine that streamed through his newly cleaned windows. I bought colorful items because it delighted him. I bought yellow dishes and a bright blue bath towel. He thought the world was rich and exotic. He was teaching me to appreciate life in a whole new way.

He could no longer carry on a cohesive conversation. All we had were moments of emotional reactions, a smile, a tear, large eyes or the swing of his hand. He could no longer stand, was skin and bones and fell out of the hospital bed hospice brought over for him, busting bones, bruising his eye and once cracking his skull.

“It’s all most over,” he said to me that June. “What is almost over?” I asked him. He couldn’t answer. He became confused, but I knew what he meant. He was dying. On the last few days of his life he was mostly incoherent. There was one moment when his mind seemed to kick in and he asked me when I was going home. “I’m staying for you,” I answered. “Good,” he replied. Genera told him how much she loved him. He looked at her and very clearly said, “You gotta get a man.”

He died a couple of hours later on July 17, 2009. Genera and I were both by his bedside.

I cried because I was exhausted. I cried as a release of tension, but I didn’t cry for my uncle because what we shared would never be lost. My uncle taught me that death was not a bad thing. He was tired and lonely. He missed my aunt and there was nothing left for him to accomplish in life. He was done. We had made the most of every moment. Some of it was the toughest time in my life, but it was all rich and rewarding.

I finished clearing out the apartment that November.

That last week I walked the city, took trains and buses, walked up and down the Hudson River Park from Battery Park to 56th street. I went to Dennis Conner’s North Cove yacht marina, on the Hudson River in Battery Park City, the Irish Hunger Memorial on Vesey Street, the High-line south of west 30th street, and Chelsea Market in the old meat packing district. I took the train to 72nd street, an area I had once lived in in the 70’s and said goodbye to the Ansonia, a historic grand hotel between 73rd and 74th. I stopped into the corner diner and said goodbye to the waiters and waitresses. I had onion soup at the French Bistro and went shopping in Soho. I took Larry’s and Gretel ashes upstate New York to Bovina, a town about five hours out from Manhattan, where they once owned a summer home and farm. There is a restaurant there called Heaven. Behind the restaurant is a stretch of rolling hills covered in wild flowers. My aunt and uncle loved the city, but they also loved the farm. I spread their ashes among the flowers behind Heaven.

I shut the apartment door on the last day of November very aware that I would never experience New York the same way again. I have been back, but only for a day on my way to Europe. I didn’t go back to the village. That is over. I walked from Penn station to Columbus Circle. I sat in an outdoor restaurant on 59th and Broadway and drank in the city. I have a newly found, deep appreciation for life. I don’t want to change anything and I don’t want to miss all the gifts that come with every new day.

 

 

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