My grandmother, Rosamond, moved to Manhattan in the late 70s, some time after her divorce was finalized. She was in her early 50s and practiced at independence since she’d been primarily on her own throughout her marriage. It was time to secure a future, so she did just that.
She worked as a receptionist at a company in midtown. Actually, she worked a half dozen fine administrative positions, one after the other, all equally well…they just didn’t hold her interest. Paired with her charming and matter-of-fact demeanor, a couple months here, a couple years there looked less like short-temperedness and more like experience, and she was always hired on that fair presumption.
She had applied to live in the affordable housing that was being built along Columbus Avenue on the Upper Westside, which, as she put it, was “really just lower Harlem at that time”. In late October, 1978, she settled into a large studio on the 7th floor- at the top of the trees, peaking over the neighboring 5 floor walk-ups. Southern exposure meant she could plant her flowers. She liked putting roots down, if only symbolically. Being free, Roz liked mobility, so stability came to mean a potted plant / winters in Florida with Joe / never running out of coffee.
Around the time she was cozying-up what would be her home for another 30 years, everyone at home in Haverhill thought she was mad to be moving into the city at that time. It was dirty and dangerous- no place for a woman of any age to live on her own. They offered her a house on the property they’d called home for a century, but Roz refused what she considered “a handout”. No. Even years later, as was characteristic of her prideful nature, she laughed off what she perceived as pity (though it was likely more about love). And anyway, her children lived downtown, so she was not alone in every sense of the word. At least she hoped she wasn’t.
It was her life, now more than ever. She could do whatever she wanted with it, however long it lasted. As the obstetrician up north noted the day they decided to sign off on her hysterectomy, “You’ve had 4 healthy babies. You’ve paid your dues to society. You shouldn’t have to suffer more pain, should you? No.” And after the surgery she said she’d never felt so free.
Roz kept the kitchen stocked with peanut butter, margarine, white sandwich bread, eggs, Folgers, and gin. She wasn’t home to eat except on weekends. There was no one to cook for, which made shopping simple. It made most things simple. She alternately relaxed and reflected in the quiet spaces between nobody being there and wondering if there might ever be anybody home, again, but she never dwelled on either thought for too long. She’d learned how to manage longing over the years, and this was not so bad. This was nothing, which was much better than too much of something, in her opinion.
When the frost of her first New York winter melted away, she planted red and pink geraniums on the balcony, triumphant. She put down fake green grass carpeting. She padded out in the morning with her black coffee and sat in the early morning sun with her flowers, and everything was quite alright. She would be quite alright, she estimated.