Can the memory of love sustain you when nothing else will? I learned the answer is yes. My mother, Gloria, and I were making our last Meals on Wheels delivery on behalf of Disney and the Jan Hus Church on East 74th street when we met Rita.
As soon as my mother and I exited the elevator in the eighth floor we saw her waiving us around the corner to her apartment. My mother was limping because of pain in her hip and I was hobbling with my cane due to my broken toes and usual spinal pain.
We walked down the long hallway and said, “Meals on Wheels delivery. How are you today?”
Rita paused and says, “Ah, you know what I won’t complain.”
I replied, “Well, I’m glad you’re inside on such a cold day.”
“Actually I was just downstairs. I had to get something very important in the mail. My landlord wants to force me out of my home after 50 years so my niece and nephew, who are attorneys, are helping me. I’m just glad my husband Harry isn’t alive to see this.”
Rita told us that when she and Harry moved into the building on East 76th Street in the early 1960’s it was considered a Hungarian slum. She figured the neighborhood had changed some but she was stunned to learn that her tiny one bedroom was now selling for 800 thousand dollars. She, however, was not interested in moving.
Rita left us at the front door and rummaged through a pile of papers until she dug out two pictures of Harry. He was a tall, handsome, smiling man with dark wavy hair.
Rita told us they met at a resort in the Catskills in July 1944 when she was just 14 years old. The six foot 137 pound teenager walked up to her and put his arm around her. She exclaimed, “no one puts their hands on me.” Rita says Harry laughed. He never left her side again other than to go to war.
He returned home and became and engineer for Columbia Records then Sony. She worked for comedians like Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller. She said Harry was so funny people tried to convince him to write jokes for a living. But, she was ill and could only work part time and back then the going rate was five dollars a joke so Harry passed. But, Rita says he never gave up charming and entertaining everyone he met. Even when he was in the nursing home later in his life, Harry got preference over the other residents because he always talked to the orderlies like Jesus and lifted their spirits.
Rita caressed the pictures and said, “Do you believe in love at first sight? I do because Harry saw me and he loved me. I know he did because, once, when he was nearly comatose in a nursing home I said, “You know what Harry we’ve had quite a love affair.” Rita said he got a burst of energy and jumped on the bed like a child with a big smile on his face.
Rita said she sold all of jewelry and nearly everything of value she owned to keep Harry close to her towards the end of his life. “It was worth it,” Rita said. I thought about leaving this apartment after that but I couldn’t.”
“Don’t,” I said. “It’s where you made a life with Harry. It’s home.”
“And, you had more love in your life than most people. You had laughs with Harry to get through the tough times,” my mother said.
“You’re right,” Rita responded. “I never thought I’d need meals on wheels but if it brings me people like you two to talk with about Harry I won’t complain.”
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