Her bright blue eyes beckoned to us as we entered. A smile made its way across her gentle face. It was clear she had something to share with us. Hugs all around, and the now familiar greeting, a kiss on each cheek. She says it is the French way.
We met Louise one Sunday morning as we were leaving church. It was raining that day and she was slowly making it down the steep steps of the aging parish. We were concerned for her safety and offered to assist. No, she had this, but welcomed the concern.
Louise is 90 something years young, still vibrant, charming and beautiful. Her crystal clear blue eyes sparkle in a life fulfilled. She lives alone on the upper floor of a Manhattan walk-up on a street with stoops and tree lined sidewalks. Fire escapes zigzag up the buildings. The buildings here are the essence of the character of New York City.
We were invited to drop by for coffee and visiting. It was a slice in time we will never forget.
It was a cold New York winter day. We stopped by La Bergamote and chose French pastry cakes to go with the coffee.
When we arrived, we were greeted warmly by Louise and her daughter Jacqueline. Both greeted us with cheek kisses.
The apartment is reminiscent of the days of Jackie Gleason. The entry opened into the kitchen. Painted white with old-school appliances and a small wooden table in the center. It looked as though it could tell stories from decades past. On the near wall was a small window looking to the adjacent building and providing soft reflective light into the small but warm room.
In preparation of our coming Louise prepared crepes. Old world, family recipe crepes in a tall stack, served with real butter, strawberry jam and percolated coffee. We relished the warm crepes then shared the pastries.
Louise invited us to join her in her parlor for conversation. The pictures on her wall showed the farmhouse where she lived as a child in the French countryside.
She proudly showed her manger scene, paper sculpture, a hand painted stone depicting a picture of Santa Claus and a Christmas tree. We listened as she shared the mementos of her life and regaled us with stories of each. Stories made richer by her twinkling blue eyes and beautiful French accent.
Louise grew up in occupied France, experiencing and surviving a brutal time in the world’s history. She was a young girl when Nazis came to her home, brutalizing her family. She witnessed things no one should have to remember, but unlike some of her family, she survived. After marriage, Louise and her husband decided they would come to America for a better life. He left France and came to America, settling in Long Island where he worked in the ship yards. Once he was established he sent for Louise. She was 17. Leaving her children with the grandparents, she joined her husband and took a job as nanny to a family Yonkers. Here she began to learn English The couple saved their money, and, in a few years, they were able to afford an apartment and sent for their children. The family was reunited.
Louise, her husband and their children moved into their apartment in Hell’s Kitchen 61 years ago. Jacqueline, her daughter still lives in the area.
As we sat and talked about her childhood in occupied France, about her 61 years in the neighborhood and the drastic changes she had seen over the years, we realized that Louise was a treasure we would never forget. Her stories testify to her strength and character.
All too soon our visit came to an end. We bundled up, said our good-byes and left to go home
At 93 years old, Louise still climbs the 104 stairs to her apartment every day. She walks to church, gets her own groceries and carries them back to her apartment. She is a prayerful woman and is unlike anyone we have previously met.
This week Louise announced she was returning to France for a prolonged visit. We hope she returns before we leave. She is a remarkable woman, and more than a brief acquaintance.