Transcript for the Piece Audio version of Fran Rehfeld--Almost 100 years old in NYC
INTRO: Fran Rehfeld is one of New York's oldest residents. She's been a Manhattanite since 1913 and has lived on her own in Hell's Kitchen since John F. Kennedy was president. Mona Iskander has the story of how she lives now.
AMBI: Track 12/10:20 Fran talking about the hats she wears... These are the hats I wear in the winter and in the summer i have to take out the summer hats... these are all hats..
NARR: On a Sunday afternoon, Fran Rehfeld sits back in a small wooden chair in her living room. In one corner is a collection of hats. She made most of them when she used to work as a milliner. PAUSE Fran sifts through the pile to find just the right one. Today it is a zebra skin hat with a wide brim and a black flower.
AMBI: FADE UP its a good looking hat. description of hat... its a very old hat... came from a black lady.
NARR: Fran turns 100 this December but she says she feels much younger and she looks it. She has chin-length salt and pepper hair and she's passionate about style.
ACT: Track 11/1:35 I dress up and i've always worn.. i have wonderful things and I wear my hat and scarves and jackets and i look special.
NARR: With the exception of a housecleaner who comes once a week, Fran Rehfeld cooks, shops, and travels all by herself. Her normal routine is to go for long walks and visit neighborhood friends. She has two daughters. One lives on Long Island and the other is in Arizona. She sees them occasionally, but she's made a conscious decision to be independent.
ACT: that's the cause of not getting things i would have liked to have because i always refuse it. you can't keep refusing and expect them to keep on giving.
NARR: Fran has lived in this high-rise on 43rd Street and 9th Avenue for 16 years and she's been in Hell’s Kitchen for the last 40. In those years, she has found a family of shop owners and neighbors.
ACT: Track 9**:28 They see that im there and they try to make a place for me. That makes me feel good. But personal friends to go with, there’re none left.
NARR: And she doesn't understand why she's outlived all of her friends.
ACT: its strange... they would die at 50,60,70... i don't know why. ive always felt that's so strange, what would you do in your life that you can't live till at least 80.
ACT: Fran's family immigrated to the US from Russia in 1913 when she was only 8 years old. They settled in a small apartment in the East Village and she lived there until she married at 22 and worked as a fashion buyer. But another life began when she left her husband in 1960. She was 56 years old.
ACT: And after I got the divorce i just began to live, it was wonderful.
NARR: She says it was like discovering a new world. And one of them was on Broadway-when she worked as an usher.
ACT: I was 69 at the time and I said, what'm I gonna do now... they finally did send me out and i got a job with gershwin theater and that's where i stayed i stayed for twenty years on that same job....
NARR: Fran Rehfeld is heading out to see an art show in Harlem.
NARR: In the elevator on the way down, she runs into some neighbors who shower her with compliments.
AMBI: FADE UP ON THE WAY TO THE ELEVATOR... sound of elevator.... hello my dear, oh smart as ever.. she's just the fashion plate of our building... you're just another fan... i just adore her.. the whole building does. man comes in, they both praise her...
AMBI: GOING OUTSIDE.... sound of walker....
NARR: It's hard to miss fran as she walks down the street with her walker. She’s only 4 feet 6 inches tall, but her hat gives her a few more inches. Fran has always refused her family's suggestions to move to a group home.
ACT: they tell me where they are, how comfortable or wonderful.. i could never bear it. only time i'll be there is if i have to.
AMBI: street ambi fade down....
AMBI: Bring up music at restaurant.... of arriving at restaurant, arno says hello, people say hellos... music in background.
NARR:. As Fran enters the exhibit, she shines in the midst of the young and fashionable crowd. All heads turn to look at her. And she delights in the attention and flattery.
AMBI: Sounds of people greeting her... complimenting her hat...
NARR: Her friend Arno Pareja, who is 36, introduces her to the crowd. The two met at a cafe near her home a couple of years ago. Arno is originally from Colombia but he's been in the neighborhood for 10 years. He says he was drawn to her "old world style."
ACT: i always saw her alone and at that time bc i come from culture where someone at her age is completely incapacitated or at home. you don't see anyone as independent at all in my country and here they're in a group home. but she's a really special case.
NARR: Arno leads her to a couch where she sits back and carefully removes her hat and places it on a table. She sips wine from a large goblet and smiles at a circle of admirers who beg for stories of her many lives. This is why Arno invited her.
ACT: ARNO: Arno: I invited her to the party bc of her age. that's the reason i invite her. she motivates ppl, like move, go do something with your life. i like her but i want her in my life and im selfish and she serves a purpose.
NARR: Fran has her reasons for being here, too.
ACT: **15:30 these wonderful young people.. .its been a while since ive been in an atmosphere with these young people… its wonderful to see it, this is life that’s living… I love it.
AMBI: FADE MUSIC DOWN
AMBI: FADE UP OF FRAN SHOWING PICS
NARR: Back at home, Fran tidies up her already spotless apartment. She points to pictures of the five generations in her family. The photos are neatly displayed on a mahogany chest near a window.
AMBI: And this is her daughter, and her daughter, and her daughter....
NARR: While she is still active at 99, Fran is beginning to lose her hearing. She injured her hip and her shoulder is giving her problems. But she is unstoppable, making sure life doesn't pass her by. When people ask what the secret to a long life is, she's doesn't have an answer.
AMBI: fade down
ACT: Im surprised I got there myself. I don’t know how.
NARR: And when asked about the idea of death, Fran shakes her head.
ACT: It doesn’t ever phase me at all. I just hope it happens in my sleep. That’s why I’m taking care of my health so i don't have to suffer through an illness.
NARR: Tonight, Fran will cook for herself in the comfort of her home.
ACT: **28:37 I don’t feel lonely bc im always dreaming up something to do or change. don’t need different furniture.. I really should throw everything away, getting too much but I keep
thinking as im sleeping, I think, maybe I should do this to cushion..
NARR: Life is busy for Fran. And she doesn't waste a minute. She's constantly visiting people, making to-do lists and taking things slow.
ACT: **2:25 you’re not born to have a good time for the rest of your life. Im having a great time, really am enjoying every day of my life.
NARR: Fran doesn't have plans for tomorrow but she's thinking of going down to the Cupcake Cafe for a cup of coffee and maybe she'll meet some new customers. It's just another day.
For Columbia Radio News, I'm Mona Iskander.Back