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NYC Time Traveler

Eleanor

Hurricane...Election...Nor'easter...These last several weeks have blown by, a blur of intense events and heightened emotions, contributing to a lingering sense, for me at least, of cognitive dissonance, along with stunned dismay at the continuing suffering of so many in our city.

One small bright note, on the very eve of that most unwelcome early snow, was a commemoration of Eleanor Roosevelt's life, held on the 50th anniversary of her passing, which drew a tiny but determined group of her admirers to gather before the lovely bronze likeness of the great lady that marks the West 72nd Street entrance of Riverside Park.

The wind was already rising, a sleety rain spitting, and the ceremony—eloquent invocations of her legacy, the laying of a bouquet of roses at her feet by her grandson Frank (FDR III) following his own brief speech—was clearly cut short in deference to the threatening weather.

FDRIII

But it was a beautiful, unexpectedly inspiring celebration nonetheless, one I'm glad I didn't miss. Much of the audience was decades older than I, including a number of veteran westside activists—who were of course also celebrating the previous night's election results!—and one renowned documentarian, Richard Kaplan, who made what he called "the real film" (as opposed to the biopic) about ER a few years after her death. By some wonderful coincidence (or not?) he lives just across Riverside Drive from her statue; he and Frank R. were still deep in conversation as I headed away toward West End and my own apartment, warmed by what I'd heard, what I remembered myself of Eleanor Roosevelt, in spite of the cold, hard rain falling down on an already battered town.

Director Richard Kaplan and Frank Roosevelt

 

A sad postscript: We—my family, and hers, and the many, many friends she'd made in her 94 years—lost another dear Eleanor during the hurricane itself: Eleanor Piel, of New London, CT., who evidently fell ill at home as the superstorm roared in, and was removed to a hospital, where she died later that day. She and husband Irving were close friends of my parents before I was even born: Lifelong New Yorkers both—she taught in the public school system, eventually serving as principal of one of our finest Manhattan primaries—they retired to New London, where Irving and my father had earlier served together in the United States Coast Guard (both, not incidentally, recruited for the famed USCG band). Widowed many years ago, Eleanor carried on with characteristic high energy, and an authentic spirit of independence unusual among women of her generation; her eclectic pursuits included poetry writing, producing a column for the local paper, Jewish community involvements, endless travel (into her nineties), and just living her life, on her own, in the beautiful old house I remember well from long-ago visits. More recently, my mother (also widowed) went up alone, now and again, to spend a night or two with her old friend. Alas: we'd been planning an autumn drive together, for a night's stay with Eleanor; I'm sadder than I can easily express to have missed the chance to see her just one more time...

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