She’s Ninety



MOM turns Ninety! She asked me to write something for the occasion. I read this at her Birthday Dinner last night. Sharing it here, as well…

She’s Ninety!
She doesn’t feel that way!
She feels like the Beautiful Young Girl she was in the 1940’s
And Flirting
And Dancing
Pioneering Fashion
Enjoying Good Food
And Good Times…
All of the things people today think they are So Cool for having discovered…
She was doing them all seventy years ago.

The Family gathers to Celebrate

The Family gathers to Celebrate


The Roaring Twenties
It was the Jazz Age
The Age of Art Deco
And Radio Broadcast
Described as an era of Social, Artistic and Cultural Dynamism.
She was a Social Artistic and Cultural Dynamo.
In that Year:
The Ziegfeld Theater opened at 6th Avenue and 54th Street
(She would later take me there!)
The Roxy Theater opened in New York.
(And Yeah, she took me there Too!)
The Royale Theater, the Golden Theater, the Alvin, St. James, and Majestic Theaters all opened on Broadway.
(She would later take me to All of Them!)

The Year the Lindy got its name…
It cost 50 cents to get into the Savoy BallRoom.
Bread was 10 cents a pound
Coffee: 47 cents a pound
Macaroni: 3 lbs for 25 cents.
You could buy a record for 39 cents.
Gas was 12 cents a gallon.
The Ford Model A had replaced the Model T, and you could pick one up for between $500 and $1200.
Her family could not afford a car.

It had been fifteen years since more than 5,000 Women marched on Washington demanding the right to Vote, Access to Birth Control, and Economic Equality.
Ironically, they expected that getting the Right to Vote would be the least likely achievement of the three.

The 1920’S

The 19th Amendment was signed into Law, ensuring Women the Right to Vote.

MOM, Back Then...

MOM, Back Then…

MARGARET SANGER founded the American Birth Control League, which later evolved into PLANNED PARENTHOOD.
The first Automatic Record Changer was introduced.
Louis B Mayer forms the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (This would come to mean a Lot to Her! She Loved Movies! Especially the Old Fashioned Musicals! …Still does!)


It was the Age of Babe Ruth and Albert Einstein,
Mussolini and Sigmund Freud
The Lost Generation
T.S. Eliot, Faulkner, Fitzgerald and Langston Hughes.
Louis Armstrong, George Gershwin, and Cecil B DeMille…
Salvador Dali, Picasso, Chagall, Man Ray, Matisse, and Georgia O’Keefe…
Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harry Houdini, and Valentino…
And now, somewhere in Yonkers, New York: CLARA.
One of five siblings — soon to be six when her younger sister VERA is born.


LOUIS works in a Barber Shop.
There are Female estheticians working there.
One day, FORTUNATINA enters the shop with a photograph of her children.
She heads over to where the Female Estheticians are working,
She holds up the photograph to all of the young Ladies working and says,
“You see that man over there? He’s got a lot of Kids! Leave him Alone!”
And she walks back out.

CLARA wants a new dress.
She rides the bus with her father in the morning and asks her DADDY for money to buy one.
He reaches in his wallet and hands her a few dollars.
She returns home wearing her new dress.
FORTUNATINA asks, “Where did you get that!?”
And she says, “PAPA gave me the money!”
“He told me he had no money! I needed money for food and he told me there was none, but he has money to give you for a new Dress!???”
Clearly, she is the adored child.

ITALIA dies.
RENATO dies.
And eventually LOUIS dies.
As MOM would tell us, “There were no funeral homes for wakes in those days. People couldn’t afford them. You held the wake in the Living Room. And after that, you moved, because every time you walked into the room, you could still see the body!”

After LOUIS died, as was traditional for Italian American families, everyone had to wear black for a year — head to toe! So CLARA was in Black Dress, Black Stockings, Black Shoes…
Her Sister, VERA, petitioned FORTUNATINA, “But MAMA, they make Fun of her at school! No one else does this! Please! Just let the stockings go — Let her wear regular stockings, and she can still wear the Black Dress and Black Shoes!”
And so it goes for Immigrants in a new Country.
And being a Progressive Woman, FORTUNATINA agreed.
The next morning, FORTUNATINA is beading and sewing as CLARA leaves for school in her black dress, black shoes, nude stockings, and a little White Lace Doily Collar which she took the liberty of adding onto the collar of her black dress to brighten it up a bit.
“Without looking up from her beading, FORTUNATINA calls, “You think that I don’t see!???”

She was a Fashion Designer.
And she was Smart!
In the 1940’s she was a BobbySoxer,
And the fashion had switched from button front cardigans to sweater blouses.
Unable to afford a new one, she put on her bobby socks and donned her cardigan backwards, buttoning up the back so that the front would match the fashion of the times.
And off she went to hoot and holler for FRANK SINATRA!

Her ingenuity brought her to the Fashion Institute of Technology on ScholarShip.
FORTUNATINA told her, “It was a Great Honor for them to give such a Scholarship to an Italian!” And indeed, in those days, it very much was so.
She created designs and received a personal interview with the Famed Designer PAULINE TRIGÈRE.
TRIGÈRE asked to see MOM’s portfolio, and said she was very impressed as she carefully studied MOM’s Work.
She thanked MOM for her time, and within a year, released an entire fashion line in her own name, of exactly what MOM had shown her.

The 1950’s

MOM, some time ago

MOM, some time ago

CLARA went on to Marry the man of her Dreams.
She had options, by the way.
A few years ago, we developed some old negatives to see what the photos were.
LAURA, her GrandDaughter, asked, “GRANDMA, who is this man you are with in these pictures? This is not GRANDPA!”
MOM took a look at the photos curiously, then smiled with a glint in her eye,
And looking at her GrandDaughter with just the right balance of admonition and encouragement, she replied, “Ohhhh, I was a Naughty Girl!”

She married ARNOLD, Sr., after meeting him on a Blind Date,
introduced by her friend NORMA, and NORMA’s boyfriend, LINO.
ARNOLD, Sr. had returned from fighting in World War II,
And was studying at NYU, the Bronx Campus.
Seemed like a catch!

“Ohhhh, I was a Naughty Girl!” ...Now I know where I get it from!

“Ohhhh, I was a Naughty Girl!” …Now I know where I get it from!

Bread was now 14 cents.
Coffee went down to 37 cents a pound
Records were now $2.85 for a 10” and $4.85 for a 12 inch “L.P.,” recently introduced by Columbia Records and soon to become the standard.
A new Car was $1,510.
Dinner and Dancing at the Copacabana now ranged from $2.50 to $6.50.
I LOVE LUCY premieres.

Today, she has Four Children
Four GrandChildren
And Two Great-GrandChildren
— So Far!

JACKIE KENNEDY was pregnant with JOHNBOY the same year MOM was pregnant with me.

MOM had given up her very promising Career to raise a Family.
And what a Full Time Job that turned out to be!
(If you’ve met the four of us… Just think about it!)
Six of us, growing up in a three-bedroom apartment in the Bronx.
It was a Big Deal to MOM to raise her kids in New York.
She just felt that was Important,
And although many summers were spent in an activity we called “House Hunting,” looking at properties in the suburbs,
MOM never agreed to one.
They were all just a little too far from where it was happening, for her taste.

Gentle, Loving, Patient, Kind,
And with a dash of Chutzpah!
She mended scraped knees, removed splinters,
Made Hot Chocolate on snowy days,
Made Chicken Soup on sick days,
And made Chicken Cutlets and Eggplant Parmesan way more days than other MOMs.

In the Police Department, DAD’s colleagues referred to her as “the Cook,”
Which she did not like one bit!
Call me “The Model!” “The Glamourous One!”
“I am not the Cook!”

Made some Stroufeli for the Party. I guess I take after her! I'd rather be the Glamourous Model, too!

Made some Stroufeli for the Party. I guess I take after her! I’d rather be the Glamourous Model, too! 

Still, they did love to entertain.
DAD would invite friends from Work for dinner.
And Mom would cook.
One young woman started a catering business using MOM’s recipes.
When she came for dinner a subsequent time, she commented,
“You left something out of this recipe. I know you did, because I made this dish and it doesn’t taste the same! What did you leave out?”
MOM laughed and replied, “Forty Years of Cooking Experience!”

The 1970’s

She was raising four teenagers.

An Earlier Birthday

An Earlier Birthday

A Loaf of Bread had more than doubled since she was born, now at 24 cents.
A new car was 7 times more at $3,500.
A record album, by now standardly a 33 and 1/3 LP with Stereophonic Sound, was 3 or 4 bucks, and in many homes giving way to cassette tapes and 8-tracks.
Not in ours.
She still Loves to go Dancing, although there is very little time for such things.

Courage, Strength, Grace and Humour.
I came home once during my college years with a sheet of fake fur fabric.
It was 2 am.
“MOM, can you make poodle ears out of this for my show?
“When do you need them for?”
“Tomorrow morning.”
She shrugged, got out of bed, opened the sewing machine,
and sewed a pair of poodle ears at 2 o’clock in the morning.
That’s what Mothers do.
At least, that’s what my Mother did.

In the 1990’s, her GrandDaughter LAURA, then a Young TeenAger, wanted to stand in Times Square and shout outside the Windows of MTV’s Studio for CARSON DALY’s TOTAL REQUEST LIVE. She screamed with other TeenAge Girls, “We Love You CARSON!”
I stood to the side with MOM.
I told her, “I understand why I have to be here. But MOM, why are you here?”
MOM shrugged, “I did it for FRANK SINATRA! So now I’ll stand here, while she does it too!”

Nurturing, Kind, Smart, Healthy, …
When she turned fifty, my Sister came home from her workday at IBM with a catalogue.
“MOM,” she said, “In lieu of bonuses this year, we can choose anything we want from this catalogue. Pick something you’d like.”
MOM opened to the page with an Exercise Bike and pointed,
“I want that!”
We all laughed!
What was our Big Italian Mama going to do with an Exercise Bike?
“You said I could have anything I want,” she told us defiantly.
Well, I want That!”
She got it, and she got on that Bike for Twenty Minutes a Day Every Day from then on.
That’s how you get to Ninety!

Aging with Grace…
Still Vibrant…
Sparkling with Humour…
She raised us well!
We weren’t rich, but we never wanted for anything.
This was due as much to her sacrifice as DAD Working three jobs.
She gave everything
With Kindness.

A Later Birthday

A Later Birthday 

After DAD passed away,
The following Christmas, we were making dinner.
MOM fixed a plate and brought it downstairs to a woman who lived in another apartment.
“She’s ninety,” she told me.
I told MOM that I admired her for doing that. MOM shrugged it off, and said, “Maybe when I’m 90, someone will do something like that for me.” Then she paused and in a wistful moment of enlightenment, added, “But I know it doesn’t work that way.”
She has always been Kind just for the sake of being Kind.


Let’s see what Ninety brings.

A Birthday Kiss from the GrandChildren

A Birthday Kiss from the GrandChildren

It is the era of Rap and Hip Hop.
BEYONCÉ is having twins.
This Year’s Best Picture Nominations include
HIDDEN FIGURES, a story of NASA in 1969 — that’s only half her Lifetime ago,
And LA LA LAND, an old-fashioned Movie Musical — the kind of Movie with which she grew up, and Still Loves!
JACKIE, a film about the Life of JACKIE KENNEDY received three nominations.
Politics are dominating the scene.
We’ll see how all that goes.
Last month, 3.3 million people joined the Women’s March on Washington, calling for gender equality, protection for immigrants, minority and LGBTQ rights and still, over a hundred years later, for safer access to Women’s Health Services.
“I wish I coulda’ marched with them,” MOM told me.
Record Albums are making a ComeBack!
Gas and Coffee and a Night of Dancing all cost about 20 times what they were when CLARA was born.
She has fond memories of Dancing…
Most of her Grandchildren are older than she was when she had us,
And I am older than she was when I graduated College.
She sees the World with a level of Wisdom and Humour that can only come from Showing Up for your Life for Ninety Years
and Being Fully Present in Every Moment of it —
and Loving Life
and Enjoying what is before you to do!

People so often ask, “What is the Secret of Life?”
The question is less daunting when you know someone who’s found it.


*n.b.: Party Photos taken by various relatives with Cameras, Phones, and other digital implements.
Photos taken before I was born — Couldn’t tell ya’, except that they exist in the family Photo Box…

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  1. Every mom should have a child who can write like this, Arnold. What an incredible tribute to a remarkable woman. I’ll bet faces at the party were glowing with pride and tears.

  2. David Gillam Fuller ,

     /  February 21, 2017

    My mother lived to be 93 & 2/3. She was of the same as your mom. There were 5 of us & we still get along famously. She was Irrish tht
    ough & through & passed on St. Patrick’s Day.

  3. Tom Nugent

     /  February 25, 2017

    Happy New Year Arnold! Glad to see your mother is doing well. I didn’t see anything
    on your brother Vinny. How is he doing? Tom


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