Adele in Asheville, age 87
One of Adele’s favorite quotes – posted on her fridge: “Birth is not one act ; it is a process. The aim of life is to be fully born, though its tragedy is that most of us die before we are thus born. To live is to be born every minute. Death occurs when birth stops. Physiologically our cellular system is in a process of continual birth; psychologically, however, most of us cease to be born at a certain point.” Erich Fromm
If you recall from Part I, Adele arrived in Asheville in 1992, 70 years old. She loved New York, but something greater was pushing her to become totally independent. Leaving family and friends, she knew it was time to cut the umbilical chord that had tied her to Brooklyn all those years.
Annice: So tell me, how did you stumble upon Asheville, NC?
Adele: I began reading books and investigating retirement communities in warm climates. I knew one thing: I didn’t want to end up in Florida. I visited Chapel Hill and their Jewish community, even interviewed the rabbi, but it didn’t appeal to me. I looked at Durham, too, but as soon as I spotted a group of garden club ladies in high heels, I knew that wasn’t for me. I was about to go home, when I remembered that one of my sons had mentioned Asheville. Even though I was 4 hours away and didn’t like to drive long distances, I said, what the hell, I’m so close, let me rent a car, and drive to Asheville. It wasn’t until I stopped at a Huddle House for pecan waffles along Rt. 40 that I suddenly realized I was driving up mountains. That, alone, was a defining experience for me.
Annice: So did you find a house right away?
Adele: I spent 4 days in Asheville using a real estate agent from the Yellow Pages that proved to be disappointing. There was something about Asheville that made me want to come back. I wrote to the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, and a few days later I got a call from a real estate agent. I returned to Asheville, and as soon as I met the agent and his wife, they insisted I leave my hotel and move into a cottage over their garage. My new friends took excellent care of me and found me the perfect condo. It wasn’t finished yet, but I put money down anyway.
Annice: That was fast. So you moved to Asehville 17 years ago?
Adele: Yes, May of 1992, I took the next step of my journey, and I had no qualms about it. Remember my quote on the fridge, it’s like a re-birth and I was ready. And you know what? I recognized it was going to be the last step of my journey. I felt a little like a college kid who moves away from home for the first time, not knowing what to expect but determined to make it on her own.
Annice: So how did you make friends? You seem to have so many.
Adele: I knew I wanted to get involved in the Jewish community. There are two synagogues in Asheville, so I auditioned both rabbis. I started with the conservative synagogue and stayed 9 years. Then I decided the reformed synagogue was better for me. As a result, I made many friends in the Jewish community.
Annice: What about friends outside the Jewish community?
Adele: Of course, that too. I made friends with my condo neighbors. Many were like me, transplants from other areas. The first thing I did when I got my patio furniture was invite all my neighbors for cheese and wine. That was the beginning of making this block a family. I started the invitations back and forth, and soon they became birthday parties, holiday parties and any excuse to get together.
Annice: It seems like yoga is a big part of your life, and you have many yogi friends. When did you develop an interest in yoga?
Adele: I had done some yoga in NY, but believe me, it was nothing like what I’m doing now with the Iyengar yoga and Cindy Dollar, my teacher and dearest friend. Let me say that in NY, I always exercised. I was going to Jack LaLaine every day after school: that’s what all the teachers did back then. And, don’t forget, in NY, people walk a lot.
Annice: So why is yoga so important to you? What do you get from it?
Adele: From a physical point of view, it makes me more limber, gives me better balance. It seems like I’m more flexible now than I ever was. But, it goes beyond that. I’ve learned to focus and understand life better. I’ve learned that all the monkey stuff is not important. I also like the people whom I’ve met in yoga class. I find there is a softness and kindness about them, and they have a depth of understanding and realization that everyone is important. And now, I’m doing private sessions with Cindy: 3 half-hours a week. It’s intense, and I love it. My teacher and I have an agreement that when I’m 100, all my classes will be free – 7 days a week. Isn’t that great?
Annice: Can you tell us why you wanted to have a Bat Mitzvah at age 84? I mean, traditionally, girls have it at age 13.
Adele: Well, you know, a Bat Mitzvah is like a Jewish coming of age ceremony where the child reads from the Torah. I wanted to do that. In my day, girls didn’t have a Bat Mitzvah – only boys. In 1994, I participated in a communal Bat Mitzvah with nine other adult women and two men, and somehow, I didn’t feel satisfied. I continued to study Hebrew and the liturgy and finally had my own Bat Mitzvah in 2007.
Annice: So what did it all mean to you?
Adele: I’m not sure I even discovered the real meaning yet, but it will come to me. I can tell you this: I studied hard and planned my event for a whole year. It was a huge achievement for me. I have to confess, I made it bigger than it had to be, and it caused a lot of stress. I worked on the centerpieces, made the invitations (of course friends helped), planned the menu with the caterer, and arranged for guests to bring canned goods for Manna Food Bank instead of gifts. Maybe I overdid it, but that’s my character. And, to top it off, I broke my wrist 3 weeks before my Bat Mitzvah. I tripped over my dog, Missy, who was almost 15 years old and blind. I didn’t know she was so close to me and to avoid stepping on her, I fell. I should have put her down earlier, but I was greedy, and didn’t want to lose her. It was very stressful time. But in the end, it was worth it.
Annice: I remember running into you one night on your evening walk, and when I asked you what you were going to do now that your Bat Mitzvah was over, you said, “Take piano lessons.” How is that going?
Adele: Well, to tell you the truth, it wasn’t easy finding a teacher at my age. What’s the point for them? As a child during the depression, I was very lucky because someone in my family paid $1 a week for lessons. I suspect it was one of my uncles. We all lived together in those days, my parents, siblings, grandparents, and three uncles- 11 total in our apartment. My uncle treated me very well. He encouraged me to play piano, and he used to take me to eat Chinese food for 25 cents.
Annice: Tell me about your days, how do you spend them?
Adele: You want my schedule? It looks like this:
Monday: I play Bridge. I learned in NY. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays: I do yoga. Thursday: Piano. Friday nights: I go to the Synagogue. Saturdays and Sundays: Garden, theater, movies, opera. And I volunteer.
Annice: So what’s next?
Adele: (laughing). The next stage? The End, I guess. I’ve already made plans for that. It’s all written out: who will sell my condo, my furniture, my funeral arrangements. I tried to cover as many things as possible, so my boys won’t have much to do. Even my memorial is planned, with some money for a party. I try not to think about what if’s. Thinking too far ahead isn’t good. I enjoy what I can do, like playing the piano, and most of the time, I am right there – living in the present. For the things I can’t do anymore, I find substitutes. For example, I can’t travel like I used to, it’s too difficult. But, I can still take walks, I can do yoga, I can eat properly, and be with people I enjoy. I basically live each day as best I can. In the end, we’re like a machine. No matter how much we take care of ourselves, we break down. I live in a time when life is being prolonged. I used to talk about never seeing 2000, now it’s 2009. What more can I ask? I’m constantly adjusting my life, just like I adjust my body in yoga. That was an important lesson for me.