“I was born in St. Mary’s Hospital and I lived in Clifton, NJ all my life. We had the first refrigerator, automatic washing machine, and telephone in the neighborhood. My father didn’t buy us frivolous things but he did put away money for our education, so I was able to follow my dream of being a hairdresser.

By the time I was in sixth grade I used to do everybody’s hair. I was an itinerant hairdresser, going to people’s homes to do their hair. I worked my way through high school as a hairdresser. But by 1938 you had to have your license, so I had to go to beauty school. Then I went to work in the beauty shop. It was $6 a week plus tips at that time, and I worked for 12 hours each Friday and Saturday. By the time I was 22 I got married. My husband joined the army, so at first I travelled with him. He was part of the Texas Rangers Commando Division. I got very friendly with the soldiers and I told my husband to bring their pants home and I hemmed them and they were very pleased.

In 1943 my daughter Nancy was born when my husband was overseas. During that time my husband was shot in the mouth. They were using wooden bullets; otherwise he would have been killed. When he returned, I went to work with him in East Rutherford where his people owned a restaurant. Then I had my second child in 1948. But my husband and I split. He was a bartender and I didn’t want to do those hours. In 1954 I tried to go back to work as a hairdresser, but it was difficult because the new styles had come in.

I then worked for 30 years in the Shulton Company, which made Old Spice products. I worked on the assembly line. After nine months the Old Spice people asked me to be a supervisor. I refused the offer; I said I would have no time for extra activities if I did that. Other people resented that I was asked to be a supervisor after I was there for so short a time, and I was upset at what they said. Later on I was offered the position of inspector, and I refused that too. I regret not taking the initiative to go into these higher places. I could have taken better positions but I was afraid. And when I got a pension, it wasn’t so much money because I hadn’t had a high salary.

My physical health was always beautiful, and I feel very good now too. I swam at the “Y” for 25 years. I am in the process of getting the Prolia shot for osteoporosis. I don’t swim anymore, but I get exercise going up and down the stairs.

After retiring, I was very active when my granddaughter Jill became pregnant. We were best friends. I stayed with her while she was pregnant and she decided she wanted to be a beautician like me. She opened up her own shop and always did my hair. Jill kept me young. Up until last year Jill and I were very close. We would go down to the shore together; I would meet with her children often. But Jill passed away a year and a half ago and she left three beautiful girls. I am now on my own and I thank the Lord for keeping me alive.

After this happened with Jill, people pulled away because they don’t know what to say, so my social life isn’t so good now. I try to keep myself up. My other daughter is very close to me and she keeps me going. She lives in Clifton but during the summer she is in Long Beach Island so I am more alone. During the year my daughter takes me out to dinner, and sometimes to Long Beach Island. I don’t have any help; I keep the house up myself. I go out every day to get coffee and to keep the car running. I am alone a lot and it is hard because I had to go from being so active to suddenly not. There is a senior center nearby but it is hard to make new friends. And every single one of my friends my age is gone.

In some ways I like being this age. I am more relaxed. I can sit back and enjoy TV, which I never watched before. I have a better routine, and I like not having to depend on help. I enjoy being self-reliant and independent. When people say, ‘You can go to a nursing home’ I say, ‘Well, I know that.’ There must be a reason why I am still in this house by myself.

My religious beliefs have gotten stronger over the years. I feel like the good Lord is testing me now. I have a ‘que sera sera’ attitude. I am at peace because I feel there is a reason for everything.

I have a computer sitting on the kitchen chair but I don’t use it. I have a cell phone though. My grandchildren said ‘Grandma, you are not going to be able to do it.’

I grew up in a neighborhood where there were many different ethnic groups and everyone got along. I managed to get along well with everyone. But the world is getting so complicated, isn’t it? Now everyone wants only what they want. I think people used to get along better. You hear more negative things these days because the news comes so quickly.

My advice for young people: Hang in there and don’t give up your dreams. Make sure to stick to what you want to do.”

Interview conducted by New Jersey artist Janet Boltax for this exhibition.