JEAN B. – AGE 90

“I was born in the Lake District in northern England and grew up in a house that was built in the 15th century. One of my grandparents was a master printer. We had a wireless, which I wasn’t to touch. It was a very expensive one because it could bring in all of Europe. The back of it was filled with special tubes. The wireless filled the house with wonderful music; we would listen to it in front of the fire.

I was drafted during World War II at the age of 18. I was sent to work in Vickers Armstrong in Blackpool on the west coast of Lancashire. There it was that I met my husband. He was in the American armed forces. It was a wet Friday evening and we had finished work. It was very cold and windy because we were on the cliff-top where the wind blew off the Irish Sea.
We needed a bit of glamour. Well, glamour was available to us at the Wintergarden in the Tower Ballroom. It was about the size of a football field, with crystal chandeliers, two layers of balconies, red velvet everywhere, nymphs cavorting on the ceiling. It was lovely. There was a 38-piece orchestra too. I was standing on the edge of the ballroom floor, and this Yank came charging across the floor between dancers, which is never done in England. He said, ‘May I have this dance.’? I agreed. It was a Viennese waltz, and he danced perfectly. We had quite a few dates, and at one point when he asked for another date, I said no, I was going to visit my grandparents, who lived in Ashton. So he said, ‘where do they live?’ and I just whipped off the address. That Sunday afternoon, I was coming back from the park with my grandfather, and there was a bicycle parked against the garden wall. We went in, and there was my grandmother setting the table for tea. After that we double-dated with my grandparents for about six months. They got to know him very well and they loved him. My parents also took to him immediately, so it wasn’t too difficult when the day came that he proposed. We got married six weeks before I turned 21 on his parents’ 25th wedding anniversary.

I landed in the U.S. on the 4th of July 1946, and came to Livingston, NJ. My husband went to Parson’s School of Design and became a medical illustrator. I got a job at Bamberger’s in the fashion department. We had three daughters, but when I had my children I was a stay-at-home mom. I got fired actually, for being pregnant.

I have been back to England four or five times. After my father died my mother came over every other year and she went camping with us until she was in her early 80s.

I am feeling very well. Oh, yes, I am able to do the things I enjoy. I do gardening, I plant things, I walk the dogs, and I am a hospice volunteer twice a week in West Orange. I visit six people there and bring them goodies. My husband died in St. Barnabas hospital, so I thought, it’s give back time. But I get more than I give, I am sure.

I am fairly interested in theology. I go to the Episcopal Church and have many friends from there. I befriended a few of the priests who substituted when our priest was away. One of them was my houseguest about a month ago. I introduced her to Siddha yoga, the kind of yoga I do. I have taken four of five
episcopal priests to the Ashram for a guru-priest weekend. I studied yoga and philosophy with a world-class teacher for many years. I went to India twice; now I go to an Ashram in Boulder, CO. My husband got involved in TM and meditated twice a day. I thought he was rather nuts, until I met Swami Nithyananda. He says, ‘may all beings be content.’ The most important thing to me now is living in the moment. Yes, every moment is an eternity. The past is gone, the future is not here yet. The greatest thing I have learned in my lifetime is how to be content. I have been studying this for 28 years.

My religious beliefs have definitely changed as I have grown older. I recognize the bible as being full of errors and myths. I grew up as a believer. I now believe in a school of thinking that says everything is in vibration. It’s really quantum physics. It satisfies me intellectually, spiritually.

I have done some daring things in my life. I have been on the road to Badrinath. It is the highest temple in the Himilayas—22,000 feet above the river. My husband and I took a pilgrimage there 25 years ago. The road is etched into the side of the mountain. There were 25 people in three little buses. The road is so prone to earthquakes that people say goodbye to their family because they might not come back.

The hardest thing about aging is getting used to physical disabilities. I have neuropathy in my feet so I have to be careful when I walk. But I also like being old because of the attention I get from young people. They are so kind. Most of my friends are the age of my children. Frankly, I find old people rather boring!

This is my advice to young people for living a good life: Put yourself in the other person’s place. See it from their point of view.”

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