Dear Mrs. Erenstoft,
You are the first person I know to celebrate a 100th birthday. I'd like to mark the occasion by sharing a few thoughts.
Until 1991, when I read Molly Katz’s book, JEWISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE, I thought you invented the phrase “little sweater.” The first time I came over after school in first grade, you gave us a snack before we headed outside to play. “Take a little sweater,” you told Inez. Then, every school day morning when I picked her up, you, in your ‘space shoes’ and short sleeve bathrobe, made sure that after she finished ALL her cereal with banana and brushed ALL her teeth, she had “a little sweater.” Once I became an adopted daughter and was at your house all the time, you made sure I had one, too. Sweet. Except in 9th grade when Inez and I wanted bids from Phi Epsilon and went to their sorority barbeque. You came running over after the party was underway and told the sorority girl who answered the door, “Inez and Nancy forgot these and will need them.” And you handed her two little sweaters. We got bids, anyway and did not accept (We were not sorority girls. We just wanted the invitations), but that night we were utterly mortified.
Oh Mrs. Erenstoft, it’s my nature to poke fun. I loved 95 North Drive. You left us lots of fresh fruit and cookies and your freezer was full of ice cream sandwiches and parfaits. More important, you left us alone. Whether we were in your finished rec room putting on puppet shows, in Inez’s room playing dress-ups and telling stories, or in the living room singing along with a new Broadway show LP, we had space to just be.
You had your own space. I saw that. If you weren’t on the phone or cooking, you were arranging, coming and going—in your pretty matching skirt and sweater outfits—to bridge, a meeting, a luncheon or a concert with Mrs. Fishman, Mrs. Bikoff and your zillion other friends. You had a fun life with the girls and a huge, fun one with Inez’s dad.
I never called Dr. Erenstoft ‘Sam,’ or you ‘Janet’ but Inez and I had a hoot substituting your names when we’d sing SOME ENCHANTED EVENING. My parents, too, burst into SAM AND JANET EVENING when they picked me up at your house and when we played SOUTH PACIFIC on our stereo at home.
I recently asked Inez for your longevity secrets. Here’s what she said: you eat three meals a day, have never been overweight, eat dinner early, do not nosh, do not complain, walk every day, love music, do volunteer work, play bridge, have lots of interests and tons of friends, get to where you have to go early, and have many places to go. She also said you have always loved your routine and didn’t like to deviate from it. Brava to that, particularly not kvetching and loving your routine.
From knowing you since you were only 41, I’d also say you like yourself, have been engaged in whatever you were doing, and gave and received much love. As Robert Frost wrote, “. . .and that made all the difference.”
You made a difference in my life. You gave me my first friend. A fun one, too. When she visited me a few years ago, we walked up Park Avenue backwards in the snow like we did to PS #66 over a half a century ago. I’ve gotten over the years of hearing “Inez is pretty and Nancy’s good in math”* and then Inez having the boyfriends while I still had the hang of math, and Inez spending summers at camp in the boathouse with her boyfriends while I spent mine saving drowning victims in junior life saving.** Until boys mucked it up, Inez and I laughed about everything. We’re back to that again.
Finally, remember your housekeeper, Bertha, who weighed well over 200 pounds? Remember Mary Martin flying on television as Peter Pan? Remember that beautiful rattan chair in your basement? And how badly it got broken? And how angry you got? Remember Inez saying she broke it? She DIDN'T. It was my idea to get Bertha from the laundry room, put her on the chair, tie a rope around her neck, and the rope to the ceiling to see if, like Mary Martin’s Peter, she could fly. We got as far as dragging her onto the chair. It broke. When you came home and hollered, Inez didn’t tell you that we tried to get Bertha to fly or that I’d come up with that scheme. She took the rap, saying she broke the chair.
I am sorry for my part in that mess. Sorry, too, that Bertha couldn’t fly.
Other than the Bertha episode, it went and still goes well. My spirit soared in your basement. All over your house.
Thank you for that and for being a great role model. Here's to you at 100. Stick with your routines. Take a little sweater. It’s a SAM AND JANET EVENING. When I think of you, I sing.
*I haven’t gotten over Inez being the pretty one, but that’s okay. It’s material.
**I didn’t save anyone in life saving. I flunked twice.