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    September 7 to 15 Tony and Jo will visit us from the UK

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Ethel

Ethel’s last Curtain

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 At 12.30 a.m. on 27th November, 2013, Ethel Rosenwasser Long gave up her unequal fight to keep her frail body intact and drew her final breath.  

Ever a delight to be with, Ethel was a complicated being; obstinately independent on the outside and totally dependent, child-like, on the inside, she often exasperated her friends and drove them to distraction—but, she never lost their loyalty, even throughout lifetimes of association; her magnetism was far too powerful for that. 

 She was driven by a desperate need to be part of a family; to be loved by everybody she met, and to win their esteem. She was devastated by rejection. Fully aware of her contradictions, she said to me often, that they were part of the baggage which all people of our years brought to a relationship. Her baggage included a number of phobias like; fear of dogs: fear of escalators; fear of falling and, latterly, fear of running out of money to live on. Earlier on, she had been generous to a fault, with little regard for money matters until I took them in hand. 

Her prodigious  memory for all things cultural: theatre, music, art and literature, made her such a wonderful companion—and so much sought after as a friend once she had been discovered–and discovery was easy because her exuberant nature allowed her to strike up acquaintance with total strangers wherever she happened to be. On our cruises, we often had to make diplomatic choices among dinner guests who wanted to sit at our table! And, largely because of her attraction, we have made friends with hosts of interesting people all around the world. 

Her memory was fed by a daily reading of the New York Times (including, without fail, the obituary page) in addition to her insatiable book-reading.  She was a speed reader and haunted the 92nd Street “Y” library and the local library for “best-sellers”; the thicker the book, the better! She remembered faces too and would introduce herself to celebrities she met. Often at memorial services!

 She was a long-time member of MOMA and traditionally bought the distinctive annual art calendar and diary the museum produced. She frequented the Met and other art museums in New York but she was also familiar with all the major museums of Europe; having visited them often in her travels with Barry, her late husband. I was mightily pleased to be able to introduce her to some of the northern European, south-American and Asian museums during our travels together!   

 Her need to keep up with the cultural scene was highly competitive. When we were not travelling, not a day passed without her taking in a play, literary reading, concert or opera. Often twice in one day! And, if she didn’t have a ticket for such an event, she would fill in the spare time watching a movie. She was always a little disappointed if a friend or acquaintance had seen a performance before she had! She subscribed to a dozen different theatre and music societies and knew all the sources of free or discounted tickets in the City. In fact, I first became acquainted with Ethel when she was the Volunteer responsible for negotiating discount tickets for the Senior Club at the 92nd Street “Y”.  She knew the whereabouts of scores of out-of-way theatres in Manhattan and Brooklyn and how to get to them by bus. She would spend hours at Lincoln Centre and the music schools lining up for Senior Citizen tickets with no thought of the time passing–She would use much of it to chat to her fellow devotees in the line! A great deal of this was for my benefit—she was at pains for me to understand that this was her way of showing her love for me and repaying me for my taking care of her more mundane needs like; making travel arrangements; filing income tax returns; cooking; partnering her on the tennis court and nursing her in ill health. Ethel doted on me; I was chief of her surrogate family and she regarded me as some kind of Superman; able to solve any problem and achieve any object—often, the pedestal she placed me upon was an impossible one! 

Her love for children was patent in the utter joy which suffused her features when she had the rare opportunity to hold new-borns in her arms.  She greeted kids wherever she went, in the street, on the buses and in the park. She would take great pleasure in quizzing them about their age, name and, if they were of age, their school grades. It was something of an obsession, emanating, I always thought, from the fact that she had had none of her own. 

She loved dressing-up and wearing outrageous rings, bracelets, necklaces and things. She owned a huge wardrobe and a mountain of jewelry—bought on bargain-shopping sprees in New York and wherever she travelled. She had at least one autographed T-shirt from every town and country she visited!  On the Cunard ships, she was the belle-of-the-ball and glowed with pleasure at the numerous comments praising the outfits she wore each evening. And nothing gave her greater pleasure than showing them off on the dance floor when she was still able to keep her balance. 

Her intellect never allowed her to compromise her life-style even with advancing years. Towards the end, it drove her beyond the limits of her failing strength (but this was not to be divulged to anybody!) 

Ethel came into my life at a time when I was thinking of hanging up my boots, instead, she made me go out and buy a pair of tennis shoes and a racquet!  We spent 16 rollercoaster years together and, in spite of the downs, neither of us would have changed a second of them! 

Her vivacity; her endearing smile; her heroic denial of her deteriorating health and her indomitable zest for life are indelibly engraved in my being and will there remain for ever. 

Now, she is gone!—Shed a tear with me; the world without her is a sorrier place.

 

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17 Responses

  1. Dearest Ben – I love your portrayal of the complex, loving, invigorating, aggravating, funny, endearing, lively and enduring fireball of energy that was Ethel, a woman who put the ‘Grand’ in Grand Dame of NY. Her perpetual interest in all that surrounded her transformed a simple conversation into an adventure into love and laughter, examination and delight . I loved Ethel for being uniquely individual and admired her continuous activity, be it to an art show or a cruise, dinner with friends or a ride to the store – there was nothing mundane in the world when Ethel was part of it. Of all the many things to love about her, I am so grateful that she brought you into our lives to become part of our family. With you she was able to continue her exhuberant quest for what came next, despite her waning energy as the years piled on. She shared 16 wonderful years enjoying the gifts you brought to her life, and I am so happy to read such an endearing tribute you’ve paid to her here. I know you’ve lost an almost constant companion with whom you shared many passions, and I’m so sorry that you now look to a tomorrow without Ethel in it. You’ve been nothing short of extraordinary in your love and support of her, and I know she was grateful. We loved Ethel, and we love you, Ben. Please take comfort in family and friends and we look forward to seeing you when next we head east.

    Much love,
    Nancy and Bonnie

  2. This is beautiful, Ben, & quite touching. Thank you for writing it. . I’m grateful to have known her for over 50 years, & for having brought you into our lives. You were fortunate to have each other. She certainly was one of a kind, and the world has certainly lost a magnificent character and our family has lost a beloved member.

  3. Dear Ben,

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful memories. I’m so grateful that we were able to see you and Ethel last year. It was a very special visit.

    You are Superman, Ben! Ethel’s life was wonderful because of you.

    Sharing your sadness and loss of our Dear Ethel.

    Love,

    Valerie and Steve

  4. A lovely tribute. Ethel would have loved it.

  5. Hi Ben
    I am sorry for loss and my thoughts are with you and the family. From your writing you have had a fun and interesting 16 years together and the memories live on.
    Take Care
    Love
    Kelly x

  6. We are saddened to learn of the passing of a lovely lady who brought love and laughter into our life. Although our lunch date in London was only once a year we always looked forward to the occasion. The conversation flowed and the time passed far too quickly.
    Condolences to Ethel’s family and yes we are shedding a tear with you this morning Ben.
    Love Jenny & John x

  7. Ben, We are so sorry to hear of Ethel’s passing. We are glad to have been blessed by her smile and lovely nature in her better days. She was a beautiful soul.
    All the best,
    The Berry Family
    David, Kristin, Charlie, Chloe and Tommy xo

  8. Dearest Ben

    A wonderful to tribute to a lady who loved life and loved sharing it with you. Ethel told me more than once at one of the reunions that she’d been part of the family for 15 odd years and we are glad she felt like that about us all. Many good memories of times spent together.

    Very sad to say goodbye to Ethel and so, so sad to think of how much you will miss he. We all send you our love.

    Gill and family
    Xxxxx

  9. What an amazing tribute to an amazing woman! We all crave to be truly known for who we are and loved and accepted in spite of our flaws as well as appreciated for our strengths. It is evident that Ethel had this in her relationship with you. I am so privileged to have gotten to meet you both. (((Ben)))

  10. Dear Ben. How I will miss Ethel so much and my children will miss her as well…She was a truly a true person to everyone she was around!!! She open her heart and door for anyone in need of a helping hand…I’m very lucky to have her in my life for those many years as well as my friend. You Ben wrote a beautiful letter on Ethel and how true you talk about her and that she was a special person! I will miss our talks about all her travels and she was always there to hear me talk about my life issues!!! Ethel you will be missed and always will be loved!!!! Amy,Jeremy and Zoe Jeremy

  11. So sorry to hear Ethel passed. I never met her except through your post. She seemed to be a wonderful person. I am glad you have fond memories of her.

  12. Dear Ben,

    So sorry to hear your sad news of Ethel, such a remarkable lady. I can see from your lovely tribute how much she meant to you. Just to say that we’re thinking of you and send our love.

    Take care,
    Love Denise, Alan and family xxxx

  13. Claire I and offer our deepest sympathy at the passing of Ethel. I can still bring up the memories of the times we shared on our Norwegian cruise. A delightful lady.

  14. We are so sorry to hear about Ethel. We really enjoyed the short time we had with the both of you and hosting you at our house was one of our highlights. We warmed to Ethel very quickly and regarded her as a friend as we do you, Ben. Thank you for this great tribute to Ethel.

    Love,

    John & Juliette

  15. Ben,the two of you sure had some wonderful adventures! We all have such lovely memories of Ethel. Our thoughts and best wishes are
    with you and Ethel’s family. Wendy and Colin.xx

  16. Dear Ben
    We are truly sorry to hear of Ethel’s passing. It must be very hard for you to loose your close companion, but – as you write – you had many very interesting years together, and you will always have your memories. We only met Ethel the once in Copenhagen and we found her to be charming company.We can imagine your feeling of loss. Look after yourself.

    Lots of love from us.
    Don & Inge

  17. Oh, Ben, I am so very sorry to learn about Ethel. She was such a beautiful lady. There are no words to express the sorrow that I feel for your loss. I pray that you will find comfort in your memories of her and strength from your family and friends.

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