BY BOB BAIRD
“You get to be a certain age,” she says, “and you can’t revel in the things you did before.”
But when you’re 107, like Natalie, there’s a lot of “before” to revel in.
She was born in Connecticut on Oct. 2, 1907 – a day celebrated this year at the Northern Manor Multicare Center in Nanuet, where Natalie is the oldest of eight current residents who are 100 or older.
Akiva Fogel, the facility’s administrator, says she’s the oldest resident they’ve ever had at Northern Manor. And yet, on her birthday, he and Natalie shared a dance before a room full of residents celebrating her long life.
A day after her birthday bash, coordinated by Recreation Director Patty Martin, Natalie shrugged off the attention when a visitor came to learn about her century of experiences.
“I don’t even remember the party,” she joked. “I fell asleep.”
But she’s quick to add that neither she nor her parents were big on celebrating birthdays or drawing attention to oneself.
Her parents, she says, believed birthdays “come and go,” and that they weren’t reason enough for a party. They didn’t like being in the limelight, a trait they clearly passed on to Natalie.
Her father, she says, was of French descent and made his living making ice cream. He lived by a simple credo: “You mind your business, I’ll mind mine.”
Being the focus of attention for a second day, she quipped, “I’ll be President next thing you know.”
More than a century of life has blurred some dates and details, but Natalie is spot on about what she says was the happiest time of her life.
Although she was born in Connecticut, she says her happiest days were during her youth in New Jersey.
She learned to play piano there and developed a love for dancing, although when the Roaring Twenties made the Charleston the rage, she stayed on the sideline. Asked if she was a “flapper,” one of the brash young women of that era, she rankled at the thought. “I didn’t like flappers. They were too flappy.”
She says, “I enjoyed my life as a youngster – 16, 18, 22,” especially her time at Dickinson High School in Jersey City.
And then she proves her connection, announcing, “I was so proud of that school,” where she says she enjoyed watching the soccer team.
Then she launches into the school song she learned more than 90 years ago.
“Proud upon a hilltop stands
Our dear old Jersey high,
The fairest school in many lands,
Its fame mounts to the sky.”
When she finishes the stanza, she says “The teacher would tell us, ‘Use more expression.’”
The English teachers urged students to write stories about things they enjoyed. For her, that meant writing about writing.
“When you’re in a place,” she says, “you think ‘There’s nothing better than this.’ When you’re 15 or 16, you’re a different person and then you grow up.”
As the years pass, she says, “Things happen and you forget those years and focus on the present.”
After high school, that meant working in New York City in a company’s accounting department and, eventually, marriage.
She and her husband, Horace, who met at a dance, lived in Brooklyn, where they raised a daughter and a son.
Naola Scholnick married and moved west as a young woman and is now 81 and lives in California.
Horace Jr., now 73, lives in Florida after serving in the Air Force and working as a chemistry and math teacher and guidance counselor.
After her husband’s death at just 64, Natalie lived on her own for a while, then at a family home in Pennsylvania for several years. For a time she lived with Horace Jr. and his wife Millie in Monroe, before a move to an assisted living facility in Port Jervis.
She moved to Northern Manor in 2012.
About five years ago, Millie Porter says, her mother-in-law took a fall and was rushed to a hospital simply because of her age. “She wasn’t really hurt at all and wanted out as soon as she saw family members.”
When a nurse once asked her the secret to her health and longevity, Millie Porter says, Natalie channeled her father’s philosophy – “I mind my own business.”
That falls in line with another feeling that’s guided her life. “Life changes,” she says, “but you don’t.”
Asked the same question a day after she turned 107, she said, “I eat spinach,” and, a moment later she added, “I have a sense of humor. I like to smile. And the smile turns into a laugh.”
Getting serious for a moment, she says, “You get older and you think ‘No one should be that old.’ People ask how old you are and when you tell them, they don’t believe you.”
With that, she’s had enough of the attention. She smiles and announces, “Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the end of my story.”