This is Norma
As I was walking on 66th Street towards Amsterdam Avenue, I passed Norma who was walking very slowly with her walker. I slowed up as I came up to her and looked at her which caused her to take off her sunglasses, cock her head, and ask me if she knew me. I said not yet. I explained that I was interested in people who got out even though they needed the assistance of a walker. I asked if getting out was difficult for her. Her face lit up. She clearly wanted to talk.
Norma is 92. She has lived in Manhattan for 20 years. Before that, she and her family lived in Forest Hills, where she taught elementary school and her husband taught English in a college. I asked her which college. She struggled for a while and then in frustration said she couldn't remember. She proudly told me that she is a grandmother and a great-grandmother. One of her granddaughters lives in Manhattan and visits from time to time, but it was clear from Norma's tone that it was not as often as she would like.
Getting out is very important for Norma. Her friends are dying and she is becoming more lonely and isolated. It is hard living alone. She gets out every day, weather permitting. Her two complaints were her aches and pains, and she has breathing and walking difficulties. She hates the cold and for that reason, she is moving to Los Angles in a month. Her son and a granddaughter live there, and they feel it would be better for her. She is apprehensive about moving to a strange place and wondering how she will adjust. She worries about getting her walker on the plane. I reassured her that the airport staff would take the walker for her and take care of it and she would get a wheelchair and special treatment. She seemed relieved, but just the thought of needing a wheelchair was disappointing to her. She said she is fiercely independent and the idea of being pushed in a wheelchair in public was upsetting.
Norma was very curious about why I was interested in her story and why I wanted to photograph her. I explained that both my wife and I are social workers and know that getting older and living alone is difficult. I asked her if she felt neglected or invisible to people as she walked in the city. She said no-people don't know who she is, and she doesn't expect that people would pay attention to her. As we were standing for a while, she asked if we could walk as we talked because it was difficult for her to stand in one position for any length of time.
Norma said several times how much she dislikes getting old, but that she should not complain. She is alive, has a loving family and enjoys getting out. She said she will miss Manhattan and wonders if getting out and walking around Los Angles will be just as interesting. I hope so. Norma has a lot of living still to do.