Photographs by Don Nolte

Photographs by Don Nolte

June 2014

Invisible

Lorys Crisafulli

If you were to walk into the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House midday during the week, you’d likely encounter a group of elderly people eating lunch. There are canes and gray hair, but also a welcoming attitude that prompted me to want to get to know my fellow diners better. Over the past year I’ve learned some of their stories, and want to hear more. Now, instead of seeing old people eating nutritious lunches, I see a lieutenant colonel, a sculptor, a tap dancer, and other individuals who have led interesting, adventurous lives. Still vital and caring, we – in my mid-eighties, I count myself among them – have opinions and conversations beyond our “aches and pains.” 

There’s Mary, born in Greece, who came to San Francisco as a young woman with her husband. Mary is still a homemaker, and does beautiful knitting and crocheting handwork. Ellen, a quiet, unassuming lady who doesn’t like carrots, has traveled all over the world as an employee of British Airways. As their representative on the board of the Air Transport Association, she helped set rules for luggage, flights, and other important factors for the industry. As an art aficionado, Ellen had her own art gallery. She was proud to feature local artists at her spot in Cow Hollow. We often hear the word “spry” when an older person gets around well. Not only is Ellen spry, she’s also spunky. She jumps rope and does yoga weekly.

Richard, active and outspoken, has recently bought a recreational vehicle that sleeps six. We’re all waiting for him to invite us to go to Vegas and play the slots. He brings us donuts from his son’s store, where he helps out when not busy with friends and family.

One of our mainstays is Estella. Her twinkly eyes expresses more about what she’s thinking than she realizes. Her sense of humor is just below the surface as she tells us about 15 grandchildren and her big day out once a week. At one time she lived in the Mission, but all she says is that she met “a lot of interesting people” there.

Marjorie is her own woman; I suspect she always has been. At six foot one, she’s elegant and queen-like. She makes sure her cats and doves are well fed. The fact that she cared for a diabetic cat and helped it live a normal life shows the extent of her caring. Marjorie is conscientious to a fault, and asks for a favor only when in extreme need.

Still dancing? Still preaching? Still hypnotizing? Jimmy does all three and much more. James is the prototype of the different personalities represented at the Nabe. He tap dances, performs marriages, and is always on the move in his black and yellow – bright yellow! – Smart Car. His curly hair and self-designed shirts makes one want to know him better. As an Atomic Navy man and engineer, his next adventure is a cruise to Hawaii during Christmas vacation. I’m sure he does a heck of a Hula.

As I realize that this treatise is longer than I planned, I find I can’t leave anyone out.

Marcia is our dedicated actress, educator, director, and drama coach who is always coming up with new ways to promote her craft. From being Lady Macbeth, to lessons in “improv,” Marcia is a good listener and friend. She’s the youngest of the group. When teaching, she’s so inspiring that everyone leaves their stage fright behind. So sincere, so genuine, she’s already a star.

Our resident artist and sculptor is Turaj. He fits the picture in your imagination that his name conjures. Well-built, quick thinking, kind, and thoughtful, I love his sense of humor. He has a great full bushy beard. Great for hugging, he likes his wine red and food hot. Originally from Iran, he’s lived most of his life in San Francisco.

Fran has three cats and has been a SPCA volunteer since 1980, but she’s done much more. Born in Dublin, Ireland, she was raised in Australia. Fran can make the hair on your neck stand up with some of her tales; Germany when “the wall” was still there, for one. While working for Qantas – Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service – she had the title of “ground host” in London, where she saw to the needs and comforts of VIPs with her warm and bubbly personality. She took care of Prince Charles many times, the Beatles, and many in between, including Louis Armstrong. Still vivacious, we love to hear her talk about her four summers hiking in Europe.

Our next star is the oldest. At 95, Al is our puzzle-man. His mind is always busy, as his life was, and still is. He disappears on Thursdays to attend a different facility so he can dance and enjoy accordion music. A retired Lt. Col. from the U.S. Army, he’s a native of San Francisco, as were his parents, who were in the shipping industry. Nowadays, Al has a pickup truck full of firewood; ready for sale or to give away to his friends. Then, out comes his pen and puzzle book, and he’s thinking about his days as a dance-host for a cruise line! Now that’s a career!

Saved for last are the dear thoughtful hardworking Nabe “crew.” These are Jean, Ed, and Delores – and volunteers – who greet us daily with smiles and treats. There’s no written list of duties to perform, but everything is done with humor and kindness. Where else would “the boss” bring a huge, warm peach cobbler for lunch; served with huge gobs of ice cream!

As for me, I’m just an old broad who likes people. I’ve been Mom, teacher, shop owner, involved in my community in Western Pennsylvania, and even Miss January at age 80 in a best-selling calendar. Now I’m Gramma to Caroline, living in a Kansas Street earthquake cottage, with excellent health, and a well-working brain.

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