One of the enduring pleasures of life (and a key component to the message of Katie Up and Down The Hall) is the phenomenon of intergenerational relationships.
I can tell you that nothing beats the friendships I’ve had with people older than me–wise souls who have been my mentors, confidantes, companions, and best friends. The value, comfort, and enjoyment found in such friendships can forever change your life.
I was incredibly close to my maternal grandmother, Essie,
who is featured in the KATIE book; and in keeping with the theme that “a family is anything you want it to be,” I was equally close to the heroine of my book, Pearl, who was Katie’s devoted keeper and my down the hall comrade-in-arms for 16 years.
And although forty years separated us, I felt as if we were complete contemporaries, able to talk about anything and everything, exchanging ideas and experiences bringing us ever closer.
I’ve been equally blessed to have in my life many other sages, my current all-time favorite being my 88-year-old friend Bud–who I always call “the youngest friend I know” in terms of his spirit, vim, and all-important vigor.
You won’t find anyone with more optimism, enjoyment for life, or a calendar filled with more social engagements.
Intelligent, quick-witted, well-informed, Bud is featured in KATIE in a cameo role, as he was one of Pearl’s friends who shared with her a love of the Broadway theater. In fact, Bud loved it when Pearl would bring over her vintage collection of Broadway programs, reminiscing about productions dating back to the 1920’s and 30’s. (Pearl would shoo Katie away when she tried to “peruse” one with her teeth.)
“It was great meeting someone even older than me who could present something from the past,” Bud reflected, “and we always played a little
quiz about our favorite shows.” Indeed.
Nowadays, whether Bud is out on the town–backstage greeting his longtime friend, Broadway great Elaine Stritch, having a brunch with Tony Bennett, lunching with Liza Minelli, or savoring Sunday brunches at the Algonquin Hotel–where his close friend, brilliant pianist Barbara Carroll performs each week–Bud is a unique figure in New York cafe society, and a wonderful friend to me.
I begin nearly every morning with a phone conversation with him–drawing from his unbeatable perspective and wisdom. I know that when I ask his advice about something–I’m going to get a great answer. And more than anything, he’s just fun to talk to!
A retired fashion executive typically dapper in a snappy bow-tie, this octogenarian is consumed by his passions, traveling to London, taking three cruises per year, devouring baseball and tennis, art and music.
I sometimes wonder where he gets all the energy, high spirits, and overall happiness–which is why, a few years ago, I interviewed him for FAMILY CIRCLE. In that interview, he confides that although he has faced divorce, alcoholism, and a bout with cancer, (maybe because of it all), he has honed a sense of contentment, an uncomplaining nature, that makes him a magnet to anyone needing a lift.
Here’s what he told the magazine:
“Keeping my attitude ‘up’ is from training! It’s something I learned at an early age from my mother, a very practical, grateful woman, who lived to be 97. Neither she,nor my father, who was an extreme optimist, would tolerate much complaining. So I wasn’t brought up with pessimism or a lot of whining. For me, I find that happiness is being surrounded by people with a positive outlook, which helps exorcise the demons that can bring anybody down–resentment, anger, guilt, or shame. To maintain my equilibrium, those demons must not be encouraged. I actually police them, don’t allow them to penetrate my soul.
“When I’m beginning to feel negative, I automatically ‘switch channels’ and turn to my builder-upper friends with positive vibes. Wherever I go, I’ve got my eyes open for a dose of smiles. Just yesterday I saw a baby on the street who was beaming up at me from her carriage. It was just as if I was getting a huge dose of positive thinking from this smiling infant, who had no clue what happened yesterday, no regrets or worries like we do. I recognized that this 7-month year old had a better key to life than we do when we’re riddled with toxic emotions that stand in the way of letting us appreciate what God’s given us.
“In order for me to be happy, I pragmatically maximize on what is actually available. Happiness depends on having realistic objectives in life. I don’t set myself up for disappointment. I feel grateful for what I have and don’t pine for what I don’t have. I have a lot of younger friends who keep me vital and energized. That’s key. I have my companion, Kim, the foundation of my happiness. He is pure giving, unconditional generosity, loyalty, an unbelievable spirit–a person with real empathy who provides support without guile.
“I also have a very close relationship with my son and my 27-year-old grandson, Jason, a really talented guitarist who is following his passion. We e-mail each other regularly, discussing music and his future. I have an I-Mac computer and it’s fantastic being online. It’s a great way of communicating, finding out information, and organizing things. I have a rent-controlled apartment I’ve been living in for 47 years and I’m grateful for it.
“What else makes me happy? I’ve volunteered on an AIDS hotline for 12 1/2 years and it’s important to feel I’ve positively affected somebody’s life. I love the Yankees and know every batting average, and which players are being traded. I’ve been going to the Broadway theatre for 65 years–and get absolute joy from it. I feel blessed that I live in a city where I can’t get enough of it.
“I also have a passion for travel and pride myself on doing it reasonably. I go on cruises, trips to London for more theater, and, since I turned 78, have taken art tours. I’ve recently learned about 18th-century French art and Dutch painting, and feel more passionate about it than when I was in college.
“All this keeps my mind churning and learning. I focus on people, places, and things that feed my self-esteem. I’m living the life I’ve always dreamed about. Sure, I’m human and I have mood swings–life isn’t ‘Cinderella.’ But you can learn to focus on the positive. I turn to flowers, to Central Park, to a song that recalls a happy moment, to meditating, praying.
“I don’t feel 88. I feel GOOD! So the chronological number doesn’t matter to me. I handle loss realistically. When my contemporaries get sick or pass away, sure it’s sad. But I’m still functioning and can’t let it get me down. It’s just another sign to maximize on today, to make every minute count. . Everybody has more gifts than defects, and the secret of happiness is maximizing on them. Lose yourself in your passion. Give music, reading, walking, exercising,recalling happy days a chance. Feel lucky. I do. In fact, the luckiest thing is that I’m NOT a victim of my expectations. The horizon you imagine is always within your reach.
In short, Bud epitomizes the definition of happiness, as Deepak Chopra described it to me in the same magazine article:
“Happiness,” Chopra believes, “is having a sense of wonder at being alive. It’s being grateful for what you have, having a task at hand that you wish to do, knowing what your purpose in life is, and the willingness to accept challenges and ultimately accept and embrace the mystery of our existence.”