Edith Rose turned 100 this past Friday, Dec. 10. That’s not such a big deal any more (certainly not when your brother is 102). But what is startling is how youthful this bright, serene woman is; she would pass for 25 years younger.
When a visitor asked her the secret of her longevity, she shrugged and said, “Good genes, I suppose — and sheer luck. Maybe doing things in moderation — but mainly luck.”
Chatting in her independent-living apartment in the Winchester Gardens retirement community in Maplewood, she rose with ease to make coffee. She chatted over her shoulder with no problem hearing, and recalled recent events and her early married life in Union with humor and clarity.
Moving into the retirement community has made her appreciate her independence and good health.
“I never really thought about it,” she said, “but when I see what an awful quality of life some people have — people who are much younger — I think it has very little to do with age.”
She was sick this past summer with a stomach bug — for almost the first time in her life. A few years ago, when someone asked if she had Tylenol in the house, she wasn’t sure what that was; she had never needed it.
Things have changed a bit, however. “Now, it’s like I have my own pharmacy dispensary,” she said. But she still goes for a walk most days and takes part in exercise classes a few times a week. She plays bridge, enjoys concerts and doing needlepoint, and, she said, she loves chocolate and good coffee.
“But I don’t know what I’ve achieved in all this time,” she said with a grin. What she does take pride in is her family: her three children — Joan, Marc, and Chuck — four grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren, and “one more on the way.”
On her birthday, the phone started ringing very early. The first call was from three of her great-grandchildren, in Maryland. “I couldn’t get them off the phone and I was afraid they’d be late for their school bus, but it was lovely,” she said with a laugh.
Friends and relatives who live nearby gathered to have dinner with her at Winchester Gardens on her birthday. The big celebration with all the family was scheduled for a week later.
“I told them there was no need to make a big fuss,” Rose said. “But my grandson said it wasn’t for them or me; it’s for the great-grandchildren. Now I’m just holding thumbs that everything goes all right and that everyone travels safely.”
The party guest list bears out her claim to good genes. She was the fifth of eight children. The eldest three died in their 80s, but attending the party will be her siblings, 102-year-old George Hodes of River Vale, 92-year-old Frank Hodes of Long Branch, and 95-year-old Viola Meskin of Union. Their sister Pearl died a few years ago at 93.
They grew up in Newark with their parents, Fanny and Hyman, who emigrated from Latvia around 1900. They arrived penniless, armed with the address of one cousin — but soon found their feet.
The family lived on Baldwin Street, not far from the synagogue on High Street. Hyman went into the seltzer business, initially making deliveries with a horse-drawn wagon, and later owned his own factory. It was a warm, busy life, Rose recalled, with music and games, and basketball at the Newark Y.
Rose’s only complaint about those days was making do with one bathroom for 10 people. Things were a little easier when she and her husband, Joe, moved to Union. When they moved to Maplewood, where they brought up their children, they bought a house with five bathrooms. “Bathrooms were always very important to me,” she laughed.
They were members of what is now Congregation B’nai Ahavath Shalom in Union and then of Congregation Beth El in South Orange. Rose was active with the National Council of Jewish Women in Essex County.
In 1971, after the children left home, she and Joe moved to Brick. They indulged their passions — hers for gardening, his for home-repair, and one they shared, travel. They took cargo boats to all kinds of places, often with no idea where they would be stopping along the way. “We loved to travel,” she declared.
After Joe died in 2002 at the age of 95, Rose came back to Maplewood, to Winchester Gardens.
The one regret Rose mentioned was not going to college. “But my friends and I took lots of courses,” she said, including a two-year diploma in interior decoration. Like most of her generation, she left the income earning to her husband, a lawyer, and focused on her children and home. “Things have changed so much,” she said. “These days, the women are all so busy with jobs.”
As easily as she has adapted with the times, the one thing she hasn’t accepted is the computer. “I tried, but I just couldn’t get the hang of it,” she said. But she does enjoy the electronic photo frame her kids gave her, that shows a changing array of family photos that they can update by phone. “I wake up in the morning and I enjoy the pictures already there, or I see new ones they sent the previous evening.”
The downside of longevity is loss, and Rose said that so many of her friends have passed away, she no longer reads the obituaries. “I used to see names I knew. Now, I hardly ever do,” she said. But she has made many new friends in the community, and delights in visits from her family. “I just take things one day at a time, and make the most of each day,” she said.