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Introducing: Continuing My Life Story

At Anthology Senior Living, every resident has a unique story. Together, we create a collection of stories, an anthology.

In honor of the fascinating people who have chosen to write their next chapters at Anthology Senior Living, we are debuting a new monthly feature spotlighting our resident life stories.

This month, we introduce you to 92-year-old Dorothy, an Anthology Senior Living resident who traveled the world as an Administrative Assistant in the Foreign Service.

Born in 1929 and raised in a small apartment in Bronx, New York, Dorothy has lived in eight countries. She’s visited the Taj Mahal, ridden an elephant, and tasted exotic delights. Burmese curry was her favorite dish and her least favorite: snake -- she refused to eat it! Laughter is Dorothy’s lifelong medicine and curiosity her salve.

At Anthology Senior Living, Dorothy maintains her sharp mind and wit by participating in Fit Minds, a cognitive stimulation program available exclusively at Anthology Senior Living communities nationwide.

Continuing My Life Story: Dorothy V.

You were born in the Bronx, New York in 1929, what was that like?
I was born in 1929 in The Bronx, New York to religious Jewish parents. We were quite poor, seven people in one apartment with five rooms. Can you imagine seven people living in a five-room apartment with one bathroom? We all used it a lot and were always in line waiting to get into it. Life was not comfortable, but it was funny.

We had a good family and we all liked each other. When I was a teenager, my father died of a heart attack and we were in dire straits. My brother was in high school and he had to quit school to help support us. We pretty much grew up in the street because there was no room in the house.

You had an interesting job when you were a teenager in New York, what was it?
I was an usher at Broadway Theatres! I showed people to their seats in Broadway shows. I got no pay to speak of, but I was able to see Broadway shows without having to purchase a ticket. I saw every big show you can imagine. I saw My Fair Lady!

Next, you were able to secure a position in the Foreign Service which led to traveling the world?
While working as an usher I realized I was going nowhere. I was 19 and was living with a roommate named Lucille who was getting married. I realized I needed to find another roommate or go somewhere else. Our sofa was an old car seat someone had given us! There was an ad in the newspaper, and I went downtown to the address given. Sure enough, they were recruiting people to go overseas to work for the government.

Then, I went off to Washington DC to take a test and passed. I was so nervous I could barely do it. I was interviewed for a government job overseas. They sent me to Yangon, Myanmar (formerly Rangoon, Burma) in 1952. I went to the atlas and looked it up. I thought, “What the heck?” and I went. I became an Administrative Assistant for the government, handling important U.S. documents.

What was it like in Myanmar (formerly Burma) in 1952?
It was Asia. I loved it. It was fabulous. They spoke a completely different language. I just thought I was in heaven. I loved every bit of it. I met people – all kinds of people. Good people, smart people.

Do you think it was unusual to be so courageous, traveling the world alone in the 1950s?
I didn’t lack courage. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to see elephants and jungles. I wanted to go everywhere I could possibly go. I saw the Taj Mahal. I was everywhere!

It’s something in me. It’s wanderlust. And I wasn’t alone, there were other women in the Foreign Service with me who became great friends. I met friends all over the world. There are very few that have lived to my age, though. Everyone else wanted to go Paris at the time. I wanted to go to Yangon. Who else had been to Yangon?

I guess I was always a curious person. On my travels I’d meet someone and think, “I wonder what he thinks. What does he do all day?” I wondered what it was like to ride on an elephant for hours a day. Questions like this occurred to me. Then I would come home, and people would look at me and say, “You were where?!” 

You have a great story of meeting your husband while stationed in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (formerly known as Saigon)?
By 33 or 34 I was getting on in age, I thought it would be nice to have a husband and kids. Then I got stationed in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon, Vietnam) where I met a man. There’s always a man!  I met Jim. He was 33 or 34. He was divorced. And boy, that was it! We established relations and were married. I thought it would be nice to have a husband and kids. I never was blessed with kids, but I wanted a real life. We were married for 30 years.

By the end of your journeys abroad, how much of the world had you seen?
At the end of all of this, I had been to eight countries, all over Asia and Africa, and had a wonderful time with all of it. I don’t want you to think I was a goody-two shoes because I wasn’t. I missed South America, never could get there. I loved Burma because it was my first. It was so colorful, so beautiful, the people were dressed in golds and reds. It was completely different from anything I’d ever seen.

There was so much beauty out there in the world. There was ugliness too. There’s beauty and ugliness in the United States, let’s face it.

What foods did you taste on your travels?
I tasted a great many foreign foods. There are some you just didn’t want to taste, snakes for example. There were things I would not eat. If you’re hungry you’ll eat anything, believe me. I ate almost everything! I loved curry. I loved Burmese curry. I loved Burmese food. That was my favorite country to live in. They were gracious, beautiful people. I loved Thailand. I could live there forever! There were a lot of countries I found beautiful and very nice.

You never ate a snake, but you rode an elephant?
I rode an elephant--you sway back and forth and get seasick!

How do your experiences shape you today?
I am nowhere near as quick to pass judgment on people. People are different. There’s no two ways about it. If you were born in Germany, you’re going to be different than if you were born in Italy. The same thing for American, Jewish, Catholic. Our backgrounds affect everything we do. It affected me. It affected everyone in the Foreign Service. It doesn’t mean your prejudiced. Everyone liked everybody in the Foreign Service.

At Anthology, you participate in the Fit Minds program for cognitive stimulation, what is that like?
One of the things we do is discuss quotes. There’s a quote, “We are here to add what we can to life, not to get what we can from life.” I don’t agree with that! Do you? I think what we get from life is very important. It’s really interesting to see what others think.

I love questions. I love to interact with others, and I like to hear what they have to say. I want to know what others think. Sometimes they think more clearly than I do. I’m stubborn but I will also listen. If what they say is better than what I think, I’ll go with them. There are some very smart people here.

We listen to different pieces of music like Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” I like the discussion questions we answer. And when residents share stories in the group, I enjoy it. Some are good storytellers. A good storyteller keeps you on your toes, on pins and needles wanting to know the ending.

You’re here at Anthology, a name dedicated to the power of stories. What are your favorite stories to read?
During COVID, I’m re-reading books right now. I can’t believe what I’m resorting to… let’s just say they’re not high literature. I love an old-fashioned romance novel, a good beach read. A story that’s never going to happen, didn’t happen, won’t happen… that’s what I want to read!

If I’m going to go for realism, I’ll read Tortilla Flat (John Steinbeck). Or Hemingway. They’re beautiful writers. But they’re downers. I don’t want ugliness in my life now. I don’t need any more. When you’re born in the Depression and can’t get enough to eat, you don’t need a downer.

You’re 92. What’s your secret to life?
I try to enjoy things and if I don’t, I laugh at it! That takes years to cultivate. You can’t just say, “I’m not going to be upset.” You develop it. Everyone has an axe to grind. You’ve got to go with the flow. You’ve got to just say this is how it’s going to be and that’s it. I like my life. I have liked my life. I have enjoyed my life. I loved my husband, my parents, and everyone who was around me. I had one relative I didn’t like, but so what? Big deal.

Other than that, I have no secrets, I never have! I never did anything wrong. Well, I never did anything criminal, let’s put it that way.

A sense of humor is clearly one of your secrets. What makes you laugh?
Funny people always make me laugh. I like to make people laugh. I love to laugh! I think life is funny, don’t you?